Social Signals, Schmochal Smignals?

Last week, I put together a workshop for Receptional Internet Marketing and sparked a very interesting debate: do Social Signals even affect page rank?  Or is it a big Google-myth?

On one side of the table there were the more technical SEO guys  who made some pretty compelling arguments favouring the opinion that Social Signals 100% do affect search rankings.  On the other side, was the side of the table that felt that while Social Signals are important to the online marketing mix, Google hasn t explicitly said that they do yet.

I’ve read countless blogs on Social Signals, countless I say.  Haven’t we all! So, while I am aware this may add to the mountain that is a Social Signal blog, hopefully I can shed some light onto the foggy on-going debate cloud hovering over this subject by splitting all the arguments I have come across into 3 parts:

Argument 1:Liked It. Ranked it.

Social Signals affect Page Rank within Google

Poor old Bing,  it never gets a look in does it?  Most arguments I have seen favouring this opinion centre around Google…as if anyone uses it *gawfaw*

Anyway, this argument has been corroborated by hundreds of top notch SEO professionals and all respect is due them; a few arguments against this stand point are:

  1. The blog most cited by most of the blogs on this subject is Danny Sullivan’s – which was a brilliant bit of work…in 2010.  If Social Media has taught us nothing, it is that it is truly unstable and ever-evolving.  Welcome to 2013,  take a good look around, you won’t see the Social Media landscape like this again- things change.
  2. Google search results personalisation has also evolved,  as have the myriad of social signals now available to us that now reach further than Likes, Shares & Links . Attribute this to Social Search if you like. But we still can’t find anything from Google that states these signals effect where you sit in organic search for a prolonged period of time. Most SEOs just need 1 sentence that says ‘Strong Social Signals will push your page up the Google organic results page’  Or equivalent.
  3. Personalised search means Google has looked into more than your Google account, it is tracking your buddies’ conversations too and providing you with what it thinks is the best search result. So, in theory, it will change every time based on Conversations and recent blog posts from your Circles etc.


Argument 2:social signals, what are you!?

Social Signals don’t affect Page Rank within Google

There are still many out there who take this stand point due to lack of confirmation from Google;  studies have been, and are being, made as we  speak . There are some brilliantly interesting results  – some excessively complicated ones too. I ‘d urge everyone to check out Beyond’swhite paper on the Science of Google, Search and Social Signals by Judith Lewis for a great insight into Social Signals.

Many who choose this argument state that the effect Social Signals have on search results is only temporary – and they’d be right.

My recent SocialSafe review for example is still being Tweeted/Liked/whatever ed across cyberspace, therefore State of Search blog ranks on page 1  when I’m signed in or not, using a different browser or not:

socialsafe search results

Not to say that this won’t continue to get shared forever and ever, but when (if) it stops, it will be interesting to see what position it remains at on page 1.

Google are pushing us to create brilliant content and are rewarding us with a temporary push in search results – nevertheless it’s not consistent or predictable enough yet to prove this argument wrong. Sighs.


Argument 3:memememememe

All of this is rubbish – Let’s get back to the basics

This is the argument I like the best.

What ARE Social Signals anyway?  Let’s take Google & Bing out of the equation for a second and take it back to the old school.  Surely a strong social signal is a post that did really well? Metrics such as ‘Number of Likes’  of a company page don’t mean a lot, it’s the content that really gets people’s attention. Because that’s that stuff that gets shared.

Shared stuff  = stronger WoM + further brand reach = better trust signals + more interest in your products = more sales  

The best maths I ever did, right there.

Add Google & Bing and other arguments into it and we are running the risk of missing the point of professional Social Media, which is this:

To build a bridge between your brand and your customer, which in turn ensures they and their friends build a stronger bridge back to yo.

Let’s make Peace

For the sake of these 3 arguments, I propose a new way of explaining social signals. Why don’t we say that, as Digital Marketers, social signals are to good SEO what jam is to a Victoria sponge. You can t have one without the other, unless you want to be left with a pretty rubbish cake.

victoria sponge


About Sarah Bradley

Sarah is Social Media Account Manager for the leading digital agency, Punch Communications. She has worked on a range of Digital Marketing campaigns and is a strong advocate of the use Social Media for the progression of any business. Her clients include Sony Mobile, Electrolux and more! A Welsh rugby fan and an avid Great British Bake off watcher, Sarah loves to Tweet, chat and cuddle cats.

34 thoughts on “Social Signals, Schmochal Smignals?

  1. A Victoria sponge without Jam? That’s one cake I don’t want a piece of.
    Great article though Sarah, I’m going to make sure I give it plenty of social shares.

    1. Thanks Chris, that’s awesome of you. And the cake analogy totally summed up how I felt about it all, I shudder at the thought of a victoria sponge minus jam. Shudder I say!

  2. You omitted the strongest argument: SEOs confusing correlation for causation.

    Social signals do not CAUSE high Google rankings, but are merely correlated. A high degree of Likes/Shares/+1s/etc means an article is popular on the internet, and that means people are more likely to blog about it, link to it, and do other things with it that results in proper ranking signals being seen by search engines.

    Social signals are a measure of popularity, and so are Google rankings, ergo the two are correlated but almost certainly not in a causal relation.

    SEOs who believe social signals directly cause high rankings are lacking in critical thinking skills and probably shouldn’t be doing SEO. But then, we’ve had our fair share of uneducated amateurs in SEO for as long as the industry has existed…

  3. Social signals are hugely important, as you’ve mentioned Sarah, but what’s even more important is that marketers actually understand their relationship with rankings. On that note, I think Barry has pretty much covered my point! Also, I have to say, I love the Victoria sponge cake analogy. Consider this post shared 🙂

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