Confused about the role social media plays in Google organic search (SEO) rankings? You are not alone!

In fact, even when Google makes its position clear, you will still find experts insisting the opposite is true! A case in point: on June 6, 2016, Google employee Gary Illyes posted that "no, we don’t" take social media into account for SEO. A dissenting individual nevertheless tweeted: "I truly believe @Google does use social signals as ranking factors".

llyes’ tweet cites a January 2014 YouTube video from Matt Cutts in which Google publicly addressed the matter for the first time. Cutts makes 3 key points on whether Facebook and Twitter signals are considered in ranking algorithms:

  1. First, he makes clear that Facebook and Twitter posts are treated like any other page on the web. That is, they are indexed for inclusion in organic search results. However, Google does not use signals from social media (e.g., the number of Facebook and Twitter followers) as ranking factors for search.
  2. Second, he explains that studies showing a correlation between social signals (e.g., Facebook Likes and Google +1s) and high SEO rankings in Google search do not prove that social signals caused the higher rankings. Correlation is not causation!
  3. Finally, Cutts insists he is not saying you should not use Twitter or Facebook. Both services offer fantastic value for the right reasons, although the right reasons do not include SEO. In other words, be on social media not for search rankings but to build your brand and drive qualified traffic.

This conclusion is still relevant today, primarily because Google’s prime directive of optimal user experience has not changed. On August 15, 2015, during a Google Hangout with John Mueller of Google Switzerland, the answer to “do social signals affect search engine optimization?” was “not directly, no.” See for yourself at the 19:52 mark of the session. He goes on to explain: posts do show up in the search results. They can be content like any other piece of content, and they can rank for keywords, they can rank for your product names, so they can show up in the search results as well, which in turn maybe gives you a little more presence, maybe provides some context for users as well in the search results.

Another aspect there specifically around Twitter and Google+ at the moment is that when we recognize that there is content on these social networks that are relevant to the user we will try to show that in the search results as well.

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