People have always pondered just how much impact social signals actually have when it comes to the search results. While Google has said on numerous occassions that social signals, such as shares, likes or retweets, do not have any impact on the Google search results for ranking, because Google can index those pages, there is often the question of whether those social signals might help even slightly.
The question came up in the last Google Webmaster Office Hours. The question was specifically whether social signals have any impact on the organic rankings in Google and here is John Mueller’s response.
Not directly. So it’s not that there’s any kind of ranking effect there, to the most part social networks also have a nofollow on the links that they kind of provide when they host this content, so it’s not the case where that would give you any kind of a ranking boost there.
What you do sometimes see however is that these social posts show up in the search results, they can be contented like any other piece of content and they can rank for your keywords, they can rank for your product name, so they can show up in the search results as well, which in turn gives you maybe a little bit more presence, maybe provide some context for users in the search results.
Another aspect there specifically around Twitter and maybe Google+ at the moment is that when we recognize that there’s content in social networks that are relevant to the user, then we will try to show that in the search results as well. So I believe we show Twitter content in the index in the US on mobile at the moment, so that’s something that might be visible as well.
It’s not that your content will rank higher because of that, but there’s just more content with your company name or your brand or your product name out there and we might choose to show that in search as well.
We have seen cases where posts can end up ranking higher than the website those posts lead to – especially for sites that are penalized – and have even seen cases where Facebook posts can show up as a featured snippet result. It can also be an effective way to help lock out additional competitors from ranking their own content on the first page of the search results, since social posts can sometimes rank well, especially if those posts also have links pointed to them.
There’s also plenty of benefits from the sharing aspect and additional exposure to others who may not have seen your brand, your products or your site if someone hadn’t shared it to them. That in turn can lead to additional direct traffic – even if not Google traffic specifically – but it can also lead to the possibility that some of those people who saw a share related to your brand could also share or even link to it from their site – another indirect bonus where a social media post can result in another great link.
So while there might not be direct ranking benefits for your website with regards to social signals, Google can still index those social posts and rank them accordingly – possibly competing with your site or simply complementing your site while preventing competitors from ranking there.
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Jason Darrell says
Great article, addressing a bugbear of mine that really got under my skin for many months over on Google+.
The one thing we can say about JohnMu is that he’ll only ever impart enough detail to give a feasible (or even sometimes ‘fluffy’) explanation when answering concepts about search that could open up a floodgate of spam if misinterpreted.
As many SEOs haven’t the foggiest about search, specifically the knowledge graph, there’s a fair-to-jolly good chance that they’ll only ever pick up on a sentence or phrase they want to hear…
…and then go and blow it out of all proportion, get it wrong and give SEO an even worse name than it has already. ‘Snakeoil’ is the most recent adjective I’ve seen used to describe the practice. So, yes, one can understand why JohnMu is often guarded in his answers.
Seeing the bigger picture
The problem is, this brevity can also lead to misinformation. The most telling way that social can affect your ranking (or standing/reputation) is not in any single post. It’s about the information within your social content that Google can glean (scrape) and attribute to your node on the Knowledge Graph.
We know that Google is building up a picture of us as entities. This information is then fed into the Knowledge Graph as our theoretical ‘About Us’ page on Google’s database.
We also know that search engines continue to struggle to build a complete picture from websites because of under-optimised/unstructured/rambling content thereupon.
It’s my belief that Google’s partnership with Twitter is as much to gain a true perspective of us all as entities (especially given the toning down of Authorship) as well as highlight the conversation around our brand in search.
The conversation in and around these social snippets is then helping Google understand our business better, thus rank our content with more confidence for relevant queries.
And that’s the key: disambiguating the entities within our content so that Google/Bing et al are aware of:
• the services we provide;
• our target audience;
• our brand and it’s raison d’etre.
The true value of social media as a ranking factor is not how any one post (blog or social media) can perform. It is about helping Google learn to trust us enough so that it offers our content with confidence when customers submit their queries. IMH☺