A Comprehensive Guide To Social Signals

What are Social Signals?

Social signals refer to the likes, comments, shares, views or repins that the content of a website receives on social media sites. They are a search engine’s measure of your website’s popularity on social channels..

In effect, they are an estimation of how trusted and influential you on social media. The most powerful benefit of social signals is the ability to increase brand awareness and overall online visibility without the search engines.

According to Search Engine Watch, social signals serve as recommendations (or votes) cast by consumers. In essence, a social signal is a link from a user’s social networking profile to your web page.

For example, let’s say you have just published a blog post that catches the attention of a socially active consumer who has 1000 friends on Facebook. If that consumer were to click on the Facebook “like” icon that you’ve included at the end of the post, then that post will have received a ‘social signal’ from the user.

But it doesn’t end there. When that user ‘liked’ the post, that was essentially a vote of confidence in the post, and that action will have been shared with the user’s 1,000 Facebook friends. Some of those friends will naturally click on the shared link to check out the post for themselves.

If any of those friends “like” the post, their likes will also be shared with their friends’ friends as well. This type of viral activity will not go unnoticed by Google’s algorithms.

A slew of social signals indicate that your brand is being actively talked about and is popular with consumers. They let the search engines know that you’re a real business, and that your popularity is authentic, especially when tweets and likes turn into retweets and shares.

Search engines now incorporate social context into their search results in recognition of the shift that social media is bringing to the search algorithms. And even though Google has publicly stated that social signals from Twitter and Facebook are not factored in their ranking algorithms, there is strong evidence that suggests that social signals from Facebook and Twitter have been known to influence a webpage’s ranking in the search results, especially if the website owner has a strong social media presence.

On average, the more of a social presence a particular website has, the higher the website’s organic search ranking, as you can see in Cognitive SEO’s graphic:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cogntiveSEO-1024x570.png
Cognitive SEO graph

SearchMetrics’ Rank Correlation for 2013 provides additional weight to the argument that search engines look at social signals when ranking a webpage.

Searchmetrics graph

Social signals rated by the search engines include:

  • How many times a URL has been tweeted and retweeted;
  • Authority and influence of the person that tweeted the URL;
  • How many times a brand has been mentioned;
  • Total Facebook shares and likes a URL has;
  • Number of +1’s the URL has.
  • Number of people that have a brand in circles on Google+

Social has the power to drive targeted traffic and increase your search ranking in spite of the fact that most social sites changed all of their outbound links to nofollow in the wake of Google Penguin.

If power users are talking favourably about your brand and sharing your content, this will be viewed by the search engines as a strong social signal. In fact, various studies by Searchmetrics over the years have shown an extremely high correlation between Google+ andFacebook shares and high rankings on Google. And while this correlation doesn’t necessarily mean that social shares by themselves contribute directly to high search engine rankings, it’s worth noting that Google and the other search engines give strong preference to content that is heavily shared across Facebook.

What is Social Media Optimization?

Social media optimization is a term coined by Rohit Bhargava. It has nothing to do with the actual process of optimizing any aspect of your website. It is simply the process of taking advantage of the power of social media to spread the word about your brand and website. It has less to do with optimizing any elements of your website and more to do with participating in social networks: building relationships with your audience, publishing and sharing quality content through social media channels and tagging the web.

It’s through this participation and optimization that your content is distributed, and this is how you generate traffic through social media. This ultimately leads to a number of benefits such as increased inbound links and citations due to increased awareness of your brand, decreased bounce rate, increased time on site and more return visits to your site. This demonstrates why social media optimization needs to be an integral part of your SEO strategy.

It is therefore absolutely essential that you integrate social media into your digital marketing strategy. Today, a meaningful social media presence is the definitive way to ensure a high search engine ranking for any website in any niche market.

Essentially, a genuine and meaningful presence on various social media channels where your target audience is active such as Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. can significantly boost the search ranking of your website, literally overnight.

Improving Awareness with Social

You can take advantage of your social media presence to not only drive traffic to multiple elements of your web presence, but to also improve your search engine rankings in the process.

Use the tips below to take full advantage of your social media links:

  1. Display your social media profile links on your about or contact page. Note that search engines cannot read graphical links, to make sure that you also include a text link next to the social icons.
  2. Include your website and blog address on every profile in every social media profile that you’re present on.
  3. Include a social sharing button on each blog post to encourage social consumers to help with the distribution of your content.
  4. Post cross-links on all your social media profiles to all your other webpages, including to your primary site and your blog.
  5. Include your company name for branding and your web address for linking when you post to groups on any social networking site as long as it’s appropriate and relevant. It is important that you are using your social media presence to increase visibility, rather than for any overt selling tactics.
  6. Where appropriate, include your website address when you leave reviews or comments on blogs across the web.
  7. Use your target keywords in your social media tags.

Link Building from Social Networking Sites

Links fromsocial networking sites tend to be nofollow or 302 redirect links. This means that search engines may not consider links from any of these sites in their ranking algorithms. This then begs the question whether these building links on social media sites are worth the trouble. In one word: absolutely.

First of all, it is natural that nofollow links form a large part of your backlink profile so that it appears as natural as possible to the search engines. Secondly, as users share your content, it shows that your content is genuinely popular with consumers.

This means you will be attracting valuable traffic to your website, and as long as you keep producing meaningful content, people will be continue to bookmark your site, share your content and link to you.

This will increase your online visibility and ultimately increase your site’s overall authority. So, even though social links may not have a direct impact on your search engine ranking, they are clearly indirectly beneficial to your SEO.

The impact of social signals has completely transformed the way Google presents search results, and they are almost certain to continue to play an essential role in search engine algorithms and website rankings in the future.

Research estimates suggest companies who have embraced the use of social signals are already reaping the subsequent rewards of an enhanced market presence, increased brand awareness and significant improvement to conversion rates.

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