Do Social Shares Influence SEO? Yes, No, And How

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If there’s one major misconception when it comes to the world of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), it’s that shares on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social media channel boost a piece of web content’s SERP ranking. I can admit to believe this idea myself, since it makes some sense that shares on social media would influence a post’s SEO standing.

But as I was surprised to learn, as many others certainly will be, social shares actually have no direct influence on SERP rankings.

Google has gone on the record to formally state that social shares have zero direct impact on page rankings nor the search engine’s page-aggregating algorithm. Ultimately, the belief that social shares impact SEO is just a rumor.

How can it be, though, when some of the highest ranking pages on numerous SERPs also have huge social reach? See for yourself – search just about any query and when you take a look at the number of social shares on the top results you’ll undoubtedly notice a commonality when it comes to social media. Namely that the top ranking results also have tons of social media followers.

So really, it’s hard not to recognize a correlation between social reach and ranking. And yet Google has gone to great lengths to tell people that social shares has no direct effect on SEO rankings.

That’s some very specific wording, however, because while social shares may not have a direct impact on SERP rankings, it does influence page ranks in a more indirect manner.

Delving into the nitty-gritty facts, MOZ Blog’s Larry Kim analyzed a wealth of data relating to high ranking posts and SEO. Kim examined the level of social engagement of a post and how the posts ranked on a SERP.

Unsurprisingly, Kim found that posts with high social engagement also topped SERPs, typically being among the top organic results.

So doesn’t that mean social shares boost a post’s ranking? Not really, it just demonstrates what engagement plays a role in SEO. Content that has strong social engagement tends to have strong user engagement in general, and tends to entice readers into clicking. So, a clickbait-y-but-informative viral Facebook post will have tons of engagement because it pulls readers in and makes them stay on the page.

Same idea goes in the context of SEO. When that same post (with the same title and similar description) appears on an SERP, it’s more likely that a user will click on it, be interested, and ignore other results. Search engines like Google then recognize this level of engagement, and the post gets more ranking points.

At the base of the connection between social shares and SEO is engagement, not necessarily the shares themselves. Posts that do incredibly well on social media tend to have high SEO rankings simply because the content is engaging, and the algorithms used by search engines and social channels favour content with high engagement rates.

With this in mind, an SEO strategy becomes clear: the type of post that did very well on social media, whether it’s a simple status update or meme, can achieve a strong SEO standing if it’s made into an original piece of content. Simply expand on the idea (if need be) and use it to create an engaging post that people will want to click on and read.

The same works in the opposite direction. A post that’s already achieved a strong SEO ranking can do even more if shared on social channels, or made into several social media posts.

Just remember, it’s all about engagement, not the number of social shares.

Featured image courtesy of: mkhmarketing

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