SEO for Google’s search engine has been a quantifiable practice for at least the last five (5) years. Content creation was quantified into how densely populated your content was with a targeted keyword or LSI keywords. Authority was determined by how many backlinks of high quality you could attain from web properties that had high Google page rank. Also thrown into the mix was the age of the domain, which could also considered to be quantifiable. If you could outdo your competition on the search phrases that mattered, you could count on being able to outrank them eventually.
Even more recent additions to the ranking algorithm, although less harder to control could also be measured. An SEO professional could measure and work to increase the amount of time that visitors were spending on a page. They could work though issues causing load times to be slow and re-measure them until they improved. In other words, SEOs have known what to do in order to positively affect change in their client’s site’s ranking.
But measuring the impact of social media has a been a challenge because:
1) Google hasn’t stated that there is a direct relationship between social activity and ranking authority, as they have with the factor of linking
2) Google recently stated that their own +1 system is not a very good social signal right now
3) Google has stated that authority backlinks still matter more than social signals
So when SEOs talk about social signals what are they talking about? What do social media metrics actually say? The SEO community has conflicting views. On the one hand, some studies seem to suggest that social media activity is a way of measuring the quality of a marketers’ interactions and how much trust should be associated with them. In other words, the impact on SEO is indirect to search. The more quantifiable social media interactions a site has the more trust that they have earned. That trust then rolls into the major factors that Google considers to be a relevant webpage or site on a topic.
On the other hand, a study conducted by Searchmetrics determined that there were statistical correlations between social media activity (shares, likes, tweets) and ranking in Google. Their conclusion was that these activities (even though they are just as ‘spammable’ as links were) seem to indicate that could affect a site’s position in the Google rankings.
So what should SEO professional do? Should they quantify and outsource social media activity? Should it be treated like linking has traditionally been treated? Although the jury is still out, it would appear that the most sensible way to utilize social media is to do so with a mind toward engaging readers. The indirect measurement seems to indicate a trajectory for Google’s intent even if they are not yet able to measure it in a way that satisfies them. Multiplying likes, shares and connections is easy to ‘game’. But when done solely for the multiplication effect, will it give companies the trust that is needed to boost rankings? It is unlikely to do so in the long run.