Everything in inbound marketing is connected.

It’s a question that has been asked since social media marketing became another way for companies and organizations to connect with their customer base: can social media be leveraged to improve organic search engine rankings?

The general consensus among SEO professionals and social media marketers has been that a strong, well-formulated social media marketing strategy that focuses on regular engagement will indeed have a positive impact on a website’s organic rankings. The problem has been clearly defining just how much social media impacts web rankings, and even whether a direct correlation between the two can be identified.

Let’s see if we can’t shed a little more light on the topic of using social media to boost organic rankings.

Social Graph and Social Search

‘Social graph’ is another term used to describe a person’s social network and, in the context of the Internet, defines the personal connections that a specific user has with other users. These connections may take the form of online friendships, chats, or the dissemination of content such as images and links.

Taking the relationships of a user’s social graph into account, ‘social search’ is a relatively new type of web search that prioritizes social connections in search results. The concept was developed by Google with Google Plus Your World, which basically combines Google’s standard search results with personalized content pulled from a user’s Google+ profile. Essentially what is being provided is completely unique search results based on your social connections in a way that mimics a recommendation from a friend. Bing and Facebook have followed suit with the concept of social search, a strong indication that social media does indeed have a direct connection with search engine strategy and ranking outcomes.

From the Horse’s Mouth

We tend to look at Google for guidance when it comes to getting a better idea of what marketing mixes and specific online tactics work best to achieve better search engine rankings. Back in 2010, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed an article by SEO guru Danny Sullivan that Google does factor Facebook and Twitter links into their search engine ranking algorithm.

While that confirmation may not have come as a complete shock to search engine marketers who have been leveraging increased web traffic and back links from social media promotion to boost rankings for awhile, what Cutts mentions about social media authorship certainly is interesting. “In addition, we are also trying to figure out a little bit about the reputation of an author or a creator on Twitter or Facebook.”

Fast forward to today—we are seeing a concerted effort by online marketers and content creators to build up their social media reputations through programs like Google+ Authorship. Now, who is doing the social sharing is just as important as what is being shared.

Tying Everything Together

So if the key indicators point to the fact that social media can be used to improve organic search engine rankings, how should we go about leveraging the available social channels?

Aside from creating and updating social media profiles and signing up for Google+ Authorship, the old SEO stand-by of creating useful, evergreen content remains key. If you haven’t already, implement social sharing buttons on your website and blog, making it simple for readers to pass along your content to the rest of their social connections. You should also make it a point to determine whether the content you are sharing on social media sites is actually generating more links to your content, as opposed to just more ‘Likes.’ From a search engine ranking perspective, it is links generated through social channels that are the important metric, not necessarily more social shares.

The infographic above was designed and recreated by Sally King from SK Graphic Design. (www.skgraphicdesign.co.uk/)

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