11 Jan 2021 SEO Social media

How social media affects SEO 2021

social media folder on a mobile phone

Studies show there is a correlation between social media shares and higher rankings in search engines such as Google. However, many experts say rankings aren’t directly affected by social signals.

Those two sentences may seem to contradict one another. However, I promise if you continue reading this blog all will become clear…

Stick with us until the very end and I will even answer some commonly-asked questions about this subject.


What does Matt Cutts say about SEO and social media?

If we were to trust one expert, we’d surely trust ex head of web spam at Google, Matt Cutts – after all, he knows he stuff.

In a Google Webmasters help video, Cutts is asked:

“Are Facebook and Twitter signals part of the ranking algorithm? How much do they matter?”

He first answers saying:

“Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index. And so, if something occurs on Twitter or 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, oh, you have these 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.”

screenshot of matt cutts on google webmaster help youtube channel
Matt Cutts, Former Head of Web Spam at Google

So, the number of followers and likes doesn’t have a direct impact on how you rank on search engines.

However, he then goes on to say:

So I’m not saying not to use Twitter and Facebook. I love to tweet. There’s a ton of people who get a ton of value from both Facebook and Twitter. And I think that both of those services represent a fantastic avenue. It’s a way to drive visitors and traffic to your site. It’s a way to let people know about news related to you, or your company or your website. So, I think there are great ways to build up your personal brand, but don’t necessarily assume that just because there’s a signal on Facebook or Twitter that Google is able to access that. A lot of pages might be blocked or there might be no follow-on links or something along those lines.”

So, does this mean Cutts is saying social media doesn’t affect SEO?

Not exactly, as he then finishes by saying that correlation is often confused with causation:

“…there was an SEO that said, OK, we see a lot of links on Facebook and those are the pages that rank well. But that’s correlation. That’s not causation. Instead it’s probably that there’s something really awesome, and because there’s something awesome, then it gets a lot of likes on Facebook and a lot of people decide to link to it.”

This goes to show that the quality of your content definitely matters. The better the content, the more likely people are not only going to like it in the Google atmosphere but on social media too.

I would recommend watching the full video and maybe even checking out the comments too.

Do social media shares help?

woman looking at her mobile smiling

It is important to understand that social media shares could be correlated with better rankings. However, that doesn’t mean they cause better rankings.

For example, a specific blog from your website may get a load of shares on Twitter and even Facebook, too, but it stays on page two in Google search results. It doesn’t budge, even after all that sharing.

You may disagree and say,

“Sarah, looking at Google Analytics and social media appears to be causing a boost in my rankings”.

Yes, it may appear so, and this is what is likely happening:

  • Step 1 – Content gets seen more because it’s being shared
  • Step 2 – Content that is seen more has a higher chance of being linked to from other websites
  • Step 3 – Those backlinks help your rankings
  • Step 4 – Improved rankings also lead to increased social media activity

It’s the results of social media activity that matters… not the activity itself.

Show me the evidence…

Every two years, Moz survey’s many of the world’s brightest search marketers and conducts correlation studies to better understand the working of search engine algorithms.

Data is gathered so Moz can gain insights into factors that either help or hurt a website’s visibility in search engines.

From the report they said:

“Always controversial, the number of social shares a page accumulates tends to show a positive correlation with rankings.”

All correlations rated on a scale from -1.00 (negative influence) to 1.00 (strong influence).

graph from Moz showing correlation between social shares and rankings
Graph showing correlation between social shares and rankings.

Image source: Moz

Ideas to harness social media

Now I have (hopefully) answered the question “How does social media affect SEO?”, I would like to share some ideas of how you can harness the power of social media to increase your visibility.

  • Create content people want to link to – What can you create that people will want to share and link to? What interesting content do you have on your website besides standard product pages and information on what your business does?
  • Don’t focus on building links – How many links a page has could affect how a person perceives your business. However, you are taking the wrong approach if you are building links for SEO purposes (like we covered earlier in this blog). Focus on building a following or community. Don’t go after as many people as possible, focus on the quality of the people following you. Will they engage with your content? *
  • Share your content more than once – You have taken the time to write your content, make sure you spend the same time (if not more) promoting it. Share a blog post more than once, repurpose the content, can you make it into a graphic or video?
  • Reach out to people – Take the time to reach out to those who are known in the industry and tell them about your content. If you have referenced them in some way, let them know. They may share it on their platforms.
  • Have a social media strategy that makes sense – Don’t get into the habit of posting just for the sake of it. Have a social media strategy. If you don’t feel comfortable, find someone who will be able to help create, implement and measure a social strategy for you.

