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You don’t have to look far to find articles extolling the virtues of social signals and their growing importance. Why should you be interested and what benefits can social signals deliver for your SEO and marketing?

Dustin Stout recently defined a social signal as:

“visible activity or actions taken by other people”

Typically on the internet social signals mean the amount of shares, likes or plus ones content receives or the number of followers a person has.

Why the interest in social signals?

Growth in social networks has led to a new form of content sharing. Previously people had to share links on their website or in forums. Now people can share easily by using share buttons and through social networks such as Twitter. They can effectively share content by simply liking it or giving it a plus one.

The interest in social signals is increasing because they can deliver SEO benefits; enhance brand awareness; and build trust and credibility.

SEO benefits

Eric Enge has pointed out that with the new Hummingbird algorithm:

“Google now has the infrastructure to better process social signals.”

Eric argues that Google previously had technical issues which limited the use of social signals as a ranking factor. However, he believes that while Google may not use social signals now they do intend to use them in the future. Even if they are not ranking factors at the current time social shares create inbound links and can deliver SEO benefits.

There is a debate about how much weight or impact social sharing should carry in SEO terms. A social share such as a Facebook like doesn’t require as much commitment as say placing a link on a website and hence there is a case to say it should carry less weight. There is also an argument that a share by someone who is an acknowledged expert in a topic area should count for more than a share by someone who is not an expert or has not authority in a topic area. There is evidence that Google is interested in the quality of authors and author rank which would allow it to give weight to social signals in the future.

There does appear to be a consensus that social signals will play a more important role in SEO in the future. Jayson DeMers recently posted an article about social signals and SEO on the MOZ blog where he stated:

“I do believe that direct and indirect impacts of social signals will eventually surpass links as the most valuable ranking factor.”

Brand awareness

The social sharing of content brings brand awareness benefits regardless of any SEO benefit. The original content gets amplified by sharing and will reach a much larger audience. This extended reach will in itself be beneficial.

Trust and credibility

Social signals are a human intervention which can act as an endorsement or recommendation. A social share may be accompanied by positive comments. Even though these recommendations may be from strangers, there is evidence that people trust such recommendations more than they do search engine results or ads.

The latest Neilson survey data on trust in various sources of buyer information found that the top three most trusted sources of information (% completely or somewhat trusting) were as follows:

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Thus people trust social signals even though they may be from strangers. Dustin Stout sums up the trust issue as follows:

“Higher social signals illicit a higher level of authority, trust, and shareability. People trust what other people have trusted, and are more likely to share something that other people have shared. Period.”

Check and improve your social signals

At BuzzSumo we recognise that social signals will be increasingly important in the future.

You can use the BuzzSumo app to gain insights into the social signals in your area and improve your performance. You can:

  • search for the most shared content in your topic area
  • enter your domain to see what content on your site is being shared the most
  • see how your social signals compare to your competitors
  • see which influencers amplify social sharing