Over the last few years, it’s been increasingly obvious that social media—especially huge social media sites like Twitter and Facebook—has a great impact on Google search results pages. Therefore, it only stands to reason that the use of Twitter and Facebook is instrumental in increasing your Google search rankings. We actually have research now to confirm this.
However, and here’s the big curveball, it’s not what you might expect.
You probably believe that Twitter has a huge impact on Google search rankings, definitely more so than Facebook. After all, anytime someone important or someone merely believing themselves to be important wants to announce something, they always tweet about it. You hear about everyone from the president to the pope tweeting, these days.
At the same time, you don’t really hear about them taking to Facebook to share announcements or news. Though Facebook is the second-most popular site on Earth, it still has a reputation for being dominated by younger people who tend to relish posting meaningless updates about what they had for lunch (and selfies, too!).
Therefore, you can just imagine the surprise on the faces of marketers when they were presented with data that seemed to indicate that Facebook social shares were way more influential than tweets. What?! How could this be? Talk about turning conventional wisdom on its head, but that’s where the evidence is taking us.
Comparing Social Signals and Link Metrics
As I wrote above, people (including SEO experts) expect Twitter to be way more influential than Facebook in terms of determining search rankings. You don’t hear about newsmakers or influential personalities sharing on Facebook…you hear about them tweeting.
Well, according to data collected by Topsy API and Google Buzz API, the results are simply startling. You can clearly see that the facts show that Facebook social signals—which are defined as shares, likes and comments—correlate extremely highly with websites that rank in the top 30 of Google search results. Before the release of this highly surprising data, the consensus among marketers, social media watchers and SEO professionals was that Twitter was clearly more influential than Facebook when it came to search rankings. Or so they thought, anyway.
The horizontal bar graph indicates that the number of Facebook shares easily bests the number of tweets to URL by almost double, when it comes to correlating with higher rankings in the top 30 search results of Google’s rankings. However, it’s not just the number of Facebook shares that are doing a number on the tweets. Even the number of Facebook likes and comments (essentially, all Facebook social signals) are beating the number of tweets in correlation to higher rankings in the Google top 30.
While this was a relatively new phenomenon when it took the SEO world by storm back in March of 2011, marketers and SEO professionals have now had three years to adjust to this reality and understand what it really means.
Does the Facebook Data Lie?
Naturally, the first reaction to getting news of this caliber was shock…quickly followed by skepticism. After all, how can it be that Facebook seems to have a bigger influence in Google search rankings than Twitter, the favorite of conventional wisdom when it comes to social signals?
The first line of reasoning to try to explain these shocking, social-media results was naturally a belief that the Facebook results were somehow skewed. Perhaps…perhaps mere coincidence was simply at work, and surely, the data represented in the above chart just showed a lot of Facebook shares in the top 30 results. If you would’ve gone further down the list of search results, this overwhelming influence of Facebook likely would’ve dissipated, right?
That wasn’t the case at all, as even deeper research showed, which really made the initial indications seem very solid. As this new chart shows, Facebook share data (Facebook shares, likes, comments, etc.) was still present in a whopping 62% of all search queries in Google’s top 30 search results. If you were expecting just between 5 and 10%, you surely got a rude awakening.
Again, Twitter social-sharing action is bested by a lot: The number of tweets to URL (how influential Twitter is on search rankings) was just 42%.
The last hypothesis that was thought of to try to explain away Facebook’s powerful influence was also utterly destroyed. Here, it was speculated that there was just a huge coincidence between the number of Facebook shares and links in top 30 search rankings. The belief was that websites and pages with lots of social interest also get lots of links. However, this belief was also undercut with a chart that showed that there was still a significant correlation between Facebook shares and increased rankings.
What’s Important to You
The important thing is that this data is highly actionable. You can apply it to your SEO-ranking efforts to get better results for your website. Let’s quickly look at the most vital takeaways from this stunning piece of data about Facebook social shares:
- Social Metrics go Hand-in-Hand With Higher Search Rankings – You should pay attention to correlation since you should obviously want your own sites and pages that enjoy a higher Google search rank. Another correlation to remember is that pages with greater social shares also bring greater direct traffic and earning links.
- It’s Necessary to Evaluate the Direct Impact of Facebook Shares on Google – This data is so promising that marketers and SEO professionals absolutely have to do further testing on the impact of Facebook shares on search results and rankings. After all, tests on Twitter’s influence have been eye-opening, to say the least.
- Learn How to Get More Facebook Shares – This one is so obvious that it just hits you in the face. Based on the data, you should put a priority on coming up with and researching ways to obtain sharing activity from the humongous user base of Facebook.
- Consider That Shares May Be More Valuable Than Likes – You should focus on getting Facebook users to share your content as opposed to merely liking it. The reasons are twofold: First, the data we already discussed makes a strong case for encouraging sharing, and, second, Facebook users look at the “Top News” section of Facebook in greater numbers (this is where shares end up).
- Twitter May Not Be as Strong as Many Think – The results about Facebook shares’ influence on search rankings were definitely a shocker. It was just as shocking to realize how much weaker Twitter’s influence was, too!
A Few Notes of Caution
How this data makes you think things through is certainly all well and good, but you should not be completely sold on it. Just not yet, that is. There are two highly noteworthy caveats that you must take note of…even as you appreciate this eye-opening look at the influence of Facebook shares on Google rankings.
The first note of caution is that mere correlation isn’t causation. While there is definitely a proven correlation now between Facebook shares and Google search rankings, who knows if this is really a strong connection? It could also be that aspects of high-ranking pages may just get more Facebook shares, simply because Facebook is the second-biggest website on Earth.
The second note of caution is that the data above is probably way too simplistic. That’s because we were only looking at data through APIs, yet search engines like Google probably have a lot more sophisticated technology they’re using to see if a social share is really that authentic. How does this note of caution tie into what marketers are doing or want to do? Simply because you may now think that exploiting social shares is a great way to manipulate Google search rankings, overdoing it by way of spamming sites with social shares is hardly that smart.
Therefore, it is in your best interest to proceed cautiously: Take this surprising data on Facebook shares with an open mind, but still like a grain of salt. More data on this issue still needs to come out, but if more and more research keeps bolstering the data on Facebook sharing being highly influential, then you can hang your hat on it!
There’s No Doubt That Social Media Figures Into Search Rankings
The big takeaway here is that there’s no doubt that social media figures into Google (and even Bing) search rankings. That’s so plain to see that it’s not up for discussion! The real issue that’s still left on the table is to what extent each social media site is more influential than the next.
To that end, we just explored how the conventional wisdom—that Twitter’s highly influential to search rankings—may’ve been very much exaggerated. On the other hand, it also showed that something as unexpected as Facebook social shares is really a big player (or at least looks that way) in the sphere of search-ranking influence.
So does that mean that you, as a marketer or designer, should stop using Twitter or at least drastically reduce your use of it? No. Does that mean that you should start going crazy with Facebook and spamming your social shares there like crazy? Of course, not! Just realize that Twitter isn’t as strong as everyone thought it was in terms of influence and that Facebook is the world’s number two website for a really good reason.
Because the data at this point is still somewhat murky but promising, just use a healthy combination of Twitter and Facebook. If you were using Twitter more and Facebook less, than it’s now high time to bring the balance closer to 50/50.