For years SEO experts and content strategists have talked about the importance of links to your website and sharing content on social media. Along the way the rules have changed significantly. At first, good SEO was all about developing a critical mass of referral links from a wide variety of sites across the web.
This shotgun linking approach evolved into a more focused referral strategy where the objective was to build massive amounts of links on the sites which were considered “experts” in a given industry. This worked for a very long time, until Google figured out webmasters and strategists were buying link placements.
Link buying flies in the face of Google’s core philosophy, which is to organically find the most relevant and high quality content across the web and serve it up to searchers. Tons and tons of irrelevant links on bogus sites- coupled with the abuse of keyword optimizing on websites- was cheapening the overall Google experience. They needed a way to refresh the search model math, and they needed something fast.
The solution? Social signals.
So what are social signals? In 2010, Google math magician and caretaker extraordinaire, Matt Cutts, explained in a Youtube video certain signals from popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook could add to a website’s authority on a subject. Presumably, these signals would help a site rise in the search ranks.
This was a huge deal for SEO experts and content strategists as they were forced to shift their attention to sharing content on social media as a way to push positive signals back to a website. There was a feeling that links from an influential Twitter user would have more value than the average person, but all links from social media help raise brand awareness and lead audiences back to a website.
Just as things were settling down into a new routine, things changed again. Earlier this year, Matt Cutts released a new video in which he explains the math Google uses to determine whether or not your website is worthy of sharing does not actually include social signals. His exact words were:
“Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index 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 “you have this 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.”
Whoa! That’s a major difference from the entire SEO strategy we’ve been following for the last 4 years. Cutts has come right out and said Google has zero ways to understand the importance of a “Like” or a “Favorite” or a LinkedIn “Endorsement.” So what gives?
One of my all time favorite experts on SEO, Neil Patel, tackles this subject head on in a long, informative blog post covering Matt Cutt’s back and forth stance on social signals. While Google is still the primary path for search traffic to your website, it is not the only route for customers and prospects to find you. Social media activity drives traffic to both your website and your social pages. Both these activities build your brand. Neil suggests that- instead of seeing social media as a dying form of SEO- it may in fact be the new version of web search.
So, who’s right?
Are social signals really dead because they don’t add to your Google results? Or are links and social shotgunning the best way to stay visible and reach more audiences?
The truth is none of these things really matter in the long run. There will be changes and more changes. There is one marketing strategy which always holds true: Above all else, create the highest quality content you can. Period.
While the overall value of links has decreased over time and social signals may be a complete myth, there’s still huge benefit in creating amazing content for your audience to consume and share. Social media outlets like Facebook, Youtube and LinkedIn are all giant search engines of their own. If you’re sharing enough great content frequently, and it’s getting shared across networks, you’re increasing the chance your content will be found on those platforms. For some consumer brands the social community can be the most active and vital part of their marketing.
Even if you are in a less “fun” industry, those links on social platforms will drive visitors to your site. Instead of worrying about which SEO advice is right, create great content, share it liberally and your customers will find you. A successful strategy will live and die by awesome content. If you want to win the search battle you need to be writing and sharing stories only you can tell. If you’re a subject matter expert, talk about it regularly. Use social media to share information about products and services, company activities, and client success stories.