You Can’t Separate Social Media and SEO

Lauren Clawson, Social Media Team Lead

Updated on August 1, 2019, to reflect current trends and data.

When Ian Lurie originally wrote on this subject in 2008, he argued that “your success in social media will eventually depend on search ranking.” Over the last 10+ years, what we have actually seen is the transition to social media platforms operating as an ecosystem in their own right. You can search, select, and purchase products directly through Facebook without ever leaving the site or app. As of late 2018, we started to see the influence of SEO on paid media become relevant once more. While success on social media is not tied to search rankings, there are a few ways it is linked to the same fundamental factors that Google uses to determine those rankings.

As the amount of user-generated content plus competition from advertisers increases on Facebook, their team is focused on how to create the best experience for their users. One way Facebook has differentiated content from brands is by prioritizing a positive post-click experience. The post-click experience is defined as the actions and behavior of a user once they have clicked through an ad: bouncing immediately, spending a few minutes on site, or purchasing.

In March of 2019, our team attended an all-day workshop that was built around positively increasing the post-click experience. We heard from specialists at the Baymard Institute, directly from the Facebook Marketing team, and completed an exercise that asked group members to give feedback on real-life examples of ads and click-through experiences.

Later that month, Facebook released an update that included a new metric in Ads Manager related directly to page experience:

Screenshot of Facebook Landing Page Experience Metric

Full disclosure, I asked our Facebook rep about the metric, and she determined it a mislabeled error and Facebook removed it a few hours later. From my personal experience with Facebook Ads Manager, I would not be surprised to see this metric or a version of it reappear further down the road. Facebook releases updates sporadically before pushing them out to the entire platform.

From those two instances alone, I know that page experience will be an increased focus for Facebook and all social media platforms. It will be a factor for determining which content is surfaced organically, which posts are prioritized in the auctions, and which content costs the least to promote. Because of this, the relationship between social media and SEO is more relevant than ever before.

Social Media Needs SEO

There are a lot of factors that go into a positive post-click experience, but the most important one is directly affected by SEO: site speed.

The average mobile user is 2x more likely to bounce and typically spends 50% less time on site. We know that attention spans are shorter on mobile devices, and conversions happen faster as users are more deliberate about their browsing behavior. Looking across our client portfolio, an average of 80% of paid social impressions serve to a mobile site or app. If load times are too long, a user is even more likely to bounce coming from a paid advertisement than a search result. Combine that with the fact that most browsers open in-app versus an external browser, and it is all too easy for a user to return to their social app if the site doesn’t load immediately.

As Facebook (and other platforms that will follow suit) continues to prioritize a positive post-click experience, instantaneous page load times will continue to see lower click costs, lower purchase costs, and overall increased efficiencies through their social media campaigns—linking SEO and social media once again.

Bonus: for more information on page speed optimization, check out Andy Schaff’s two-tiered approach to site improvements.

SEO Needs Social Media

While social media accounts can increase the number of brand search results, positive search engine ranking factors are the most significant benefit of an effective social media marketing strategy.

Search engine optimization, at its core, is based on relevance and authority. Providing an audience with relevant content and interaction will create brand awareness, affinity, and reputation that has downstream effects on that audience’s search engine behavior. They will click on a brand’s search results, search directly for the brand, speak highly of the brand, and link to a brand more often after a positive experience with the brand on social media platforms. Relevance comes from content that has the right keywords and concepts.

Google says they don’t use social signals as ranking factors, but they definitely use brand signals. Google crawls and indexes pages on social media platforms, and they could be treating that content like any other content on the web for their ranking algorithm. As Eric Schmidt famously said: “Brands are the solution, not the problem… Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.” So much brand information is contained in social content, how could Google ignore it?

Bing, on the other hand, definitely uses social platform information in their ranking algorithm, and they say so in their webmaster guidelines.

