I think your 4 hypotheses are right on -- any one, or all of them, are mostly likely responsible for increased search rankings: simply using social media doesn't directly cause higher rankings. It's like noticing that A+ students always carry around their books and deciding that you too will start to always carry around your books around in the fain hope that that alone will get you an A+ . See "Matt Cutts: Facebook, Twitter Social Signals Not Part of Google Search Ranking Algorithms:" searchenginewatch.com/article/2325343/Matt-Cutts-Facebook-Twitter-Social-Signals-Not-Part-of-Google-Search-Ranking-Algorithms
Social Media Examiner just released the 6th annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report for 2014 (still available for a free download in May 2014), with some important insights about how social media marketers – those using social media for their own company marketing and clients’ – are using the still-emerging medium. Some results that stand out include:
- The smaller the company, the more percentage of time spent using social media marketing (maybe due to the minimal to free access for most tools if marketing budgets are modest) (p. 14).
- The more time marketers spend using social media, the more tools they use (p. 26).
- The difference between marketers who use social media for B2C versus B2B – B2C use Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest more, and B2B marketers focus on Linkedin, Google+, and blogging (not technically social media but measured) (p. 26).
- More than half of respondents said Facebook is their most important platform, followed by Linkedin, Twitter, and blogging (p. 27).
- Blogging is the activity with the most growth likelihood (p. 29).
- And more…
But, there is one statistic that may take some digging into: 58% of marketers who have used social media for one year or longer report increased search rankings (p. 20). Social media and SEO appear to be related to each other’s success. What reasons could be behind this positive correlation, and how does social media help SEO? We have a few thoughts:
- Those with the most social media marketing experience also put the highest focus on content creation like video, podcasting, and blogging (p. 25). So, if more content is created that captures search traffic and contributes to higher search rankings, the marketers have more unique content to share on social channels, which may explain why both social and rankings have increased activity and increased results.
- More experienced social media marketers are likely more in tune with optimization techniques like improving their social profile descriptions, claiming custom URLs consistent with their brand name, sharing content that links to their site which may help with rankings, and Google+ authorship, which has been said to help Google accredit web content with its writer or publisher, which then gets rewarded with higher search engine rankings.
- 94% of marketers use original content to share on social media, which again means they’re populating their site with unique information that can help attract visitors and search engines to boost rankings (p. 41). In addition, site updates keep it fresh, sending new relevancy signals to search engines, which is known to be a ranking factor.
- Marketers supplement their social media with other forms of marketing like event marketing and webinars, which can create more company-related content on the web that links back to a website, thus improving brand awareness, web footprint, and rankings.
As we’re all working to measure results of social media time and budget better and more accurately, we’re on the lookout for more ways social media is improving search rankings. What do you think contributes to the positive correlation between social media activity and search rankings?
Rebecca Otis runs the Content Marketing team at Digital Third Coast, a digital marketing agency based in Chicago. You can find Rebecca on Twitter and Google+. Connect with Digital Third Coast on Google+.