Updated on August 1, 2019, to reflect current trends and data.
When Ian Lurie originally wrote on this subject in 2008, he argued that “your success in social media will eventually depend on search ranking.” Over the last 10+ years, what we have actually seen is the transition to social media platforms operating as an ecosystem in their own right. You can search, select, and purchase products directly through Facebook without ever leaving the site or app. As of late 2018, we started to see the influence of SEO on paid media become relevant once more. While success on social media is not tied to search rankings, there are a few ways it is linked to the same fundamental factors that Google uses to determine those rankings.
As the amount of user-generated content plus competition from advertisers increases on Facebook, their team is focused on how to create the best experience for their users. One way Facebook has differentiated content from brands is by prioritizing a positive post-click experience. The post-click experience is defined as the actions and behavior of a user once they have clicked through an ad: bouncing immediately, spending a few minutes on site, or purchasing.
In March of 2019, our team attended an all-day workshop that was built around positively increasing the post-click experience. We heard from specialists at the Baymard Institute, directly from the Facebook Marketing team, and completed an exercise that asked group members to give feedback on real-life examples of ads and click-through experiences.
Later that month, Facebook released an update that included a new metric in Ads Manager related directly to page experience:
Full disclosure, I asked our Facebook rep about the metric, and she determined it a mislabeled error and Facebook removed it a few hours later. From my personal experience with Facebook Ads Manager, I would not be surprised to see this metric or a version of it reappear further down the road. Facebook releases updates sporadically before pushing them out to the entire platform.
From those two instances alone, I know that page experience will be an increased focus for Facebook and all social media platforms. It will be a factor for determining which content is surfaced organically, which posts are prioritized in the auctions, and which content costs the least to promote. Because of this, the relationship between social media and SEO is more relevant than ever before.
Social Media Needs SEO
There are a lot of factors that go into a positive post-click experience, but the most important one is directly affected by SEO: site speed.
The average mobile user is 2x more likely to bounce and typically spends 50% less time on site. We know that attention spans are shorter on mobile devices, and conversions happen faster as users are more deliberate about their browsing behavior. Looking across our client portfolio, an average of 80% of paid social impressions serve to a mobile site or app. If load times are too long, a user is even more likely to bounce coming from a paid advertisement than a search result. Combine that with the fact that most browsers open in-app versus an external browser, and it is all too easy for a user to return to their social app if the site doesn’t load immediately.
As Facebook (and other platforms that will follow suit) continues to prioritize a positive post-click experience, instantaneous page load times will continue to see lower click costs, lower purchase costs, and overall increased efficiencies through their social media campaigns—linking SEO and social media once again.
SEO Needs Social Media
While social media accounts can increase the number of brand search results, positive search engine ranking factors are the most significant benefit of an effective social media marketing strategy.
Search engine optimization, at its core, is based on relevance and authority. Providing an audience with relevant content and interaction will create brand awareness, affinity, and reputation that has downstream effects on that audience’s search engine behavior. They will click on a brand’s search results, search directly for the brand, speak highly of the brand, and link to a brand more often after a positive experience with the brand on social media platforms. Relevance comes from content that has the right keywords and concepts.
Google says they don’t use social signals as ranking factors, but they definitely use brand signals. Google crawls and indexes pages on social media platforms, and they could be treating that content like any other content on the web for their ranking algorithm. As Eric Schmidt famously said: “Brands are the solution, not the problem… Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.” So much brand information is contained in social content, how could Google ignore it?
Bing, on the other hand, definitely uses social platform information in their ranking algorithm, and they say so in their webmaster guidelines.
There may be more of a gray area around the SEO need for Social Media than vice versa, but at a bare minimum, the side effects of increased brand awareness and community engagement can positively impact search rankings.
What Does This Mean?
The ways in which social media and SEO are tied have fluctuated over the past several years, becoming increasingly important as the advertising ecosystem matures on social platforms. While Facebook and Instagram have recently implemented new Ad Relevance metrics, Google has been reporting on Quality Score for over a decade. I expect the social giants to move closer and closer to Google’s model as their algorithms continue to incorporate user behavior beyond the on-platform click. If your marketing team hasn’t been using SEO best practices to optimize landing pages specifically for paid advertising, there is no better time to start than now.