There may be more of a gray area around the SEO need for Social Media than vice versa, but at a bare minimum, the side effects of increased brand awareness and community engagement can positively impact search rankings.

What Does This Mean?

The ways in which social media and SEO are tied have fluctuated over the past several years, becoming increasingly important as the advertising ecosystem matures on social platforms. While Facebook and Instagram have recently implemented new Ad Relevance metrics, Google has been reporting on Quality Score for over a decade. I expect the social giants to move closer and closer to Google’s model as their algorithms continue to incorporate user behavior beyond the on-platform click. If your marketing team hasn’t been using SEO best practices to optimize landing pages specifically for paid advertising, there is no better time to start than now.

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  1. Thanks for the nice article – and YES, I think you are absolutely right. A nice blend of traditional SEO with Social Media topic on it will do the best job.
    Looking forward for some other good reads. πŸ˜‰

  2. Ian,
    Totally true. I once had someone who was about to embark on social media marketing tell me that SEO didn’t matter because they weren’t e-commerce.
    But if you’re ever going to get anyone to see your stuff, it certainly does matter. Good post.

  3. Agreed, and your post reminds me of a quadrant chart I did last year. Search feeds social, and social feeds search.
    It was mainly to get some abstract concepts more concrete in my head, but my grid had “Optimization” (which I equated to on-site efforts) at the top half, and “Marketing” (offsite efforts) on the bottom. The left and right of the grid were Search (bot-audience) and Social (user audience).
    Both top and bottom, and right and left sections of the grid enhanced the results from the other. It was also helpful for me in doing initial client reviews to figure out which area of the grid held the most/best “low hanging fruit” to attack. You usually don’t get the opportunity to work all four quadrants at once. πŸ™‚

  4. @KatFrench:
    That’s a great model. I had a professor in grad school who loved explaining things in a 2×2 matrix, and if SEM were his subject, he would have loved this as well.
    I have appropriated your diagram, re-created it, filled the quadrants in with specific initiatives, and I expect it to show up in the next sales .ppt I put together! Thanks again.

  5. I totally agree, however, when you mention “social media marketing” to most clients they think you are going to create a Facebook page for them and that’s it. I don’t think a lot of clients understand the difference between these at this point. However, more and more they are becoming savvy, so I’ve been slipping it into documents and proposals more often as of late.

  6. With this, however, we raise the golden question: How does an average e-tailer go about integrating social media without “advertising” all the time?
    Of course the short answer is “become a part of the community”…but what does that really mean? What 140-character twitter post could possible achieve both getting our brand name out there as well as adding content and something interesting to the community?
    Almost an ethical dilemma we have here now. Any ideas?

  7. @Marcelo I think you’re oversimplifying a bit. Social media covers everything from discussion forums to YouTube to Flickr to Facebook.
    Chances are, anyone with the will and the interest can find ONE place they like to go anyway and get into some interesting discussions there.

  8. Ian,
    I’m aware that social media is a composed of a broad spectrum of communities and platforms, and maybe I am oversimplifying… but what I’m trying to get at is that each community, whether because of demographic or its “culture,” makes it difficult for certain companies to integrate and mingle without adding the old “shameless plug” everywhere.
    Maybe you can understand where I’m coming from if I mention that “office products” aren’t really things to hoot and hollar about online πŸ˜‰
    But that doesn’t mean I’ll end my quest for those diehard printer and binding machine geek communities!

  9. @Marcelo Ah HAH! The old “I’m too boring” issue. I understand it, trust me.
    Maybe go a little off the path: What about a blog talking about episodes of the Office from the perspective of the machines you see in there? Or just a lot of funny office stories? Or something else about office culture?
    Your social media campaign doesn’t have to be 100% in-line with your business. It just has to be in-line with your prospective audience. Does that make sense?

  10. Ian,
    Ahhh very nice…your insight gave me some hope! I guess I need to think outside the box, like you suggest. Thanks for the tips!
    And wow I’m glad I commented on your blog and had this little mini discussion!
    Keep up the good work Ian, as per your birthday wish, I’ve subscribed and will tell others about your blog!

