Exploring the correlation between social media and search rankings

Just like email, social media is a communication medium and therefore cannot improve organic search rankings, but why is the SEO industry abuzz with social?

A recent article here on SEW correctly discussed the effectiveness of harnessing social media but the article suggested, using Moz’s 2015 search ranking factors report, that we should use correlational reports. However…

Correlations are flawed

There is a correlation that most of the population wakes up when it’s daylight, this does not mean we cause the sun to rise. Yes there is a correlation but this is not cause and effect. The same applies to social media and organic ranking. Writing awesome, popular, tweets about ‘dresses’ for example, will not allow your site to rank any higher for ‘dresses’. Neither will retweets on Twitter or Facebook Likes help you to rank.

Actual, non-correlated, social media and SEO elements


If a searcher is logged on to their Google+ account, Google assigns session keywords to their user profile (connecting their social media account to their user profile too), as such, some rankings are directly affected and increased due to search personalisation: Google, Bing and Yahoo! all personalise search results.


Yahoo! and Google in particular lead the way with personalisation and use personalisation to increase relevancy. The idea here is we should all get different results based on our personal interests and search behaviour. Engines do this by constructing 3D cubes to every searcher:

  • Breadth of topics
  • Length spent on each topic
  • Width of sub-topics within a topic

The main limitation of 3D cubes is the ‘filter bubble’. There’s more information on that right here…


You would be mad to ignore reviews. They are not only a localised SEO ranking signal but they increase click-through rates if marked up with schema microdata. Google Reviews and Trust Pilot are examples of excellent tools to use, precisely for star ratings. These help build trust and engagement too.

Indexable tweets

Tweets are now indexed by Google. This does not help ranking but it does increase brand visibility which can impact brand awareness and, as a result, brand searches. It also shows brand credibility. These are probable future ranking factors that will likely increase in algorithm weight over the coming months and years. 


User centric

Social media can help increase new visitors and maintain returning visitors. If a user sees a social media icon on a site, for example, they may go off your domain and look at your Facebook account. If you publish engaging, informative articles and posts here, then you are increasing trust which encourages returning, loyal customers. 

If another user ‘likes’ this post they are increasing the chances of a site referral. This increases average session duration and pages viewed per session, such factors are used within a search engine’s algorithm, albeit slightly in 2015. On mobile this is a very different scenario since UX has more ranking weight.

Resource pages

Incorporating social media into a resource page not only increases natural links but also the amount of time spent on a page. Having an embedded video, for instance, encourages the user to stay on your site for additional minutes.

Getting eyeballs to content

As previously stated, social media is simply a form of communication. Communicate your content, such as an infographic, to the world. Bloggers might pick this up and link to your domain, thus increasing link juice through natural link building. 

Keyword awareness

We are all influenced by our environment. Social media changes the environment by information alone. This can increase keyword awareness. If you want to invent a new, niche keyword throw it out and shout about it on social media. Once popularity is gained we will start to search for it.

There you go. Correlation data is worthless. Social media does not impact organic rankings, per se. It may do so in the future but this is unlikely for the next few years.

Related reading

brands on social
15 writing tips to rank higher on social and search results
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