Imagine if your business appeared high up on the first page of Google’s search results whenever someone typed in a relevant search term — without your having to spend a single cent on ads. How amazing would that be? Are you drooling yet? Did you know that social media helps SEO, i.e. search engine optimization?

With over 1 billion people on Facebook, and over 900 million combined on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest, you would be crazy to not have a presence on the social media networks where your customers hang out. But did you know that these networks are also giving smart businesses an edge over their competitors when it comes to search engine rankings and SEO? Raise your hands if you’d like some more love from Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and other search engines…and read on.

1. Social media helps SEO on Google — directly.

Google and Twitter have announced that Google’s search results will now include tweets and Twitter accounts that match the search term. People searching on mobile — which actually represents the majority of all Google searches done in the U.S. — will be the first to see this change. They’ll see it when they’re doing a Google search in their mobile browser, or in Google’s iOS or Android apps. But soon anyone using on a desktop or laptop will also see the change.

Now when the two companies first announced this change, they used a few popular, media-friendly, search terms like Taylor Swift and NASA to explain this new feature. But unless you’re a huge Taylor Swift fan (and who isn’t?) the most interesting question is, what will results look like for less glamorous searches, like “best real estate agent in Dallas” or “small business consultant in Kansas City”? And how can you get your Twitter account to the top of the heap?

As is usually the case when it comes to unpacking the mysterious, voodo-wrapped black box known as SEO, this calls for a bit of speculation.

Social media helps SEO -- the black box
How the major search engines build their algorithms. No, really.

If you were Google and Twitter, which Twitter accounts would you put at the top of those results? I’m willing to bet that the Twitter accounts that make it to the top of Google’s search results will have at least 4 things:

  • The right search terms in their Twitter bio
  • A sizable number of followers, providing social proof of their right to represent this search term
  • A sizable number of other people actively talking about this Twitter account, and
  • Having people who are not just talking about this Twitter account, but mentioning it in conjunction with that search term.

So are you going to wait until your competitors own this? Or would you rather start prepping now? Here are the steps you should start taking today to get ready for this brave new world.

  • First, use Google’s keyword planner to figure out the search terms with which you want to be associated and make sure these are in your Twitter bio. (And also the bios of all your other social media networks while you’re at it.) Ryan Cruz has a great post that explains how this planner works (and also shows you a few other nifty ways to use it.)
  • Then, make sure you are building up a steady stream of new followers by tweeting frequently and consistently. Don’t just broadcast, but engage with your followers and potential followers to get people talking to and about your Twitter account.
  • Finally, when you do talk about your brand on Twitter (which should only be about 20-25% of the time) make sure you’re using the key search terms you want to own. With luck and skill you’ll get followers echoing the sentiment, building a trail for Google to follow.

2. Your social media profiles are already appearing in search results.

As Chloe Mason Gray points out, the results of a search for your brand’s name are likely to include your social media profiles today, anyway. So, whether you are aware of it or not, your social media may be already helping to direct people to your business when they type in a certain search term. A look at your Google Analytics stats can tell you, particularly if you use a tracking URL to help detect this. (Here’s a free, easy-to-use tool from Google to create one.) If you’re General Electric you can worry less about your brand being misunderstood, but if you’re a lesser known entity who wants to stake its claim to fame it will definitely benefit you to put the keyword terms you want right upfront in your social media profiles to help your SEO and, more broadly, to help you establish the reputation you want.

3. Don’t forget: “search” is more than just Google….

Google may be the big kahuna, but don’t forget the concept of marginal utility: the smaller you are, the more mileage you will get from even the smallest incremental gains. As a small(er) business do you really want to neglect all the other search engines that have long been taking your social profiles into account?

Take Bing. It hosts one out every five searches done on the desktop in the U.S. and has explicitly told Search Engine Land that it looks at your social networks when compiling results:

We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results. It carries much more weight in Bing Social Search, where tweets from more authoritative people will flow to the top when best match relevancy is used.

This is backed up by a statement directly from Bing:

Social media plays a role in today’s effort to rank well in search results. The most obvious part it plays is via influence. If you are influential socially, this leads to your followers sharing your information widely, which in turn results in Bing seeing these positive signals. These positive signals can have an impact on how you rank organically in the long run.

And because Bing powers most of Yahoo search its reach is actually greater than its direct market share.

4. Finally, consider how many searches are now being done directly on the social media networks, themselves.

Neil Patel explained just how significant this has become:

  • Twitter: handles 19 billion search queries a month (based on 2010 data)
  • Facebook: one billion search queries per day (based on a statement it made in 2012)
  • YouTube: roughly 3.7 billion search queries a month (as of 2010)

So while you should certainly keep an eye on where your website ranks in Google, Bing and Yahoo results, remember that search is getting more social by the day. Social media helps SEO, so do optimize your profiles, post frequently, and talk to your followers to take advantage of it!

Do you use social media consciously to boost your SEO? What other tactics do you use? Tell us in the comments!

Photo credit: Flickr – PhotoAtelier