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The Million Dollar Question: Are Social Media and SEO Correlated?

Google has a long history of playing its cards close to its chest when it comes to their search algorithms. These closely guarded secrets have driven marketers and the content marketing world crazy as they jockey for position on Google’s front page. With the introduction of social media, the possibilities for SEO seemed endless. Enter the million (or billion) dollar question:

What is the correlation between social media and SEO?

How did we get here?

First some history on how we got to where we are in the long-standing debate on whether social media has any impact on SEO.

In 2010 Google and Bing both admitted to using social media queues to help rank pages. These “social signals,” finally gave marketers and content marketing agencies a glimpse into the search engine world and allowed them to plan a path going forward.

Four years later, Twitter temporarily blocked Google’s access to their network. This sparked a change in the search engine giant and in 2014, Google’s former Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts, released a video explaining how Google cannot rely on social signals from sites that may allow them access one day, then revoke that access the next. For practical reasons, they didn’t want to waste engineers time on creating processes for crawling sites that may never get used.

Since then Google has publicly denied several times that social signals influence rankings.

Fast forward to 2018. A lot has changed in the content marketing world, but the question remains. Do social signals influence SEO?


It’s important to note that while Google is the big kid on the block with about 63 percent of all search traffic according to Statista, Bing has a respectable 24 percent. Why should that matter to you? Because Bing DOES use social signals in their search rankings.

So, if you care about your search traffic coming from Bing you will definitely need to optimize your social presence.

Project Elephant

If you believe what Google says, social signals don’t influence SEO. However, there is a lot of evidence that shows a correlation between social presence and page rankings.

Google is quick to remind us that correlation is not causation – just because there is a correlation between social presence and page rankings does not mean one created the other.

Hootsuite, however, noticed the exponential growth of Facebook and Twitter pages making their way into Google’s results and decided to do a deep-dive analysis into the relationship between SEO and social media.

“Project Elephant,” was created as an experiment to FINALLY answer the question – can social media help improve search rank?

Hootsuite gathered a team consisting of experts from their company in inbound marketing, data analytics, and digital marketing. They then organized their content into three groups. A control group of 30 articles that received no organic publishing or paid promotion. Group A 30 articles published organically to twitter and Group B, 30 articles published organically to Twitter, then boosted for two days with a budget of $100 each.

The Results

The Hootsuite team collected data points on 12 different metrics including the Google Search rank before and after the test and aHrefs URL ranking (click here to see the full list of data points).

At a glance, the results showed an improvement in search visibility between the three groups and a strong correlation between social activity and rankings. When they dove into the data, they discovered that there is a positive correlation between social interactions and page rank. Overall, Hootsuite observed that there were more improvements in rank associated with social engagements than observed ranking losses.

What to do with this data

While this experiment shows that social can most definitely help with SEO, it should not give content marketing agencies and marketers free reign to over-post, and spam a customers feed. Not only does this risk annoying your followers, but it risks losing them completely.

Keep in mind that depending on how competitive the keyword is you’re working with, it may only take one backlink to improve your search rank significantly. Quality over quantity is critical. Impressing the right person on the right website could see a massive boost in your search rank and visibility.

Quality content is the number one ranking factor of Google, which is why it is so important that everything you post – whether it’s on your website, blog, or social channels – should be quality. SEO should be integrated into your social channels, but should not be the driving element.

When looking at the Hootsuite study, you should also take notice of the results from paid promotion on SEO. Their findings show that paid promotion has nearly double the SEO benefit of organic promotion.

What are the top ways that social can help SEO?

Now that we’ve established social does indeed help your SEO, what are the best ways to do that?

Optimize your profiles

Make sure you have a consistent image across all of your channels. Create a bio that is relevant to your business while still being interesting. Also, be sure to utilize keywords here that are relevant to your brand. Include a link that directs users to your website, sign-up page or marketing campaign.

Increase Link Potential

For sharing to affect rankings, your content needs to increase visibility among content creators, AND those people find it so useful they linked to it. Social sharing directly increases the visibility of a page which directly increases the pages ranking.

One way to help this process along is to foster and build relationships with content creators by specifically sharing content with them.  Content creators could include:

  • Event Producers
  • Podcasters
  • Academic Researchers
  • Journalists
  • Bloggers and Blog Editors

Nurturing these relationships should be important to you. Content creators are a hidden but essential audience for most businesses.

Read more: How to Generate More Leads on Your Website using SEO & Social Media 

Optimize your website for social sharing

Another way to increase link potential is to optimize your website to encourage visitors to share your content.

Because you’ll be creating high-quality, shareable content rich with keywords, catchy headlines, engaging copy and a call-to-action, customers are going to want to share this. Make sure that they can.

Also, don’t forget about images. Catchy images can drive users in and get shares on sites like Pinterest.

Build an audience

By building an engaged audience on your social channels, you’ll increase the chances of your business thriving. As a savvy marketer, you already know that a successful social strategy is not a set it and forget it strategy. If you want an active and engaged audience, YOU need to be active and engaged.

Some strategies for being engaged on your social channels include:

  • Mentioning and connecting with influencers in your content
  • Paying attention to local marketing by sharing locally related content and engaging with local influencers
  • Being responsive when customers engage with you. Your responsiveness helps Google and social algorithms recognize your content is active which improves its reach capabilities
  • Take part in conversations on your platform. Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups are an example of things that can help raise your profile

Don’t forget about video

YouTube is the second largest search engine, and its usage is only increasing. By utilizing video content about your product, you can help to get your brand linked to other sites, but also increase the visibility of your brand in searches. You’re also likely to attract a whole different demographic of customer – one that prefers video content to traditional blog content.

While we may never get a definitive answer straight from Google about whether or not social signals influence SEO, it’s clear from the data that they do. The content marketing world needs to take note and optimize their social channels to maximize their page ranking abilities. If you need help with your social channels or campaigns 41 Orange has the personnel and experience to grow your brand, contact us today!

Read More: Utilizing Videos in Your Inbound Marketing Campaign 

About the Author: Gregg Anderson

Gregg Anderson

Gregg is a Veteran of the Armed Forces and a graduate of San Diego State University, holding a Bachelor’s degree in Management & Entrepreneurship. Gregg’s experience in the marketing industry ranges from auditing and planning marketing strategies for the small business next door, to crafting strategies for multimillion-dollar ventures. He also has experience in the startup, angel, and venture capital environment.