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What is the relationship between Social Media and SEO?

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One of the hardest tasks for the team here at The Clix Group, a St Louis Social Media Marketing company, is explaining the ROI of social media to our clients. Among other benefits of having a healthy social media presence, I tell my clients that social media influences their search engine optimization efforts. Yes, they’re related, but the question still remains – How does Social Media influence SEO?

Understanding SERP Layout

Search engine result pages (SERPs) contain several elements. Although the most common indicator of strong SEO presence is page ranking, it is by no means the only indicator. In order to understand how social influences search, we first must distinguish two very important aspects of SEO: ranking and visibility.

Ranking: Traditionally, this has been the primary focus of SEO. It is the application of certain activities to specific urls to influence search engines’ algorithms into giving the urls higher positioning for targeted keywords. Basically, its convincing  Google, Yahoo, and Bing to make your website appear in front of other sites for specific searches.

Visibility: While ranking is the main section of SERPs, it is not the only place a website can show up. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on Google as it is the overwhelmingly most popular search engine.

Google is the preferred search engine by a strong majority of people. Image via Search Engine Land.

On a typical Google SERP, there are several sections including personalized search, time and location subsections, and search subsections like “News” and “Shopping.” Visibility accounts for your website appearing in these other sections as well as in traditional rankings.

This distinction is important because social media affects both differently.

How Social Media influences Ranking

For years, the backbone (no pun intended) of SEO has been backlinks. Similarly, link building on social networks carries the most SEO influence.

Facebook and Twitter pages are publically available, which means search engines like Google and Bing crawl and index them. Further, Google announced in November 2011 that they crawl and index Facebook comments. Though the impact is hard to establish, it is clear that social shares including likes, tweets, and +1s carry weight in Google’s ranking algorithm.  Having a strong social presence that consistently directs people (and search engines) to you website will help you achieve higher positioning in search engine rankings.

A social media user’s authority can also influence ranking. Search engines look at several aspects of a user’s social media presence to determine social ranking. A link shared by someone with high social authority has a greater influence on ranking than one shared by someone with low social authority.

How Social Media influences Visibility

In addition to influencing page rank, social media have a significant impact on a website’s visibility. Because search engines can crawl social media sites, these sites can appear separate from the brand’s website in search results. This means that potentially, a brand could appear in search results for their website AND their social media profiles, thus taking up more valuable real estate on SERPs.

Content from social media sites can also increase visibility in secondary sections of SERPs. Original content created on social media sites regularly appears in personalized, time subsections, and social subsections. And, if the searcher is logged into their Google account, content shared or liked by their contacts can appear in several locations on SERPs.

Tips for optimizing social media for SEO

  1. Strategically select target keywords, and integrate them into your social media updates in an intelegent and readable manner.
  2. Include target keywords in page titles even if it means eliminating a clever or catchy title.
  3. Include links to your website in your updates and encourage users to share. For many social media platforms, the preferred link sharring method is short links. Make sure these shorteners use a “301 permanent redirect” (which most shorteners do). Google will treat any links to that 301 redirect as being a link to the destination.
  4. Strategically place links to your website throughout your profiles including the about section and description.
  5. Understand your audience and promote material your audience is likely to share.

At this point, public understanding of how social media influences search is limited and is continually changing. If you know of additional information or changes in the above, please let us know in the comments!

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