Social Signals: Brief Summary
Social signals, otherwise known as social media interactions, can perhaps best be described as a means of measuring the number of interactions and the amount of feedback or engagement a web page or a piece of online content has generated from social media users. These signals can take a number of different forms, but some of the most common include ‘likes’, shares, comments, retweets, mentions, up-votes, or views.
Social signals can come from a variety of different platforms, with key examples including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Reddit. In addition to serving as a useful means of gauging audience interest in specific pieces of content, social signals also have a role to play in search engine optimisation strategies.
Social Signals: Detailed Summary
Social media has played an important role in helping customers and audiences to engage more directly and more frequently with brands and businesses. These interactions can take many forms, from ‘liking’, sharing and leaving comments on content on Facebook, through to retweeting, ‘liking’ or replying to content on Twitter. Additionally, many web pages now include social media buttons, allowing users to interact with content via their social media accounts.
Collectively, these interactions are referred to as social signals. They can essentially be seen as a metric of the number of social media interactions a piece of content or a brand has generated. While there can be some exceptions, the general rule is that social signals are an indicator of popularity. At the very least, they are an indicator of both reach and audience engagement with the content, and this is usually seen as success from a content marketing perspective.
In some ways, social signals can be viewed as being similar to inbound links. For instance, much like when content attracts inbound links, any content that accumulates a high number of social signals will benefit from increased visibility and a greater chance that others will then engage with it. Similarly, the type of content that tends to attract links, such as high-quality, authoritative and/or genuinely useful content, will also tend to accumulate social signals too.
It is also important to understand that social signals are not only a useful metric for website owners, content creators and marketers. They also have the ability to influence other people. For example, people are more likely to interact with brands that have lots of social media followers and they are more likely to engage with content that has generated a lot of ‘likes’, comments or shares. Psychologically, social signals can be seen as an endorsement of content quality.
Yet, social signals are not always positive. An article or blog post that creates outrage or which upsets people may generate a lot of social media engagement, but the engagement may harm the creator’s reputation.
Social signals are often regarded as being important for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes. With that being said, the precise extent of their importance for SEO remains an area of controversy and there is substantial debate about how much influence social signals really have.
Social Signals and Search Engine Optimisation
Search engine optimisation is the process of optimising online content, so that it becomes as visible as possible on search engine results pages. There are a number of different techniques involved in this, from keyword research and intelligent keyword placement, through to mobile optimisation and link building. Some experts also insist that social signals are a major factor to consider here and may recommend utilising strategies to boost social signals.
For its part, Google has always insisted that social signals are not actually a direct ranking factor, meaning the number of social signals a piece of content has accumulated will not directly impact how high up on search engine results pages the content will feature. However, various studies have found a correlation between social signals and placement on search engines, so some SEO experts remain sceptical about Google’s claim.
While research into this topic has often demonstrated a correlation between social signals and high search engine results page placement, this correlation does not necessarily mean social signals were actually a ranking factor.
It could be the case, for instance, that quality online content tends to attract social signals, while also placing high up on search engine results pages for other reasons. It may also be true to say that, on average, content that attracts high numbers of social media ‘likes’, shares and comments will also be likely to attract backlinks from other websites. After all, backlinks are a proven and established ranking factor for Google and other search engines.
Of course, even if social signals are not a direct ranking factor for Google, they can still contribute to your SEO efforts in an indirect way, because social media engagement means content is more likely to be seen, shared and discussed. All of this can help to boost overall visibility and help to attract backlinks from high authority domains.
Tips for Boosting Your Content’s Social Signals
There are a variety of different techniques you can use to actually boost the amount of social signals your content generates, and it is worth keeping these in mind when creating content. First of all, you should make it as easy as possible for users to find your content. Make sure new content is easily accessible from your website’s homepage and share any new articles, blog posts or videos on social networking platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
Include social media reaction buttons within your content, located either at the top or the bottom of the page. Clicking these buttons allows users to quickly and easily ‘like’ content, or share the content with their friends or followers.
Often, however, the most effective strategy is to generate social media interest more organically. Think about the types of content that tend to enjoy popularity and attract discussion on these platforms. They will often offer something unique, solve a problem for their audience, or provide value to the audience in some other way. Humorous content can be ideal for social media too, but it needs to be carefully judged, in order to avoid causing offence.
When social media users carry out certain actions, such as ‘liking’ content, sharing or retweeting posts, or leaving comments, these are collectively referred to as social signals. They are essentially a means of measuring interactions with content, with a high number of social signals suggesting a high level of audience engagement.
The issue of whether or not social signals are a search engine ranking factor remains controversial, but it is generally agreed that the tactics that lead to a high number of social signals are also likely to boost search engine results page placement too. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that social signals are not always positive and pieces of content that generate an online backlash are also likely to have accumulated a large number of social signals.