  11. Marcelo – if I can expand on a couple of points Ian made, first consider which of the different categories of social media known as “social media” that you might want to participate. These include (and this is NOT an exhaustive list) blogs, social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn), social search & sharing (StumbleUpon, Digg, Searchles), Twitter and its ilk, and media sharing (Fkickr, YouTube, iTunes for podcasts, etc.).
    Then consider what kind of content makes sense in each. For example, I’ve seen a viral campaign created out of photos of the strangest things found jammed inside copiers. That’s office-products-related. Don’t happen to have a stack of cool photos that would be suitable? Launch a contest and have customers and prospects send them in you. Offer a small incentive (free item or discount) for anything worthwhile. Spread word about the contest virally. THAT could be huge.
    More straightforwardly, what differentiates your business? Is it customer service? Consider writing a series of blog posts about the importance of great customer service. You can use examples from all over, not just writing about your own company. Your dedication to the topic will show how seriously your company takes this.
    Hope that helps!

  12. Tom,
    Haha that is a great idea! Thanks for the tips. I appreciate the discussion and help πŸ™‚

  13. Great post, Ian.
    I’ve found that SEO and Social Media are often treated as separate disciplines, ie in many companies social media falls in the realm of PR, and search optimization entirely focused on traditional on page and linkbuilding tactics, ignoring the SEO benefits of social Web 2.0 sites. This fails to leverage the powerful synergies of marrying the 2 disciplines – the art of Social SEO.
    I’ve found many social sites to be exceptionally search engine friendly – Twitter (very), LinkedIn, Yahoo Answers to name a few.
    And many of them are also do-follow!
    Here’s a list of 22 Do-Follow Social Media Sites:
    Lorna Li
    Social SEO Maven

  14. I agree completely. Social media and SEO go hand in hand. Not only not only do these provide resources for the company but they are also forms of marketing and can increase your company’s clientele. In today’s society one of the first places people look for businesses or services is on the internet; if a business is linked into the social networking scene, there is a better chance that they will be found.

  15. Very impressive article and very impressive media(Social Media), but I am confused. I know that Social media is a part of SEO which can’t be ignored now but is it the right thing we are doing? First we place a story on these social media site and then we dig it, sphin it or twit it. In a way or another way, we or our loved ones would be doing that to show us on first pages of these social media sites. Are we overriding default and right behavior of Google? I think the main purpose of Google is to find the right and accurate information but do we spoil all that originality?

  16. @adhs I think that’s the wrong question. The question is, is it right to ABUSE social media and manipulate it for better SEO?
    The answer to that question is ‘no’.
    If I go get 150 of my closest friends to Stumble the crap out of something, that’s not right. It’s not illegal, but it’s not right, and eventually it could backfire.
    But there is so much we can do that’s not manipulation: Making sure our clients have a presence. Bookmarking content that’s really worthy of it, and helping our clients learn how to create that kind of content. Teaching them how to network via Twitter. And so on.

  17. I completely agree with this post. Blended search is becoming more and more prevalent. It’s also a great way to protect branded terms in the SERPs. More and more companies are catching on to protect their brand online and it’s not uncommon to see the two links to their url at #1 and #2 and often a facebook business page and wikipedia page at around #3 or #4. That pushes any potential negative SERP listings below the scroll. I don’t see anything wrong with that because they are primarily going after branded terms with the facebook and wikipedia page, not unbranded terms they want to rank on.

  18. This is so true. I remember the first time one of my sites got Stumbled – I thought someone hacked my site, since I had never even heard of StumbleUpon and all of a sudden I was getting thousands of visitors an hour. But like you said, you can’t rely on getting on Digg homepage, etc.