* Sidenote – Have you ever stumbled across a profile and thought ‘How the hell do they have that many likes?’ It’s probably too good to be true. Use a tool like IG audit (which is for Instagram) and see what it thinks to their follower profile. This is so much fun!

Common FAQs on this subject

Which social media is best for SEO?

I would have included Google Plus on the list below, however, this was closed for good on April 2, 2019. Buh-bye Google Plus.

  • YouTube – With more than 1.5 billion active monthly users it’s a no-brainer that this makes it on to list. If you are authentic and creative, video can be one of the most effective ways to attract people to your brand
  • Twitter – Yes, this is often used for news and politics (I always go to Twitter for my gossip fix), it’s very powerful for branding and business development. Be strategic with hashtags and stay away from those that have been shadow banned (used to much) and tweet often. Include links in your tweets and get involved with Twitter chats in your industry
  • Facebook – Did you know Facebook have more than 1.71 billion monthly users? Yes! Share content and engage with others. Check out groups you can be involved in. Use their ad platform to promote your content and be seen by people who don’t follow your page
  • Instagram – This social media platform has 600 million users and that number is only growing. Be creative with your content and feed – make people want to engage with you. Experiment with Instagram stories and highlights. You can tag products in posts to make it even easier for you to send people to your website
  • LinkedIn – With more than 500 million users and being responsible for 64% of all visits from social media platforms to corporate websites, of course this makes it on the list. Ensure your company page is descriptive and relevant. Post frequently on LinkedIn, too, and experiment with using hashtags
  • Pinterest – This visually-focused platforms has more than 175 million users. That’s a lot of followers. Some 70% of people go to Pinterest specifically to make purchase decisions

Does Bitly affect SEO?

According to Bitly, using one of these links is a 301 permanent redirect and will not hurt your SEO. PageRank value will pass to the final destination rather than the link itself.

Do Instagram photos show up on Google?

If you have logged into your account using a web viewer (which authorises them to access your profile and images), your images may appear in Google search results. You can revoke access to the third-party website if you don’t want them to show.

If you do want them to show in Google, make sure you do the following:

  • Ensure your Instagram profile is public
  • Use hashtags in captions (don’t go overload, and make them relevant to the picture)
  • Engage on the platform eg comment on other popular user’s posts
  • Tag accounts which feature photos from other profiles to boost visibility

How do I optimise my Instagram for search engines?

  • Profile needs to be set as public
  • Set up social profile schema (if your brand is then successful getting a card in the knowledge Graphic, Instagram will show up here (along with other ones you have)
  • Try to use your most important keyword in your name – be careful not to keyword stuff (sometimes this won’t be possible)
  • Have a descriptive bio and try to use keywords – again don’t keyword stuff
  • Your image caption should be treated as a title tag because when Instagram creates a page for your post, the caption will be included in the title tag
  • Link directly to your Instagram posts from other channels – the Instagram web app is buried in JavaScript, and we all know JavaScript is a pain for SEO. It is for this reason that links to your individual Instagram posts from your profile aren’t counted by Google. This is why most Instagram posts are not indexed in search engines. In order for people to be able to find these posts on places like Google, you need to link to them directly from other channels. Make sure the link points directly to the post
  • Do keyword research on hashtags. Instagram has a search function, think of hashtags as keywords with a ‘#’ in front. Find hashtags that are getting the most search volume and relevant to your photos for maximum exposure. Make sure they aren’t too popular like #valentinesday – these get shadowbanned
  • Hold contests on Instagram for prizes and gain more followers and hopefully increase engagement (if the followers are relevant)
  • Give influencer marketing a go. Find accounts with not only a large following but that also have a decent amount of engagement. Partner up with an influencer relevant to your niche and they will help promote you

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