The way people interact on the internet has changed quite dramatically over the last 10 years, with the rise of Web 2.0 and social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. Content that goes viral drives an enormous amount of traffic, and people often spend as much time following links from their friends as they do searching for content on Google.
Currently one of the main factors in determining a page’s position on Google Search is the amount of backlinks it has from other high quality and relevant web pages. You could describe these as the Web 1.0 version of likes or re-tweets.
In 2010 Google’s PR man Matt Cutts explained in a video that Google were also beginning to recognize social media activity itself as an indicator of a site’s popularity. Whenever a user shares a link on their Facebook page or Twitter account, it is known as a “social signal.”
This immediately gave rise to the idea that having a strong social media presence played an important role in your website’s search rankings, and should join other traditional SEO techniques as part of your overall strategy.
Unfortunately it seems webmasters may have jumped the gun on just how important social signals actually are. In 2014 Matt Cutts was back with another video where he revealed Google DOES NOT use social media as a special factor in its search results. If Facebook and Twitter posts are crawlable, they are treated like any other page on the web. He says having a million followers or getting X number of re-tweets is not necessarily going to directly boost your search presence.
Now we’re beginning to see a trend where SEO experts are ignoring social media in their strategies. This is a foolish response to Matt’s comments. If a link to your site goes viral, it is still going to help Google find that page. Furthermore numerous studies show a correlation between social media activity and search results. Not because Google is ranking based on social media popularity, but because if something goes viral the content will also get backlinks in the traditional manner.
So having a strong social media strategy WILL boost your search rankings, but not in the way you might assume.