Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year or so, you already know that Social Media is critical to your online success. Well, that's what everyone says at least, right? Most answers I hear for the question "Why should small business care about social media?" are usually vague statements like -- "You need to be connected" or "You have to build relationships" or "Social media is just… cool, man!"
Here's the reality: Small business owners only care about RESULTS, not "connections" and "relationships" or "cool trends." This is exactly why I like to talk about social media in terms of SEO. For small business owners, SEO is a very clear and measurable result. Plus, in the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to rank on Google. Panda and Penguin changed SEO forever (at least "The Old SEO" approach).
The latest buzz term around Social Media campfires is "social signals." Some hate the term, some love it. Personally, I'm a fan. Social Signals helps explain a clear benefit of social media. And although it's still not 100% clear exactly HOW social signals work, there is already a substantial amount of evidence that suggests that social signals are playing a role in web marketing results, including SEO.
What Are Social Signals?
In a nutshell, social signals are the "activity signals" pointing back to your website and your online profiles from social media websites. For example, if I post a link on Twitter about your website, that would count as a "social signal." Likewise, if tons of people grab my tweet and retweet and reshare it with their social media audiences, those all count as signals as well.
The definition of "signal" should help here:
"a gesture, action, or sound that is used to convey information or instructions, typically by prearrangement between the parties concerned." (As in: "the firing of the gun was the signal for a chain of beacons to be lit.")
I like the word "gesture" in this definition. Gestures are subtle and require some interpretation. In social media, there are lots of activities, signals, or gestures going on all the time. Likes, Shares, Retweets, +1's, etc. Plus, there's the overall performance of your social media profiles -- how many total fans do you have? what is your Klout score? how often do you engage with other users? how often do other users engage with you? what is the status/authority of the people with whom you're engaging? And so on.
The important thing to understand about Social Signals is that they're subtle and complex. For SEO reasons, this can be a tad frustrating, especially since most of us are used to thinking in more objective terms like we did with traditional link building.
Social Media Is The New Link Building
In 2011 and 2012 especially, Google went after link building with a vengeance. Many SEO companies the world over had discovered link building strategies that could short-circuit any meaningful SEO strategy. So manipulative link building practices were dominating SEO in the first decade of the 2000's. Google went on a hard campaign to stop these practices, which worked pretty darn well.
SEO changed virtually overnight. Many small business owners are still licking their wounds.
But here's the key point: Google is always just looking for the best way to measure authority. That's all link building ever was to Google -- a way to determine which websites were most authoritative for a particular niche. Google's PageRank system is exactly how Google always measured the authority of different websites. Google is still definitely using links and PageRank to influence their search algorithms, but now there's a new player in town, social media.
I like to say that social media is the new link building because it helps explain this whole "Social Signals" concept.
Social media has proven itself incredibly useful for measuring authority -- even more so than link building by itself. Again, links do still play a critical role in SEO and you should absolutely not rule them out of your process. You just should NEVER pay for links. "Link Building" (in the paid sense) as an SEO tactic is dead, dead, dead. Even if you manage to buy some links and get some positive impact today, you will likely get discovered tomorrow and your results will be gone just as fast as they came (plus you risk further penalties down the road - not fun).
Remember: Google's long-term goal is to find the best way to measure authority of websites. So it's logical that Google would need to begin incorporating social signals into its algorithms.
What Google Says About Social Signals
Important disclaimer here: I obviously do not work for Google, I am not affiliated with Google in any way, and I do not speak on their behalf. Like any student of SEO, my words are pure speculation based on observation of my data working with hundreds of SEO projects.
Google has been a bit cagey about "Social Signals" and "SEO" connections. Then again, it's important to remember that Google Search is a complex and mighty machine -- just because Matt Cutts says X doesn't necessarily make X true or false. Google has a PR job on its hands and a stock price to keep in mind at all times.
It's definitely smart to listen to Matt Cutts' advice, but it's also important to look at your own metrics. There's simply no way that any single person can explain "how Google Search ranks websites" in a few sound bites (even 1 hour presentations).
Top Rankings Are All About Authority
Here's the final key point about Social Signals SEO that you need to understand -- social media has changed the very nature of relationship-building online. I know, I know -- business owners want RESULTS, right? But key relationships you make online can yield positive results in the future even if they don't yield positive results immediately.
As we move through the hangover that Link Building SEO left behind, we small business owners need to think deeper and wider about how we approach SEO. Top rankings are all about authority, and now authority is being measured in lots of different ways.
So if you're considering whether or not to add Social Media Strategy into your SEO mix, don't even think twice. Get to work building your authority! That's what SEO is really all about.
Looking for more SEO tips for Small Business? Click here to read my article: Top 10 Small Business SEO Tips For Small Business
Have a question about Social Signals SEO? Please leave a comment below. I promise to reply asap.