Companies have heard the constant drum beat of social media for the better part of five years now. Pundits and industry analysts have long touted the benefits of social media for the image of a business. With a profile on one or more social media platforms, your business can improve its communication with consumers. These profiles help put a name and a face to otherwise large, anonymous entities. However, the conversation surrounding social media has increasingly turned to a debate about its value in search rankings. So, let’s answer this question once and for all… Can you use social media for ranking in Google?

The questions that now perplexes most companies is whether or not a large social media presence improves rankings in search engine results. There are cases to be made on both sides of this argument, so in this post we’re going to discuss those arguments to help clear the confusion.

What Does Google Say?

If you’re not familiar with Matt Cutts, he is considered the SEO and algorithm master at Google. His official capacity with the company has him leading Google’s webspam team. In practice though, his team is responsible for the algorithm changes that impact the ranking of every website on the Internet. With all the speculation and misinformation about social signals and their impact on search algorithm, Cutts weighed in on the matter in comments to SearchEngineWatch.com:

Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, so if something occurs on Twitter occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results. But as far as doing special, specific work to sort of say ‘you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook,’ to the best of my knowledge we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.”

Cutts’ comments leave a lot of room for interpretation. On the surface, he clearly indicates that the company does not crawl social profiles for specific information. Coming from Cutts, that should indicate a firm negative on the value of social media. However, he did state back in 2010 that Google did use social signals when ranking websites. The varying comments suggest that there is a little wiggle room when it comes to social media profiles and website rankings. The main sticking point: social profiles change frequently.

Google algorithms only crawl websites at specific points in time. Since information is gathered sporadically and profiles change constantly, it is difficult for Google to measure the value of social profiles.

Social Media and Link Sharing

Link building was once the king of search engine rankings. Webmasters would use any means necessary to build an impressive profile online by backlinking to trustworthy sites and even buying links to boot the image of their site. Google’s numerous algorithm changes have diminished the value of link building and altogether eliminate the black-hat practices that were once pervasive on the web.

Social media, however, has pumped new life into links. If links are considered a voting system for websites, social media sharing powers that voting behavior on the modern web. When Facebook users share a link to a story, product, or company on their profile, that is a form of link building. The same goes for a Twitter user tweeting about their favorite brand or product with a link attached.

As a result, social signals are emerging as a relevant player in a company’s search engine ranking. According to SearchEngineLand, this has two impacts for your business:

  • Social Reputation: All links are not equal, and the same goes for social profiles. There are no measures in place to prevent an individual or business from creating hundreds of social media accounts on various platforms to generate fake buzz. As a result, your social presence needs time to develop a solid reputation. You need friends and followers with legitimate profiles and genuine shares, not automated shares that are viewed as spam.
  • Social Shares: Google may not place a high value on your social media profile, but its presence across the web and the number (and variety) of shares does play into the equation. Developing a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, and Google+ page enables your company to develop a reliable reputation and boost shares across various platforms.

All in the Timing and the Platform

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The SEO and search-engine experts at MOZ found that regardless of what Google says, your company’s social-media presence does play a vital role in its search rankings. There were two important findings from a case study conducted by MOZ. First, the time and day that information was shared on social media played a big role. Second, the platform used also fed into the equation.

MOZ found that when content was shared on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday at 9am, 12pm, 3pm, or 6pm EST, it was more likely to gain social votes and attention. The study also found that companies could improve the number of social shares, and thus improve ranking, by adding an image (200% boost), formulating how-to and list posts (47% boost), and hosting contests for followers (39% boost).

Additionally, MOZ found that the specific platform used and the activity on that platform provided websites with a boost in search rankings. It should come as no surprise that MOZ discovered Google’s own Google+ platform offered the most significant boost. One site that received 100 Google+ followers saw its ranking go up by 14.63%. A separate website received 300 Google +1 votes (shares) and its ranking jumped 9.44%.

Comparatively speaking, Facebook and Twitter generated a less significant, but still positive, impact. One website that garnered 70 shares and 50 likes on Facebook saw a 6.9% boost in rankings, while another saw a 2.88% boost in rankings after 50 retweets on Twitter.

Conclusion

Whether you love or hate social media platforms, there is ample evidence to suggest that a social media presence does have a positive impact on your website’s rankings on search engines. The important factor to keep in mind is the manner in which your social media programs are managed. When done correctly, there is little question that social media has a positive impact.

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