Most online marketers can tell you that the core of any SEO strategy is to optimize site content for search engines and build a network of high-authority backlinks. While search engines have long been the de facto method of navigating the web, that tide is beginning to shift. The sustained growth of social media feeds as a channel for content sharing has caused marketers to question how social signals influence search.
Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that Facebook and Twitter augment search rankings comes from SEOmoz. In April, they published some insightful correlation data demonstrating the degree to which links shared on social networks correspond with improved search engine rankings.
This analysis uses the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient to measure how strongly Google rankings are associated with quantity and types of links on social channels. The data represented in green is most germane to this topic because it controls for exogenous factors, such as the possibility that pages frequently shared on social networks rank well simply because they are good predictors of pages with lots of quality backlinks from the rest of the web.
SEOmoz found that Facebook shares are more strongly correlated with high search engine rankings than Facebook Likes or Twitter shares. While a correlation coefficient of 0.17 isn’t usually considered strong in a statistical analysis, it is noteworthy here given the number of exogenous variables at play that also influence search rankings. The data confirms that shares on Facebook likely have a positive influence on SEO, and Facebook shares are more influential than Likes or shares on Twitter.
For search marketers and social media strategists seeking to translate these findings into business strategies, consider these takeaways:
Expect social feeds to continue to exert greater influence on search engine rankings.
As social networks become a more prominent channel for information discovery on the web, search engine algorithms will adapt to reflect the evolving ways in which people find and consume content. Google and Bing have already experimented with incorporating social feeds into search results, but their next evolution may involve significant algorithm changes to mirror rankings with trending content on social channels.
Prioritize user-generated contextual social sharing ahead of Likes.
The Like button is a valuable tool to extend your brand reach on Facebook, but user-generated social shares produce better engagement rates and correlate more strongly with high search engine rankings. To drive more backlinks to your site and increased utilization of social sharing, ensure that the option to share is strategically integrated across multiple user touch points – from comments, to purchases or published reviews, and event-based triggers such as achieving a game high score.
Make your content discoverable within social feeds as well as search.
Even if your brand boasts a large stable of fans and followers, your Facebook posts may not be achieving as many impressions as expected due to EdgeRank, Facebook’s news feed algorithm. Because consumers interact with their friends more often than with brands on Facebook, shared content from peers yields more impressions and clicks than posts from your brand page. To maximize click-through rates on shared content, ensure that your social sharing tool incorporates rich media such as thumbnail images into the activity object, and enable users to personalize the message shared to their stream.