Why Social Media Will Be Vital for Organic SEO & Business in 2016
By Graham Ware
In 2012 at the SES San Francisco, Matt Cutts of Google was quoted as saying, “Google has a plan for relying on social factors as part of the algorithm…” At that time, and even as late as 2014, the influence of social media content was minimal on Google’s SERP rankings. Google bots and algorithms were intentionally limited to be selective in what to crawl and how much as it relates to social media pages.
Traditionally, Google’s consideration of social activity was minimal, but with so much UGC (User generated content), engagement, and activity happening in social forums, Google is no longer able to turn a “limited” eye to social media and its impact on the Internet. It is safe to assert that, in fact, Google will increase the influence of social media signals in their algorithms to help further identify brand authorities in 2016.
With over 71% of consumers being more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals (according toHubspot) and the amount of content being generated in social forums, things are rapidly changing, leaving it nearly impossible for Google not to utilize social media channels in a heavier fashion in their algorithm reviews and organic SERP influence.
As we closed out the old year and head into 2016, many new changes are happening and this will continue to expand upon the digital marketing world. From mobile apps to UGC content marketing, 2016 will require a lot of new strategy, particularly for organic SEO and social media strategists with more continuity and content collaboration.
According to Statista.com, the forecasted number of mobile users in the U.S. for 2016 (as seen in the graph below) is estimated to reach 198.5 million unique users. Considering that in 2015, nearly 52% of users spent a majority of their time using mobile apps like Facebook, Twitter, and social media-based as well as business-based apps, these numbers will only increase in 2016. Billions of Internet activity and signals are occurring at a rate that Google is absorbing, dissecting and rolling up into rankings and authority.
Google has already been working more collaboratively with social media giants like Twitter and Facebook/Instagram where content from those platforms will begin to appear more frequently in mobile SERPs. In addition to those platforms, many others will become more indexed as we head into 2016. As the year continues, the line that has been drawn between web content and social media content is slowly going to be erased and merged into a more complementary effort.
Facebook has already taken several steps similar to a Google My Business by adding a verification step to business profile pages, which includes a blue badge or grey badge (depending on the page type) to give the page more authenticity.
As an example below, you can see the checkmark in the circle next to the business page brand name.
Social Media business brand pages that are verified should start showing up in SERP results at a higher frequency in 2016. When users, customers or prospects search for a brand, product or service, it will be important that your social channels rank for such results to lead people to your business. This click through referral-based traffic (from specific posts) should include UTM tracking, so that business owners can see how much traffic (and opportunity) such posts produced. V Digital Services engages in this best practice. More importantly, as it relates to organic search engine optimization, this is a signal activity at which Google is looking more closely.
From an organic SEO advantage standpoint, social media platforms like Facebook give owners the ability to post strategic content that links back to specific pages on their website, blogs or other social forums that help the user arrive at a specific point (ideally one with conversion opportunity). Traffic that stems from these social signals is what Google associates with what people are talking about by measuring the frequencies of content terms. Engagement is a key factor in this, as having your content liked and shared carries weight in that other users may link to your content, share your content, comment on your content and, over time, builds your business link diversity and page/domain authority.
This study by Topsy shows a high correlation between Facebook business pages whose posts had high shares and Google US SERP positions.
A newer (or more readily known) approach to social influences includes what is known as Graph search, which is a form of semantic search technology that responds to complex user queries and parses natural language rather than just looking for exact keyword matches or exact domain matches.
By collecting the user engagement of the interconnectedness of friends, their friends, and all their Facebook data, Graph Search returns something that no other search engine today can. It goes beyond the potential of the standalone search engines to add social signals to their algorithmic functions. Whether people will actually start using it enough to challenge Google remains to be seen, but it’s certainly worth your attention. Inserting Open Graph Data in 2016 should be on the top 10 items on your optimization list for the year.
Example of Open Graph Data for article rendering seen below:
Further evaluation by Dr. Peter Meyers from Moz shows the top domains in Google SERP that gained ranking authority:
Take note that Instagram improved by 123% in Google search results in 2015 based on this study.
Moz tracked about 10,000 keywords on a daily basis. As of December 1, 2015, here are the top ten domains that got the most exposure across those 10,000 keywords, below. The top 10 includes Facebook, the prominent social media giant who is slowly making more and more headway into Google SERPs.
There is no doubt that referral traffic to your website is a factor that rolls up into your overall domain authority. In fact in 2015, over 30% of referral traffic to websites came from trusted social channels like Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. As more traffic is directed to your site from trusted social channels, it should reinforce your site’s perceived value and authority in Google’s eyes. Google is recognizing these social signals and giving more weight to them in their SERP.
We posted a content specific link on a publication that had paid boosting behind it from one of our partner pages, linked specifically to a relevant page on the VDS website. The goal was to help boost “best SEO Denver” and, aside from the on-site optimization, we now see that we are on page 1 in the SERP results out more than 1.2 million results.
We also see an impact in the social referral traffic that went up from the previous month, as seen below, which impacts authority and SEO.
To wrap things up, here are some quick things to remember as it relates to social and organic SEO integration:
- Social Media Profiles are Ranking in Search Engines More Frequently
While social shares may or may not affect a webpage’s position in search listings, your clients’ social profiles definitely influence the content of search results. In fact, social media profiles are often amongst the top results in search listings for brand names. When I searched “Taylormade Golf” in Google, the company’s Twitter and Facebook profiles appeared in the top 5 results. Will that apply to all of our clients? If they don’t have social and are not building up their brand authority, it probably will not. A primary goal of our social services is to get business branding built up for our clients. Google sees that and pulls it into their Authority algorithm. Make sense?
Moreover, Google displayed the company’s Google+ profile information in the right-hand sidebar at the very top of their search results page.
Social channels can feel more personal than webpages, and they’re a great way to get a sense of a company’s personality right off the bat. When I’m researching a company I don’t know much about, I typically go straight to their Twitter or Facebook page. So if a social account shows up at the top of the search results, I’m just as likely to click on it as I would be to click on their website.
2. Social Links Can Be Used to Help Boost Your Search Rank
Social signals pertaining to a profile’s authority are out, but it looks like Google is more and more considering content published on social accounts to be credible backlinks (when done right – i.e. not stuffing). When a blog post goes viral on Twitter/Facebook, typically we see those new links boost the post’s search ranking.
3. Social Media Channels are Search Engines, Too
Nowadays, people don’t just go to Google and Bing to look things up, they also use social media channels to find what they’re after. Industry expert Neil Patel makes this point in his article on why social is the new SEO: “We need to understand that search engine optimization includes the search that happens on social media search engines.”
This works in a couple of ways. First, if you’re active on Twitter, it’s entirely possible that people will discover your company’s new content distribution app after searching for content marketing-related tweets with Twitter’s search engine. Second, brands that lend themselves to beautiful visual content can benefit from making their content visible on Pinterest and Instagram by using hashtags and properly categorizing their pins.
- There’s no doubt that your clients social profiles matter to Google and especially to people who are looking for them online. A few active social channels can make the experience of getting to know your brand online more fun, engaging and personal.
- We should and will expand our concept of SEO to include not just the traditional search engines – Google and Bing – but also social search engines such as Facebook, Twitter etc.
- Look out for hash tag integration potentially into the onsite META portion of webpages.
To conclude, it is safe to say that Google will use site-wide social signals to increase a site’s overall authority. This will, in turn, increase search visibility for all or some of its pages. Use Facebook as a minor ranking factor, but not the ultimate driver of your SEO strategy. Using relevancy information from social account sharing, the content and text surrounding links to sites from social platforms can help your overall SEO Strategy.