In astronomy, dark matter is a substance that creates a gravitational effect in space, but is invisible to the eye and other detection methods. In essence, it’s an object or substance that we know exists because it creates an impact on other adjacent objects or substances, but we don’t yet know how to measure it directly with our current tools and technologies.
That’s exactly what social media is to organic search performance. We aren't sophisticated enough yet to see it, but we can prove it's real through it's impact on organic search ranking. Following are six ways that we can prove social media's impact on SEO:
1. Link Potential
It’s just like my high school guidance counselor always said, “You’ve got so much potential, you just need to know how to use it.” Links from tweets or Facebook status updates don’t directly contribute to the entire link profile of a website, but they do create so much potential. That potential comes from increased awareness of your brand or website content. And if you know how to use it, it can lead to more links.
For example, let’s say you create a behind-the-scenes video of your new spring catalog photo shoot. You host the video on your blog, share a link on Twitter with the hashtag #SpringFashion, then your tweet is retweeted 50 times. A fashion editor is searching Twitter for story ideas, sees your tweet in their stream or by searching for relevant hashtags, and decides to write about the new catalog, including a link back to your site in the article. Had you not created the interesting content and shared on social media, that reporter would never have known about your video or new catalog, and would never have linked to it.
2. Traffic Volume
The more traffic you get to your site overall, the more Google views it as popular and credible. Social media can be a great way to drive additional traffic to your site. But you can’t simply tweet a bunch of links to your site and hope that people click through. You need to create a compelling reason for people to visit your site from social media. That compelling reason could a new and exciting product or line, a great deal or discount, or interesting and high-quality content.
3. Site Engagement
Your mission isn’t complete after you send a ton of traffic to your site, however. Once these visitors arrive at your site, you want them to stick around for a while, click to other pages and complete desired actions. Enhance click paths and run conversion rate optimization tests, and recommend relevant and equally-interesting content to keep them engaged. Google can measure bounce rate, time on site and pages per session and may use those metrics to influence search ranking.
4. Search Query Volume
When more people search for your brand name,Google again sees your brand as being more popular and credible. The reward of this popularity contest is higher ranking. But to get your brand name out to a wider audience, you need to leverage a variety of brand building tactics, of which social media is a major one.
5. Brand Signals
When your brand name or product name is frequently mentioned somewhere around the web, without a backlink to your site, that, yet again, may signal to Google that the brand is popular, relevant and credible. It’s categorized (or rather, theorized) in two major ways--co-citation and co-occurrence.
Co-citation is when two websites are linked, not by actual hyperlinks, but by a third website mentioning both of those separate websites in relation to each other. Co-occurrence is when particular words or phrases are frequently found together across the web, thus resulting in Google establishing a relationship and ranking potential.
To create these co-citation and co-occurrence instances, you can’t just go ask (or pay) for it. You can to create buzz around your brand, and around related brands, products and terms through social media.
6. Click Through Rate
CTR was listed as the number one ranking factor in Searchmetric’s 2014 SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations Report. That means, if your site’s CTR is higher than competitors, there’s more potential for you to rank higher.
How do you increase CTR? There are myriad ways, but major ones are awareness, brand recognition and consumer trust. If searchers are more familiar and trusting of your brand, compared to the other competitors shown in organic search, they’re more likely to click on your listing. And what have we learned is a main benefit of social media? That’s right, brand awareness!
Until Google is 100% transparent about their ranking factors (which I predict will be about the time that humans master intergalactic space travel), we’ll need further testing and more sophisticated tools to truly know social media’s impact on organic ranking. But until that time, we’ll have to continue measuring as we do dark matter, through a sort of intermediary effect on adjacent bodies.