SEO professionals and social media managers alike were interested in interpreting the validity of social media after Matt Cutts released his latest video, revealing that Google's search algorithm does not factor in social media in how it ranks websites. For some, this came as a surprise, as there was a lot of attention late last year about whether or not Google Plus impacted Google search rankings, but it shouldn't change anyone's social media strategy. Watch today's Daily Brown Bag to learn about Matt Cutt's latest Google algorithm revelation on social media, and why social media is still extremely important for your business.


Hello, and welcome to The Daily Brown Bag. Today, we’re going to be talking about social signals and whether they affect rankings. I’m Chad Hill, and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer.

Yeah, good morning Chad. Welcome to The Brown Bag! People have been talking about social signals for years, and sometimes the debate has been hot and heavy, with some people claiming it’s absolutely in the Google algorithm and other people saying that social signals are being looked at. I know Moz talked about this a few years ago and was thinking that it was in the pipeline, but wasn’t totally sure. Some people said they had conclusive proof, but then there was a backlash saying that correlation is not causation.

So, here we have Matt Cutts' social media input in the news today, Chad. The question was asked, “Are Facebook and Twitter signals part of the ranking algorithm? How much do they matter?” He said, basically, “No,” which is very surprising and is a bit of news for those tracking this debate over the last several years. Those are treated like any other pages in the index. Matt Cutts said, “To the best of my knowledge, we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithm.” So, he’s saying that essentially, a number of people liking a page or a number of followers on Twitter and social media are not specifically in the Google algorithm, and that they aren’t considered as Google search engine ranking factors. I think the reason they’ve gotten here is that a lot of those things are manipulable.

But, Matt Cutts is not saying that they social media isn't useful. He’s not saying that you shouldn’t Tweet or use Facebook. He’s saying that it’s very valuable as a way to drive visitors to your site, to share news, to boost your personal brand, and I think, Chad, we would probably agree. If you hear this and it means you’re going to stop pursuing social media, it means that you probably don’t have the right orientation towards SEO in 2014, and you’re certainly not on the content marketing bandwagon. So, let’s discuss that a little bit, and how social is very important to SEO indirectly, even though Matt Cutts is definitely here saying that it’s not in the algorithm specifically.

Yeah, absolutely. It is an interesting one for Matt Cutts to come out and talk about, because it’s sort of like why be so definitive about it? So let’s dissect it. One of the things that you certainly already mentioned, Adam, is this idea of correlation versus causation, and really what they’re talking about is that great content on the web is correlated with people who are probably both liking it and tweeting it and talking about it on social media, which happens to correlate also with places people are linking to it from blog posts, which means it has good rankings.

So, the fact that they’re correlated doesn’t mean that the social signals are actually leading to rankings. Now, does that mean you should stop doing social media? Absolutely not. Social media is really important for things like building brand awareness, connecting with customers in your audience, sharing knowledge, sharing news and educating people, and really just being part of the community. So, when you are creating great content, there’s clearly a reason to use social media to help prime the pump and get people to become aware of it.

As a result of that, there really are some secondary benefits, because we become more aware of it through social media, they may be more likely to reference it in a blog post or other place where they might be talking about something and you get a link, which can help you with that ranking. So, it’s sort of that two-step process that gets complicated for a lot of business owners, because they’re usually thinking about what they can do to evaluate the effectiveness of social media directly, and when you start to think about those two separate things, it does get tricky. So, those are the reasons that we think there’s not a direct relationship with social signals and rankings, but it certainly is something you don’t want to throw out.

Right. There’s sort of the purist discussion of whether this is a signal in the algorithm, which is a very scientific discussion, and then there’s the practical discussion whether using social will help your rankings. It may sound contradictory to say that social signals are not in the ranking algorithm, but yes, using social will absolutely help your rankings, and I think it’s for the reasons you just articulated, Chad. This is all very interesting, because you also hear people on the social media side -- and I called this out in my Search Engine Watch piece that just went up yesterday -- they have a hard time showing the return on investment directly for social media campaigns.

We know that there’s a sort of “assist factor” that comes into SEO here, so it once again shows that the integrated marketing strategy is really where you’re going to get your bang for your buck. Focusing on quality and focusing on things people want to share will help your social agenda and also help your SEO agenda, even though technically these social factors, as Matt Cutts confirmed, are not in the algorithm. I think that should hopefully clarify things in our Brown Bag today. We’d like to hear your thoughts. Drop us a comment, or reply, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and we hope to see you back at our Brown Bag tomorrow.