Although professional online marketers like to say that theirs is an industry where giant corporations and mom-and-pop shops compete on an even footing, the fact is there is way too much information available for you to pay attention to without assembling a dedicated marketing team. To make the most out of limited resources, you have to know which areas are most important. If you are trying to optimize your site for better search engine performance, how hard do you need to be looking at your pages’ social media impact?
Social Signals Defined
Social signals is the au courant term that marketers use when they are referring to a page’s popularity on social media networks. It basically boils down to the number of times your page gets liked, shared, and tweeted about. Sending more signals means attracting a wider audience. Does this process in and of itself improve your search engine performance, though?
As we move deeper into 2016, all the signs are pointing to the relationship between social signals and search engine visibility being a very strong one, but not a causal one. That is, you can’t bump a page up on its search engine rankings by getting it more social media attention. However, pages that do send off strong signals also tend to be ranked well on the results pages.
Google’s Latest On Social Signals
While lots of marketers like to pretend that all search engines are created equal, you should face facts. How Google determines its rankings is always going to be hugely important. That’s why marketers are always eager to snatch up the latest news on the giant’s attitude towards social signals. Since a few tentative statements back in 2010 indicating that signals might factor into its ranking algorithms, Google has switched to a consistent line that repeats over and over that signals don’t directly affect ranking.
Here’s an article from the end of 2015 that details a chat with John Mueller. Mueller reiterates the company line, but he also notes that Google has direct access to many social networks now and ranks and presents their posts just like web content. That means that having a strong social presence is an important part of maximizing your visibility, even if it doesn’t contribute directly to a given page’s SEO performance.
The Canary Effect
For the time being, it looks like social signals remain an important part of your online marketing world even without a direct tie to search engine rankings. What really makes them worth looking at is the way they give you direct feedback on a given page’s popularity.
Pages that generate more signals are clearly resonating with your audience. You can put this to use like a canary in a coalmine, shaping your future content to match previous posts that had a strong social impact. By targeting a broad user base this way, you’ll ensure more traffic flowing through your site, which definitely is something Google pays attention to when ranking your pages.
While you probably shouldn’t consider social signals to be your primary metric for directing your optimization strategy, that doesn’t mean they should be ignored, either. Use those signals for what they are: A quick audience snapshot that helps you gauge your pages’ popularity. Building more popular pages and attracting more social attention will leave you with pages that also perform well in SEO terms.