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What Are Social Signals, and How Do They Help My Website Rank?

Social signals are instances when your website gets shared on social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and others. There are additional signals that happen after the initial share, too, for example when:

  • A Facebook post that gets shared, Liked, or commented on
  • A Twitter tweet that gets retweeted or replied to
  • A Pinterest Pin that gets favorited or repined
  • A Google+ post that is reshared or commented on
  • A YouTube video that gets commented on or liked/unliked

In other words, any time an action is made on a social media share, that is an additional signal being generated. These signals are ranking factors in Google and the other search engines, too, helping to build traction for your website’s content.

How Important Are These Social Signals?

In a recent study done by SearchMetrix, the top 10 ranking URLs have across 10,000 search queries had an average of:

  • Almost 1700 Facebook signals
  • 160+ Tweets
  • 143 Google “Plus Ones”
  • 36 Pins on Pinterest

In other words, social signals are extremely important. These are "averages" which means many top ranking URLs had a lot more social shares, posts, tweets, and engagement overall.

How Do I Maximize the Impact of These Social Signals?

Unlike other types of linking strategies, social signals don’t seem to have any penalties associated with them in Google’s algorithm. (However, the caveat is that since it can be abused, and can follow obvious unnatural patterns if manipulated 'incorrectly', there's a way to achieve them, and ways to avoid - essentially, make sure they are legitimate).

Social signals in general rank very high on the hierarchy of ranking factors, whether those are coming from Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. And, social signals seem to “take up the slack”, in a sense, when the website’s content may not be perfect, or may not contain the 5-6 original images or other top quality standards the search engines look for.

The important thing to remember about social signals is that these signify interest or relevance in a particular website – they serve as social proof that the website is worth visiting and sharing, regardless of the content quality.

Google gives weight to certain types of social hyperlinking, particularly:

  • - Text from the page
  • - Page title
  • - Domain name
  • - Images from the page

Social media platforms do things a bit differently. More weight is applied to hyperlinks from the images on the page or URL. It is crucial to understand those distinctions to make the most of your social signals (and IMAGE links.. HINT HINT)

How Do I Use Facebook to Improve My SEO?

It is possible to create optimized posts on Facebook that carry weight and social signal credibility back to the linked page. It’s easy to do, and these posts can actually rank in Google if followed up with aggressive linking. Just like with your website, creating quality content with well-written text, images, and other media types is important. The difference is that on social media platforms, you can insert links anywhere you like into your post content and there won’t be any risk.. The problem here is that these signals rarely, if ever, carry enough weight to rank a site on their own.

Optimized posts have the ability to rank because of the size and weight of the social media platforms – they are considered trusted sources on their own.

Here are some tips for creating an optimized post on Facebook:

  • - Write long-format content
  • - Include original images
  • - Give the post a unique description, and don’t be afraid to make it long

Remember, the more likes you can get on that post, or the more comments or shares, the better the post helps with search engine rankings of any site or resource linked from the post.

Every social signal generated by your social media posts is credited to your website.

This method works well in Facebook, where a website that is not getting any traction on its own can be boosted by a simple paid ad on the social media site. One doesn’t even have to budget a lot of money for it -- $20.00 is all it takes for an effective simple ad, and provided that the post gets engagement (likes, comments, etc) the signals will be attributed to the page that's linked.

Another technique to take advantage of is by using Facebook’s custom audience technology, which lets users insert a tracking cookie into the content. The value of this for SEO purposes is that it tends to draw repeat visitors back to your website, which counts heavily toward rankings.

Can I Use Twitter To Improve My SEO?

With Twitter, there are a number of techniques you can use to help generate those all-important social signals. Some of these are familiar for other platforms as well. These include:

  • - Customized tweets
  • - Inclusion of unique images
  • - Tweet replies and retweets

Again, the more social signals that your content generates on Twitter, the better for your overall search engine rankings for your website. And, just like with Facebook, you can include links that won’t penalize you within the Google Algorithm (but again, avoid footprints and don't do anything obviously spammy)

How Can I Use Pinterest to Boost My Website’s Search Engine Ranking?

If you're using multiple images in your content like Tyler recommends, making sure those images get pinned to Pinterest is a great way to leverage the power of this social media platform to boost search engine rankings. Simply adding four or five images into a text-based post gives visitors something to pin, and when they do, it carries a link back to your site (or page).

By pinning, repining, and using other shares on the platform, those social signals benefit your website, helping it to gain increased placement on Google and the other search engines. Including links with the content you share on Pinterest won’t penalize your website, either, just as it won’t with links included on other social media platforms like Facebook.

What Other Techniques Can I Use to Boost SEO?

Self-hosted images are a great, although very advanced strategy for getting quality links to your site. The trick here is to have bloggers and other content marketers embed your image in their content, and wrap an "HREF" hyperlink tag around the image, and link back to your site or page using the image as the link. It's a great strategy, but you need a lot of them for it to work.

  • - First, create your post on your own website and embed your images
  • - Next, get other bloggers/webmasters to link to your post with your image embedded on their site.

Ranking Factors Summary

Some ranking factors are more effective than others. The most important in today’s search engine algorithms tend to be:

  • Content quality and use of rich media – applicable to any website, blog, or social media platform. Content is king! (again!).
  • User-engagement metrics – how visitors use and engage with your website, including ease of use and navigational behavior within the website’s content.
  • Social signals – users sharing, liking, commenting on, and other interactions with your site on social platforms.
  • Internal & External Linking - to and from outside resources, as well as robust internal website navigation.

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