  19. I too agree that SM and SEO go hand-in-hand. But in my case, I’m talking to clients every day that want to jump into social media because they read about it somewhere or some guru said they should.
    If there’s no strategy involved, it’s an absolute waste of time.

  20. Interesting read, but I still have a hard time in grasping some aspects of using social media for SEO purposes. What is mean is, how applicable is social media when it comes to a client that needs SEO when their vertical really has nothing to do with social media at all? I’ve been wrestling with this for quite some time; for some clients, it’s a no brainer. But for clients that really have no business being in the social media space, what to do for them?

  21. yeah, well.
    sure these days you need both seo and social media, but when it comes to link-building social media is 1 of the least effective ways. I’m not saying you should skip it, but there are just many other tactics that will give more results for the same effort as social media …
    anyway, in the end it always comes down to the same thing; as long you’re site is not of top-quality most of your effort in link-building are wasted anyway; so, step 1 for link building; a quality website!

  22. SEO and Social Media are interrelated. Had social media not linked back to the sites posting on them believe me this concept would have bit the dust on the first place as the world of web is based around links. Though spammers tried to play havoc with it initially(you cant put an end to it) but i feel that social media has grown well beyond my expectations and it has found favor among SEO people and created a new field of social media optimization for them.

  23. I totally agree with you. I always use social media to get backlinks. I think you will find it difficult to find a search engine optimiser that doesn’t unless they haven’t got a clue.

  24. Social media presents many new opportunities for SEO. Social media marketing has revolutionised how search engine optimisation campaigns and strategies are planned and implemented. It has made it more essential to focus on quality rather than quantity. While it is still possible to focus on mass link SEO campaigns, the sheer size of the social networking sites make it almost impossible to target all sites blindly in some form a mass submission. Social media has made SEO experts think and focus on careful selection of channels for implementing any SEO campaign, however small or large.

  25. You are right on the money! I’m actively engaged in a case study for building a personal brand right now with SM – Google: ImJoePerez and you can see it growing daily… 30 days since beginning (6-18-09)

  26. I think SEO can be the basic of a web to do the business. After that We can use other technique. Social media also have many different type. The Social media that can support SEO is Social bookmarking.

  27. There is no doubt that SEO and SMO work best when applied together. You really helped me to understand this fact and I’m thankful to you…
    BTW: Nice Bog πŸ™‚

  28. SEO meets social media and SEM do all tie in together. The trend of social media is so steep you can imagine the algorithms are being changed to take more account of the social media aspects.

  29. It is obvious that SEO and SMO has to go hand in hand for gaining better traffic for websites.I have seen people always worried and cared only about doing SEO for a site.
    I am sure SEO can bring visitors for a site but the attention can be brought only by using SMO(ie social media sites)
    Thanks for sharing useful content Ian.

  30. I wish they could be seperated but your right they are the linked. Whatever happened to the days of geeks being alone? Now we are expected to be SOCIAL, darn. πŸ™‚
    I like the bookmarking sites but the twitters and facebooks have got to go. LOL

  31. I couldn’t agree with this article more. I am in charge of SEO at my firm and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have been vital to spreading my message in a white-hat manner and getting back links.

  32. Loved your comment about Digg. The first article I ever plugged there I got 100-200 votes, crashed my WordPress blog, and thought I’d found the golden fleece. That was three years ago, and I don’t think I’ve had one or two articles that have limped over 3 or 4 votes.
    Keep hoping for lightning. πŸ™‚

  33. You can’t have one with the other! Kind of like peanut butter without the jelly! πŸ™‚ The only problem that I see, as someone that works with a company offering SEO services, is that most business owners still cant separate the two. That is where it get difficult!

  34. Great blog!!! Thanks for the sharing. Keep updating the blog, looking forward for more content…Great job, keep it up.

  35. Hi.

    Such a great article! It’s very true. It’s so important to use Social media in a link building strategy. I have some website and I must say that search engines “like” websites that get traffic through social media and tend to rank their keywords higher than the ones of the competition.


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