Can social media boost search engine ranking and SEO?

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If you have a business website then it’s likely you’ll also have social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Apart from time to update and setup, social media sites are free and have the potential to generate interest in products or services if used properly. They can also be a great way to launch new products and services or announce important news.

You may end up paying an agency to manage your social media presence and, like all business spending, you should pay close attention to whether this is delivering the best returns on investment.

Without a doubt, social media is here to stay, but the question we’re asking here is can social media boost search engine ranking or affect other SEO factors such as web traffic and Domain authority? Is there a correlation between the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes and where a website might be placed in search engine rankings? If there is a correlation then is this a cause of higher rankings or just a coincidence. Can a website with little active social media still rank highly on search engines and generate traffic and business. So many questions, so little time.

First of all let’s look at what Google say on the matter.

What does Google say about social media and SEO?

A key public face of Google is former Head of Spam, Matt Cutts, who blogs regularly and the SEO industry tends to hang on his every word as he often gives some very valuable advice on how to avoid penalties and improve rankings.

His most revealing on this subject are shown on this video where he was asked a question: Are Facebook and Twitter Signals Part of the Google Ranking Algorithms? How much do the matter?

This is his most significant statement on the subject:

As far as doing special specific work…oh you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook, to the best of my knowledge we currently do not have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.

Google does an amazing job at indexing billions of website pages, but does not index every single social media update from Facebook, Twitter etc. They must have trust in a ranking signal and social media can be too volatile to be used to assess where to place a website in search engine results.

That said social media can be very useful in generating interest and qualified traffic but as with all things quality counts: a highly liked Facebook post or a Tweet with lots of retweets and likes is probably more an indication of a great piece of content or skilfully written headline. This alone does not cause pages to be highly ranked on search engines.Can social media boost search engine ranking and SEO?

We did some quick research on some competitive keywords locally to assess the impact of social media on search engine rankings.

Results of some research on local businesses

We picked out two types of business estate agents and wedding dress suppliers. These businesses rely on good search engine rankings to help bring in new customers as they are not used regularly in the same way that we might use a supermarket. Therefore they are often found by people searching for their services on search engines.

Here are the rankings for the two types of business and their corresponding social media activity:

Estate agents in Rugby

Here we looked at the search term estate agents rugby and looked at the numbers of Followers / likers and activity such as Post Likes, Retweets etc.

Keyword: estate agents rugby, Search Engine: Google UK, Search Location: Rugby, Warwickshire
Ranking Company Name Twitter Update activity Facebook Update activity Notes
1 Edward Knight Estate Agents 662 Weekly 1697 Weekly Facebook posts get healthy amount of likes and comments
2 Brown & Cockerill Estate Agents 361 Monthly 773 Weekly Also Linked In (4 followers)  and Pinterest (2 followers)
3 Thornton Robson 434 Weekly 446 Weekly Also Google Plus (63 followers), Linked In (29 followers), Instagram (4 followers), Tumblr, Pinterest (19 followers) and YouTube
4 Shipways 477 Twice a week 46 Very rarely No major emphasis on social media, Twitter feed on home page, unused Facebook page.
5 Carter &  King 304 Monthly 3989 Weekly Also Linked In (25 followers), Google Plus (2 followers). The Facebook has a lot of likes and new posts get likes and comments.

All companies have at least Facebook and Twitter and update weekly.

Wedding dress shops in Rugby

Here we looked at the search term wedding rugby and looked at the numbers of Followers / likers and activity such as Post Likes, Retweets etc.

Keyword: wedding dress rugby, Search Engine: Google UK, Search Location: Rugby, Warwickshire
Ranking Company Name Twitter Update activity Facebook Update activity Notes
1 Sammie Lou Bridal Couture 16 Yearly 1830 Weekly No Twitter activity but very active on Facebook, with good engagement likes, promotion of events and new stock
2 Tillies Bridal Dreams 5 None 480 Monthly No Twitter, Facebook not very active either
3 Florence Bridal Shop 130 Weekly 820 Weekly Also G+ and Instagram (57 followers)
4 Bea’s Bridal Boutique 580 Twice weekly 13315 Weekly Remarkable number of Facebook likes, quite active too, Also on Pinterest (124 followers) and Instagram (252 followers)

The figures speak for themselves here. There appears to be no strong correlation or even pattern related to the search engine ranking and social media followers. This also chimes with earlier work we did on comparing other SEO factors with high ranking websites.

Where social media can benefit a business is not direct search engine rankings but to build up your brand and drive qualified traffic to your website.  There may be some benefits in long term link building and domain authority as brand recognition would lead to increase the likelihood of someone adding a link to your website on their blog or web page, but that is speculation and difficult to prove.

Further reading: Does Social Media Affect SEO? Matt Cutts Answers

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