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Are Social Signals a Ranking Factor? Let’s Look at the Evidence

Are Social Signals a Ranking Factor? Let’s Look at the Evidence

by Philip Armstrong27th May 2015

Do social signals, such as likes and comments, contribute to your site’s ranking? This has been debated extensively; but do we now have a definitive answer?

SEO’s noticed a correlation between increased social signals (getting engagement for their Facebook posts and Tweets) and improved rankings for their content.

But a correlation does necessarily guarantee causation.

And the question remains: are social signals a ranking factor?


Matt Cutts Has Always Denied That Social Signals Are a Ranking Factor

It has been quite some time since Matt spoke on this issue, but he indicated that Google’s algorithm does not take into account social signals, like number of likes; retweets; shares etc. A Facebook page for example will not rank as a result of having many likes; however there are a lot of positive effects that can come as a result of a page being genuinely popular, like increased backlinks which then lead to improved rankings.

Matt explains here:

But should we trust Matt Cutts? Should we trust a Google employee whose main objective is to reduce gaming of the system?


Evidence That Social Signals ARE Ranking Factors for Google & Bing

Neil Patel from QuickSprout has summarised the findings of several case studies into a convenient infographic:


how social works

These case studies lend support to the idea that social signals have a direct, positive effect on a website’s rankings, but are far from conclusive.


What We KNOW

With all of the competing information we have, let’s look at what we actually know:

  • Backlinks from Facebook posts, Tweets, and Pins are all no-followed – meaning that they do not pass on PageRank
  • Social signals, like retweets, can provide citation value
  • Social sharing can result in users building do-follow backlinks from their own sites, which can boost rankings
  • Google have stated that social signals are not a ranking factor
  • There have not yet been any case studies that have definitively shown that social signals boost rankings

Even with the supporting case studies, there is no evidence that having likes for your website’s Facebook page or Tweets will boost your site’s rankings. That is to say, that it is not part of Google’s ranking algorithm. Often a side effect of having a successful social media strategy is the acquisition of backlinks, and this is what is actually improving your website’s rankings.

Social signals do not appear to be a ranking factor themselves but they can get your site mentions; backlinks; and citations, which do have a direct impact on rankings.

Thus, although social media sharing will not directly benefit your rankings in the SERPs, it can lead to the natural acquisition of backlinks which will improve your rankings.

Think social media signals have boosted your SERP rankings? Let us know you experiences in the comments section below:

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About The Author
Philip Armstrong
Philip Armstrong is a content writer for the Just SEO newsroom. Having served as an Adword's manager for a number of paid search campaigns, he is an expert in spending money to make money, and regularly contributes in-depth articles on the latest news and updates on pay-per-click (PPC) matters.

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