Are social signals a relevant Google ranking factor?

September 4, 2019
Social Signals

An increasing number of likes and shares for your own website? This obviously speaks for the success and quality of the content. But how does Google rate positive feedback on Facebook and co.? The importance of likes and shares is the subject of heated debate among search engine optimizers. Are social signals a ranking factor?

What are social signals?

Social signals are actions that refer to websites in social media portals. These include, for example,

  • shares and likes on Facebook,
  • retweets on Twitter,
  • pins, snaps, emojis and smileys
  • as well as other (usually positive) feedback from users in social networks.

Websites profit from positive signals generated on social media platforms: The more the better. However, the rating is not necessarily a ranking factor.

Recognized ranking factors

It is well known that SEO is something of a secret science. Google likes to keep its strategies to itself. That’s why many ranking factors – at least officially – are not known. However, SEO experts agree on many aspects. The position of a website in search results depends largely on the following factors:

  • Suitability of the website for mobile devices (keywords: Mobile first, responsive design)
  • Keyword-relevant content and quality of content
  • User reactions (these include bounce rates for instance)
  • Snippets optimization – what is displayed on the Google results list?
  • Structured data
  • Loading speed (page speed)
  • Internal linking
  • Backlinks

And what about likes and shares? There is a lot of uncertainty about this among SEO experts. Some experts believe that there is a connection between social signals and the Google ranking of a website.

Possible SEO factors with regard to social media

If it’s true that Google feeds social signals directly into a website’s rating, they might include these aspects:

  • Tweets that point to a website could be rated similarly to links. In addition, the Twitter authority may be considered for the evaluation.
  • The same applies to shares on Facebook. On the other hand, Google has a hard time assigning likes.
  • On Pinterest the same is assumed for pins with website links.
  • Voting behavior on different social media channels can also indicate the value of a website.

Here, however, everything is still unclear. In its, guidelines for webmasters, Google consistently recommends creating content for users rather than search engines. And that is undoubtedly the most effective SEO strategy in the long term.

A further argument against the relevance of social media signals is the “nofollow” attribute, which is often set here. The “nofollow” comment in a link code instructs Google crawlers to leave the link out of the rating.

Are social signals a direct ranking factor?

There are actually some studies that show evidence of a correlation between likes and shares on the one hand and clicks on the other (examples: Moz, Searchmetrics). Websites with numerous social signals rank significantly better than websites with fewer mentions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and co. But this is not really surprising. A well-known page will obviously be clicked and shared more often. But a statistical correlation alone does not say anything about causal relationships.

Officially, Google is unforthcoming about the relevance of social signals. But one thing is certain, Google includes visitor reactions and the number of backlinks in its rating. And shares and likes have a bearing on this.

Social signals are most likely not a direct (“hard”) ranking factor. However, they are undoubtedly a powerful catalyst for the presence of a website in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). The more users communicate with each other via a website, the higher the level of attention. And this in turn has consequences that have a direct impact on the ranking.

Social signals as part of an SEO strategy

Social signals within the context of a comprehensive SEO strategy are helpful. Likes, shares and retweets are ranking factors. Direct or indirect? That is anyone’s guess – but today, no company can afford to ignore social networks.

Numerous likes, shares and tweets draw more attention, more visitors and more backlinks (for instance, from bloggers). Social signals therefore improve Google’s ranking, at least indirectly, because they produce the following effects:

1. Brand building

Make a name for yourself. Which channel is better suited than social media these days? Once a brand has established itself, the number of Google searches for it increases.

2. Attention, reach and backlinks

Social media creates synergy effects. The more users talk about the company, the more people will gradually be addressed.

3. Social media presences also rank high on Google

The leading search engine notices popular contributions on Facebook and co. It is therefore important to regularly optimize the social media profiles and link them to the website.

Ideally, a company’s SEO, content and social media strategies should work together.

Likes, shares and the SEO cycle

Whether directly or indirectly – the influence of social signals cannot be denied. This is because:

  • Content that is shared via social media (shares) is seen more frequently.
  • This increases the probability that the page in question will be linked (i.e., receive a backlink).
  • Many relevant and high-quality backlinks have a positive effect on the ranking.
  • Better ranking draws increased attention in social networks.

It is something of an SEO cycle. However, this is based on the old wisdom that quality speaks for itself. Today, “word gets around” in the social networks. Which is why marketing experts rely on Facebook and co. – and partly take over the task of the SEO departments in the same company.

A glimpse into the crystal ball

The importance of social media is growing. Even the leading search engine cannot ignore it. Google would not be Google if the company did not exploit the potential of social media. With the help of artificial intelligence it will be possible in the future to better understand identities and relationships between users, enabling the correct classification of feedback on social media. Regardless of whether social signals have a direct or indirect impact on Google’s ranking: Facebook and co. must not be overlooked when developing marketing or SEO strategies.



Jan Knupper