If you’re using content marketing to attract traffic to your website, chances are you’re putting the majority of your effort into SEO. Of course, you’re also posting that content to your social media profiles, but for many, it’s a half-hearted attempt to engage people. The truth is, both SEO and social media require a significant investment to do well; many businesses choose to focus on one or the other.
But should businesses be thinking of SEO and social media as two completely separate domains? Is the importance of social media in SEO greater than commonly thought? Some marketers go so far as to use the term “social media SEO,” referring to how social channels can support search engine optimization efforts. So, let’s look first at whether social media really does impact SEO to understand whether you should invest more in it.
Does Social Media Affect SEO?
The relationship between SEO and social media is not immediately apparent. Social media does not play a direct role in optimizing a page or a site for search. But a strong social media presence can affect your SEO efforts in three very important ways. It increases E-A-T, strengthens branded search results, and helps you build links.
1. Increases E-A-T
An active, engaged social media presence can increase your E-A-T, which helps with search engine optimization. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness — three factors that Google considers when determining where to rank a page in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Building your brand presence can help, especially with authoritativeness, or perceived reliability. If you have a lot of active followers, it’s a signal that helps Google and social media – it shows people consider you a valuable resource.
2. Strengthens branded search results
Social media SEO also comes into play when someone searches for your brand, because social media profiles can show up in search engine results pages. If your Twitter profile pops up when someone searches for you, but your profile looks dormant, it can reflect poorly on your brand. This is a missed opportunity to build trustworthiness, and it can even make a potential customer reconsider doing business with you. Who’s to say you’ll answer a customer service inquiry if you’re not even tending to your own public profiles?
3. Extends reach and builds links
Social media can be an effective distribution channel for content if you have an engaged audience of followers. When you share your content on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, for example, a highly engaged audience will be more likely to click through and read your posts. Aside from immediate traffic, this engaged audience can help distribute your content further by sharing it. The more people see your content, the more likely your content will be linked to, which is a major ranking factor for SEO.
These benefits can be quite powerful. But creating a strong social media presence is a challenge for many businesses that have focused on SEO first. Why? It may come down to the content itself.
Listening to the cues on social media can help a business improve its content for SEO, too.
Social Media, SEO, and Content Quality: Which to Invest In First
Hiten Shah, a prolific author and content marketer, says, “There’s a tension between search and quality, and when people focus on SEO early on, quality tends to drop.” He recommends making sure you’re producing the highest-quality content you can before optimizing distribution and investing in SEO.
Social media can provide a litmus test that helps you see whether your content is hitting a nerve or proving useful to your audience. It can be an important indicator that your blog is on the right track.
“Before your content ranks high in a search engine’s index, social is a key channel for distribution,” Shah says. “It allows you to leverage networks, and build up backlinks for SEO.” He notes that among the blogs he examined in his research that had not yet reached 150,000 visits per month, social media played a fairly large role in bringing traffic to a site.
If you’re not seeing engagement on your social media channels, it may be worth looking at the quality of the content you’re producing to understand why it may not be resonating with readers.
How to Use social media SEO tools to gauge what resonates with your audience
Social media SEO tools can help you plan your content by showing you what resonates with your audience. Clues from social media engagement can help you understand what people really want to learn from you.
To see the topics and articles that are stirring shares and comments in your industry, try our Content Exploration tool. When you input a keyword, it shows the most successful content based on aggregated social engagement.
You can also input a competitor’s site to see their most popular content and get a sense of what other businesses are doing in your industry. Begin with our Audience Overlap tool to find sites that you compete with, and run those sites into the Site Comparisons tool to see which ones are doing well on social.
Ramp Up Distribution Once You’re Sure of Content Quality
SEO efforts tend to primarily involve creating content once your site architecture is optimized. Then, distribution happens passively, relying on searchers to find your content.
