The connection between social media marketing and SEO can be confusing. Do social media signals impact search rankings? Should the social media team have a stake in SEO?

Common misconceptions have led some marketers to lose focus on what will effectively benefit both strategies to get the most out of every effort. In this blog, I’ll clear the air and explain how social media and SEO work together and how they can benefit each other:

Social Media Signals Are NOT SEO Ranking Factors

A big misconception about social media marketing and SEO is that signals from social media—including links, likes, and follows—have a direct impact on a page’s SEO ranking. Part of the confusion here comes from the fact that Google treats social media posts as individual web pages when it comes to search. If it’s effectively a web page, the same rules of SEO should apply to them, right?

Well, not exactly. The thing is, Google doesn’t like signals that they don’t have a lot of confidence in, and social media signals are too easy to manipulate. We know, for example, that links are a top ranking factor, but Google also knows how easy it is to create links on social networks—so no, all those social links aren’t the same as links from high-quality websites.

But just because those signals don’t directly impact your page ranking doesn’t mean that social media and SEO don’t work together. In fact, any good marketing strategy should have them working together. You just have to focus your strategy on what they can do for each other, which I’ll get into in more detail below.

Social Media Can Drive Page Views and Engagement

Social media is the easiest and most effective way to push out your SEO-based content. While the incoming links from your social media shares don’t have the same impact of authentic links from high-quality sites, they can have an effect on your bounce rate and time-on-site engagement. If your content is good and people stick around to read it, those engagement metrics communicate value to search engines.

Social media can also lead to authentic, high-quality links from influential websites. Influencers use social media as much as (or even more than) anyone else. With your content out there on the same channels they’re on, there’s a good chance they’ll see it and link to it from their own websites or blogs. That kind of high-value link building from influencer marketing can be difficult to land without social media.

Social Media Can Be a Valuable Barometer

Once you’ve got your posts up and running, you should keep an eye on engagement metrics (e.g. the number of likes, shares, and comments per post). This can gauge which topics and content formats your audience is most interested in and which may be a waste of time.

  • Clicks: Social media posts that generate traffic to your site may or may not end in conversions, but you do know that the content you posted to social—the image or the teaser text, etc.—spoke to your audience. At the end of the month, review the tweets and posts that got the most clicks and look for common themes. Are there certain pain points, solutions, or promises that seem to engage your audience the most?
  • Shares: Content that earns shares represents something that your audience identifies with enough that they are willing to make that content part of their own, personal brand. Watch for which types of content, on which themes and platforms, earn organic shares. Then, create more of what works.

Again, no direct SEO value, but some very valuable insights to hone your strategy moving forward.

Social Media Can Be an Amazing User Intent Research Tool

Keywords are useless today without a thorough understanding of the user’s intent in choosing that keyword. If someone searches “marketing automation,” for example, does he want to learn what the term means or does he want to buy software? Google aims to deliver the best results for every search, which means they are heavily invested in understanding user intent. Creating content that ranks well, then, means that marketers have to understand it as well.

There are a lot of ways to listen to your audience—to find out what questions they’re asking, what terms they’re using, what misconceptions and/or problems they have, etc.—and one way is through social listening. You should be reporting on what conversations your audience is having about your industry, product, brand, and more on social media. Those insights can drive a content marketing strategy that speaks directly to your target market’s needs, which is exactly the kind of content that search engines love to deliver.

Google Plus and Twitter Posts May Appear in Search Results

There is some ambiguity about whether Google Plus posts will still appear in search results, but they generally do not.

When the platform launched, some activities of Google Plus connections—such as reviews and Google Plus postings—would show up in related search results when users were logged into Google. In the fall of 2015, after much criticism, Google announced they would pull Plus posts off of search engine results page (SERP). More recently, Google Plus posts have been cited in Google’s “In the news” section on page 1 for certain terms, but it happens so seldom that it’s difficult to replicate on command. It’s a long shot and not really worth the effort for most brands.

Google does, however, have a partnership with Twitter. You may occasionally see relevant tweets in Google search results, especially for branded searches:

Propecta SERP

A SERP for “Propecta” includes a carousel of our most recent tweets.

So, while social posts showing up in search results don’t impact your site’s SEO, it can improve brand awareness and authority. If you want to drive any kind of traffic this way, just make sure to include links back to relevant content on your site.

Social media and SEO may not work in conjunction as far as directly building your website’s page rank, but a modern understanding of SEO makes social media an extremely valuable channel for your brand. As a social media marketer, you should be actively involved in your SEO strategy and perhaps even be represented in your SEO team. Stop blindly creating links and direct SEO signals, and get to work on promoting content and monitoring feedback for real, long-term SEO value.

Looking to elevate your social media marketing beyond increasing SEO? Download our Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing for a deep dive into how to create an effective social media strategy that drives value across the customer lifecycle—from awareness to advocacy—and throughout the organization.