Debate abounds as to what role social media has in search rankings – does Google extract information from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and use this to help determine page rankings or is any correlation between the two successes merely coincidence? Up to this point neither option has been confirmed or denied by Google, leading search specialists to treat and view it differently from one another. Some believe it is directly linked and so use social as an inherent part of their SEO strategy whereas others see the indirect benefits of social success but not that it directly impacts search results.
Answering a direct question on the subject, Google’s Matt Cutts seems to support the latter interpretation – that social media success is good for business and may indirectly impact rankings however they have no specific method for using it to directly impact search results. That said, he is typically reticent to use precise language that outright answers ‘no’. Nonetheless he addresses reasons for Google not to use them as part of their rankings algorithm. Responding to ‘Are Facebook and Twitter signals part of the ranking algorithm? Do they matter?’ Cutts begins:
“Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it then we can return that in our search results. But as far as doing special specific work to sort of say “you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook”, to the best of my knowledge we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.”
It seems a fairly definite no. However analyse the language more closely and it is clear that Cutts (as he often does) is not 100% committing himself, or, by proxy, Google, to saying that this is definitely not the case. If he’s correct in his assumption then he is also relatively vague in clarifying whether or not that may change. It’s certainly a different position from when he was asked a similar thing in 2010, the response to which was yes, Google did factor in social media to its ranking algorithm. That said, he does also go on to list potential pitfalls that may occur from Google using social media signals in this way.
Because of the way that Google crawls the web and uses that data, social media is fairly incompatible with this in that they are changing all the time and Google has no way of determining how, when and what that change may be, which could potentially lead to them extracting misinformation to determine rankings, something they would presumably wish to avoid. Additionally, the social media platforms themselves can exert control over how Google uses them therefore reducing or nullifying their efforts to include social media data for search results. Cutts cites an example where one blocked Google from crawling their data for a month and a half. This, he points out, would mean a waste of Google engineer’s efforts, if they are only going to create algorithms which then can’t be put in to effect.
He concludes by admitting the importance of social media for business and that he too is a fan of it. He discusses the difference between correlation and causation as important in understanding the seeming link between pages that perform well in search results and that also perform well on social media platforms. Basically, the more engaged customers are with a brand or a service the more likely it is that the business is doing well, and also doing its marketing well. In which case they are likelier to be performing well across the board, including in search results.