How social signals really affect your search rankings


I fear the term ‘social signals’ has been somewhat overused (and in some cases, abused) by search marketers, and there’s a blanket misconception about how they actually affect a site’s organic search rankings. 

Personally, I’ve been a long-committed proponent of the use of social media marketing strategies as an element of any SEO campaign, but the influences that social media events have on a website’s actual domain authority are both complicated and poorly understood. 

If harnessed properly, engagements and activities on social media really can have an effect on your site’s overall ranking, but maybe not in the exact way you think. 

Throughout this article, I want to explain all the ways that social signals can, and can’t, affect your search rankings. 

First a disclaimer

Before I dig into how and why social signals can influence a site’s search rankings, I want to reiterate something that most professional search marketers already know. 

As Moz recently stated in their 2015 search ranking factors report, because Google has never disclosed its algorithm to us, it’s impossible to prove that one factor has a direct influence over domain authority or search rankings in general. Instead, we can only use data to come up with correlational reports. 

That being said, some features are far more correlated with high-ranking pages than others, which strongly suggests that these features are valuable in producing that higher ranking.

Social shares

According to Moz’s most recent correlational report (linked above), page-level social metrics were evaluated to be the ninth most correlative quality for high search rankings. Their description of page-level social metrics is, “quantity/quality of tweeted links, Facebook shares, Google +1s, etc. to the page.” 

Essentially, the more people who share your article (either by clicking on the share buttons on your page, or by posting a link to your article on social media) the better chance your page will have at ranking. At least from a correlational perspective. 

Matt Cutts, back in 2014, seemed to validate the idea that social media shares and interactions do factor into eventual rankings in a video.