*Updated for 2016

Use Social Signals To Help Your Backlinks Stand Out and Perform Better

“Social signals” have been a topic of hot debate recently among SEO professionals.  These signals, comprised of the various Likes, Shares, Plus Ones or any number of the other bookmarking and sharing options on the Internet free market, are understandably misunderstood but more importantly they are still finding their place and defining their role online.

Search engines, like Google, have begun working to integrate social media into organic search results – of course starting with their version Google+.  Recently, a partnership with Twitter, who is already in bed with the other players in the search industry (Bing, Yahoo), created an even deeper relationship between social activity and what ranks high on search.  Yes, indeed social media is very important to the modern search process.

This week, while trying out a new backlink monitoring tool (I’m not affiliated and still in the trial so won’t endorse just yet), I stumbled on an interesting theory based on the data returned by said tool.

OK, here we go.

Social signals are less important originating from your website than those originating from web pages containing a strong backlink to your site.  Reversely, the social signals on your page lend to the power of the outbound links whether internal or external. 

What the heck does that mean?

Basically, while social media and the quantity of social “affirmations” a brand has certainly can lead to things like increased exposure, more traffic, more sales etc –  in terms of search engine rankings the social signals lend more to signifying whether a web page is legitimate or not.

Let me pause by saying social signals do have a quite unique benefit of almost instantaneous indexation and can be very useful in getting new pages indexed quickly.

At the crux of it, what is a social signal?….

I can think of three words:

  • Trust
  • Confidence
  • Community

Trust

A unique, real, non-bot, share or like a particular web page indicates a unique trust that viewer has with that piece of content or company.  By showing approval of the post, article, video or any number of pieces of content that viewer shows a trust in that brand and sends a signal to search engines that their customer (the searcher) has just indicated that they approve of this link and would like to see more from this company in the search results.

Confidence

Likewise, Tweeting the link out or clicking the “Plus One” button from G+ shows a buyer confidence in the respective brand.   By indicating their enjoyment and sharing with their personal community online, they effectively promote the authenticity and usefulness of that web page, and indicate to SEs searchers have confidence this page will help others.

Community

Social Media is turning the web into the online community it was truly meant to be.  The fact that you can go online and get answers to just about any question, download completely free amazing open source software created by all sorts of experts around the world or participate in thought-provoking forums, chatrooms and social conversations – all for free – is simply amazing.   Having your web pages part of that swirling community of information and better introduced into relevant micro-communities by real life searchers, again adds a human stamp of approval to your page.

So how does this affect link building? (Great question!)

Take the above information and proof that social signals create a bridge of trust between search engines and web pages and apply it to the web pages where your backlinks are to solidify the power of that backlink and keep it’s containing page relevant. 

You can see below – and those of you who use this tool will recognize it, but again I am not endorsing this tool at this time – not to say I will not in the future because it is really powerful and useful.

Do Social Signals Help SEO?

Notice how our best links in this small screenshot – with the highest Page Rank, Moz Domain Authority, and Page Authority – also have the most social shares.  Even a No Follow link is a well-recognized link because of how socially relevant it is.

Also, see how a brand new Pinterest “PIN” gets picked up and indexed almost immediately. There are no shares yet on the Pinterest link because it is so new. A great article on using Pinterest for linkbuilding is here.

PRO TIP #1: Don’t let Nofollow links scare you off. A good mix of Nofollow links is not only very natural and helps protect your from a penalty, but also does facilitate your ranking improvements.

PRO TIP#2: Building links in places that are niche relevant and likely to get shared will lead to not only empowering that link and proving it’s authenticity but will most likely gain real clicks from real users.  Don’t forget links can be followed by search engines of course, but even better a well-placed link could drive new, relevant traffic to your site.

PRO TIP #3: When considering blogs and sites to submit articles or guest post on, be sure to scan the site to see how well social sharing is enabled. The better the site is at making it easy for social shares to happen naturally – the more they will.  If a site has zero social share buttons or social media integration, it may not be the best site to post on, OR if it really is, it may be useful to reach out to the site owner to inquire on the social aspects of their website.

If you look to the left, or bottom if you are on mobile, you can see our use of the SumoMe app Sharing. (Go ahead and click on your favorite platform!

Internal Linking

Theoretically, this works just as well with internal linking.  Point being, do not simply focus on getting your home page or domain to be shared for promotional purposes or even to boost the homepage’s ranking. Rather, get your blog posts and articles shared where your internal links live and see an increase in rankings across the entire domain.

Conclusion on Social Signals

If you are building links for your own website or for a client,  be sure not to disregard the benefits social signals can provide.  While it may seem counter-productive to not focus 100% of social promotions on your own website, you may experience increased rankings by ensuring the guest posts, press releases,  videos, etc get lots of social affirmations to create the bridge of trust between search engines and web pages,  instill confidence that the web page containing your link is relevant and introduce both the linking page and linked to page into the almost real-time community created by top social platforms.

These are just my ideas and observations and some of the techniques we practice in our own SEO services, would love to hear your thoughts on the current role and future role social signals will play in search!!