Many marketers have recognized the need to actively promote their content, as this helps increase reach and accelerates results. According to the 2020 B2B Content Marketing report by the Content Marketing Institute, 46% of B2B marketers expect to prioritize improving their content distribution and promotion in 2020, and 34% say increasing the size of their audience will also be a priority. In fact, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers says you should be spending 80% of your efforts on promoting content and only 20% on creating it. Neil Patel, serial entrepreneur and online marketer, advises spending at least half of your time on content promotion.
Because social media is such a key channel for tuning into how your readers receive your content, it makes sense to optimize it for even greater reach. Consider what you might need to invest to incorporate these two social media activities into your content marketing:
Download our free Social Media Marketing Strategy Template.
1. Grow your social media audience
For social media to be an effective distribution channel for your content, you need an active, engaged audience. To build engagement, focus on building relationships and engaging in others’ discussions, not just posting your own content. The following activities can help you create a presence that people will want to connect and engage with.
- Like and share content from others in your industry. This will make others more likely to do the same for you. Plus, it shows you are tuned into the industry.
- Answer questions related to your product or industry on platforms like Quora and Reddit. This helps establish your brand as knowledgeable and interested in the issues people face in your space.
- Participate in Slack channels, LinkedIn groups, and other industry-specific forums where potential customers can see your answers.
- Encourage user-generated content (UGC) on your social media profiles. In a Curalate survey of social media and shopping habits, 50% of respondents said that UGC, such as images from customers who had bought the product, could entice them to buy it through the brand’s social media channels.
- Guest publish on websites that promote their guest posts enthusiastically. This can help you piggyback off of their audiences for more exposure.
- Encourage guest posts on your blog from other companies or micro-influencers who enjoy high engagement on social media. They will usually be glad to help promote their work on your site.
As your presence grows, you will gain a bigger audience to help with distribution for your subsequent pieces of content.
2. Maximize distribution for your content on social media
The larger your audience, the greater the potential shares and interactions for your content. Check to make sure you’re including these activities when you post to social media channels:
- Repackage content so you can post it multiple times. This might mean creating different images or calling out different aspects of the article each time.
- Advertise on social media channels to gain exposure. According to the Content Marketing Institute,72% of B2B marketers use paid advertising on social media channels to promote their content. Test it for your content if you haven’t tried putting money behind posts yet.
- Direct message and/or tag people you’ve linked to in your content. Even well-known experts are often glad to have the mention, and they may decide to share it with their following, too.
- Reach out to others for their opinions on a topic via social media, and then include their quotes in your content. This can be a win-win because they also get the exposure.
- Consider staggering your promotion for each piece across different channels to create a longer runway of engagement. For example, start with Facebook, and then, a few weeks later, promote your piece on Twitter rather than posting the same material to each channel all at once.
Circling back to Hiten Shah’s research, we can see that as blogs mature, they go on to secure a greater percentage of traffic from organic search. When you think about how social media can impact search — by improving authoritativeness, increasing brand awareness, growing links — it’s no wonder that social media engagement happens first.
Your investment in social media may just be the catalyst that helps improve your SEO results down the road.
Social Media Helps You Build Better Content
While a strong social media presence can prove golden for helping you promote your content, the greatest value that social media brings to SEO practitioners may be its feedback cues. It lets you know quickly whether your content is on track by showing how people react to it.
Content that is purely optimized for search can take on a mechanical, lifeless feel. When you consider how content will be received on social media, it immediately pulls you into the human side. This can inject your writing with a more user-friendly voice, which will improve how it’s received by people who find it via search, too.
With this view in mind, you may not even need to increase your investment in social media yet, but rather change how you look at it. Use it to gauge how your audience feels about your content. If you’re not seeing reactions like shares and clicks to your site, consider digging further to find the topics and angles that will appeal to your readers.
Once you’re confident that your content is resonating with your audience, then it’s time to think about investing more in social media as a distribution channel to complement your SEO efforts.
Want to learn more about the Content Exploration tool and other content marketing and SEO tools from Alexa? Sign up for a free 14-day trial to get full access to Alexa’s Advanced Plan here.