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What Are Social Signals?

Social signals refer to the collective likes, shares, votes, pins, views, etc. that people use to endorse online content on social media platforms. They represent human interaction and approval of web content. In the context of search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing, social signals have been the subject of much discussion and debate concerning their correlation with website rankings and overall SEO performance.

Some believe that these signals can influence search rank, while others think their impact is minimal. Here’s a breakdown of what social signals encompass and their speculated effects:

  1. Types of Social Signals:
    • Likes and reactions: For instance, on platforms like Facebook, users can ‘like’ or provide other ‘reactions’ to content.
    • Shares, retweets, and reposts: When users share content to their own followers or friends.
    • Comments: Feedback or discussions initiated by users regarding the content.
    • Bookmarks and favorites: Such as the “Save” feature on Instagram or favoriting a tweet on Twitter.
    • Mentions: This can be direct (like tagging someone in a post) or indirect (talking about an entity without tagging it).
  2. Speculated Effects on SEO:
    • Direct Impact: While it’s widely believed that Google doesn’t use social signals as a primary factor in its ranking algorithm, some argue that these signals still can play a role.
    • Indirect Impact: Even if social signals aren’t a direct ranking factor, they can influence other factors that do impact rankings. For instance, a piece of content that’s widely shared on social media might attract more backlinks, and backlinks are a known ranking factor.
    • Brand Awareness: A higher social media presence can enhance brand recognition and loyalty. If users recognize a brand from social media in search results, they might be more likely to click on it.
    • Increased Traffic: Popular content on social media can drive significant traffic to a website, which might indirectly influence rankings.
  3. Points of Consideration:
    • Correlation ≠ Causation: While studies may show a correlation between strong social signals and higher search rankings, it’s not clear-cut evidence that one causes the other.
    • Volatile Nature: Social signals can be fleeting. A viral post one week might be forgotten the next, so it’s unlikely that search engines would rely heavily on such a transient metric.
    • Manipulation Concerns: Like backlinks, if social signals were a heavy ranking factor, there would be potential for manipulation (e.g., buying likes or shares).

Regardless of the ongoing debate about the direct impact of social signals on SEO, it’s undeniable that a strong social media presence is beneficial for brand visibility, audience engagement, and overall online marketing success.

To use social signals effectively it is best to implement a broad-based posting campaign. This isn’t a post-now-and-then strategy, but using social media management tools or a company to post to as many channels as possible at least daily.  It is also only effective if you are monitoring and reporting on the various factors of social media like engagement rates.  Posts with no general engagement rarely generate social signals according to our studies. Also, social signals should be part of an ongoing campaign where you generate the signals consistently to get the best results.

What Are Social Signals?