5 Ways that Social Media Impacts SEO

Twitter Facebook Google+ logos in funnelI was invited to contribute a column to an upcoming social media guidebook from Media Industry Newsletter and Folio. I thought I’d share it here along with some links to additional resources. It is intended to be a general overview for publishers. Hopefully you’ll find it useful.

How does social media activity impact search engine optimization? That’s a common question these days as publishers try to make the most of search and social for audience development.

While the role of social media signals in Google and Bing’s ranking algorithms is still evolving there are already a number of ways that social media is having a clear influence.

Here are five ways that social media impacts SEO, or more specifically search engine visibility, rankings and traffic:

1. Annotations in the Search Results

Both Google and Bing use social data to annotate select listings on their search engine results pages.

The annotations include things like a thumbnail image or an indication that someone the user is connected to (be that a person or a brand) has shared or liked the page.

For example:

Annotated Google SERP for Melky Cabrera

Google Plus listing in the SERPs for Elvis Presley

Bing annotated SERP for Olympics

This extra visual information attracts user attention which leads to improved clickthrough rates and thus increased traffic from search engines.

2. Personalized Rankings

In addition to annotations the engines also personalize the order of their search results based on a number of factors including social connections and activity.

Google’s “Search Plus Your World” puts the most weight on Google+ activity but other social signals are taken into consideration too. Bing has stronger relationships with Facebook and Twitter so it is in a better position to utilize their data.

This means if a user has +1’ed or liked or shared a particular Web page that page is more likely to appear higher in their search results.

Similarly if a user is connected to a brand’s official page things the brand has shared or posted are more likely to be given prominence in the user’s results (as seen in the screenshots above).

The ranking changes are most apparent for signed-in users but personalization impacts the results of users that are not signed in as well.

Beyond personalized search results the engines are also looking at social activity in aggregate to help evaluate the popularity or relative importance of content and the authority of both sites and authors.

Thus social media activity can impact overall rankings too although still to a limited degree at this time.

3. Secondary Links

When it comes to ranking factors links are still much more important than social shares. A link from a quality, trusted site has considerably greater weight than a like, tweet or +1.

Fortunately a good deal of social activity revolves around sharing links. Unfortunately many social media sites add a “nofollow” attribute to any links within user generated content. This is a necessary step to combat spam but it takes away the SEO value of the links.

However links from social media still have considerable indirect SEO value because users discover content through them which leads to links in other places (like blogs) that do have SEO value.

As a result social media activity is a good source of secondary links. Dan Zarrella’s look at the correlations between social sharing and inbound links helps to illustrate this point.

For more on this topic see my analysis of what types of sites get the most links from Pinterest.

4. Highlighting Authors

In some instances Google is now highlighting author information in its search results.

Highlighted authors get a thumbnail headshot, Google+ information plus as a “More by” link that surfaces more of their work:

Google author rich snippet

As with other forms of social annotations this extra exposure has the potential to increase clickthrough rates so it is worth taking advantage of the opportunity.

Participation requires creating a Google+ profile and connecting it to the sites that the person is writing for. See the Google help link above for details.

5. AuthorRank

Beyond author markup in the search results, both Google and Bing are beginning to utilize the concept of AuthorRank in which trusted, popular authors may be given a boost in search and social media visibility.

The engines have long used factors like domain authority, trust and link popularity in their ranking algorithms for websites and pages. Now these concepts are being applied to individuals too and social media activity is an important signal in making those calculations.

In essence, the work and activity of writers with a strong social presence may be given greater weight in determining search and social media visibility. So authors that have an active following with good engagement, and whose content is frequently shared and linked to, will have a leg up.

Ultimately it is about establishing things like trust, credibility, popularity, influence and topical authority, all of which are good for both SEO and social media marketing. It is still early days in terms of the impact of AuthorRank but it is something that is worth experimenting with.


So there you have it.

For tips on integrating search and social initiatives at large organizations see my column on Search Engine Land: 5 Ways To Better Integrate Social Media & Enterprise SEO.

Also be sure to check out my thorough, painstakingly created SEO and Social Media for Publishers: A Low-Rent Infographic.


  1. says

    Thanks for the post Adam, I’m really intrigued by #5 and how AuthorRank will be implemented in future SERP’s. I’m curious to see how agencies change up their ghost writing techniques for clients who are lacking a face to promote. We’ve made some recent modifications to the way we post articles and have seen some nice (minor) results, but we are just getting started :)

  2. says

    Thanks Aaron. Some of the magazine sites we work with don’t always include a byline or publicized author on every piece of content, which takes away the Google Authorship opportunity for those pages. There are usually business or editorial reasons for this but it’s causing some publishers to reconsider their approach.

  3. says

    Good insight, we have about 240 blog posts with a large blog here in town and are currently working with the Publisher on integrating the Google Authorship. I think in the end, it should be a plus (no pun intended) for the publishers to include Authorship due to it’s impact with SERPs. Thanks again!

  4. says

    This is a really good post Adam. Social media have really changed the way SEO is done. I think that the most influential is #2 – the personalized rankings. Doing SEO, you are trying to be as “high” as possible. However, with the personalized rankings it just have a whole new dimension, which needs to be taken into account.

  5. says

    Just have this author markup implemented with my blog and I think it will have a great impact on people’s decision about opening a link during their research. As addition this authorship let’s people identify articles that looks more valuable compare with the other links that are available in page one.

  6. says

    Thank you Adam. It is all very usefull directions. We have 21 writers all around the world and it will be more in near future. And ı think Personalized Rankings #2 is really very good.

  7. says

    Social media is no longer just a branding tool. Social media activity has an impact on how your site is ranked in the search engines. This seems to be the primary reason that Google launched Google+, to get access to this important social data since the search engines were moving in a direction of more personalized results.

  8. says

    Michal – Thanks! It will be interesting to see how using social signals for personalization continues to evolve. Also what new methods of annotations the engines will experiment with.

    Arwin – I hope you get good results from your author markup. So far it’s been helping with CTR with some of the publishers we work with.

    Pinar – Teşekkür ederim! Sounds like you have an interesting team of writers.

    Nick – Thanks as always for your input. Agreed that their hopes for Google+ are likely as much about mining social signals as anything else.

  9. says

    “When it comes to ranking factors links are still much more important than social shares. A link from a quality, trusted site has considerably greater weight than a like, tweet or +1.”
    This is one of the most important points I’ve tried to emphasize to my previous employer (manager), but he just didn’t want to listen. Because most agencies, esp in South Africa, only recently got onto the whole digital bandwagon, most have absolutely no idea of the value of a backlink strategy. This practice has been made obsolete when in actual fact is still one of the most powerful rank boosters when applied correctly.

    Thank you for such a great article. Your insight is spot on!

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