At our marketing agency, we mention over again and again how content marketing affects how a website ranks in search engine results. Social media has some influence too, and the influence is real. With the ever-changing aspects of SEO, this can get pretty confusing after some time, so we set up to form this clear explanation on what “social search” is and how this relates to your search engine rankings.

First, when it comes to search engine optimization, there are two key drivers that determine how high you rank in search results: relevancy and authority. To build relevancy, you would add keywords into your headline, sub headline, and anchor text to match what people are typing into the search bar. Authority has been traditionally defined as the number and types of sites that are linking to your content via inbound links; how legitimate you are.

What is Social Search?

Social search is where search engines factor in a user’s social network (also referred as a social graph) into what search results the user sees. Instead of outputting the same results for everyone every time “Hilary Clinton president 2016” is searched, the content that has a social connection to a user in some way gets prioritized.

Recently, within the last couple of years or so, we’ve seen search engines incorporate social components when ranking search results.

SEO Today & Best Social Practices that Get Results

SEO is an ever-changing animal. What may have worked in 2006 or in 2010 certainly doesn’t work right now. Since Google makes hundreds and hundreds of updates to its search algorithm, most come unannounced; you can expect that you are dealing with a new breed almost every week! While algorithms come and go, we noticed that social media continues to make a big impact.

Social Media Signals May or May Not Boost Rankings

According to many SEO experts and marketers, social media accounts do have a big, positive impact on your rankings. While Bing has confirmed this, Google has been a little unclear. In 2010, Google first said it doesn’t incorporate the number of times a link has been retweeted into its search algorithm, and then it goes on to say that it does. In 2014, Matt Cutts made it very clear that it does not have search signals incorporated into its search algorithm, but that Google bots do crawl social media sites the same way it would crawl any other site. Meanwhile, Bing made it extremely clear that the search engine does consider social media as a ranking factor in search results.

Takeaway: The authority of your social media account may not make a high impact on your search rankings. However, social links are considered to be credible back links, which does have a high impact your search rankings.

Social Media Profiles Rank in Search Engines

While social shares may or may not influence your rankings, social media profiles definitely do rank high in search results. Search for “Small Screen Producer” or any other brand name and you will see that social profiles rank in the top 10 spaces in results. If you have a verified Google+ page with customer reviews, a Google+ box will show up on the right side. Social profiles are also a great way to show personality and transparency for your brand, something that a website often cannot portray.

Takeaway: If social profiles rank high in search results, why not have a social presence? Plus, social accounts provide brands with the opportunity to share insights and personality and allow you to speak to your audience directly. Don’t discount a Google+ page, which can take up a lot of real estate on a Google search results page. Keep it up-to-date with the right contact info and regular content.

Some Social Media Sites are Search Engines

Social sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram now have their own search component that allows users to search for content and users. Users aren’t just searching on Google and Bing, but social channels to find what they’re looking for. Search engine optimization isn’t just limited to search engines anymore, but the search engines found on social media sites too.

Takeaway: Since new search components can be found on social sites, including visual-stimulating ones like Instagram and Pinterest, it’s possible for users to discover company content, especially if a business or organization offers products and services that are visually appealing.

What Does This All Mean?

There is definitely a budding relationship between social and search. With the explosive growth of sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, there are more opportunities for brands to share content. This content is also being searched for users, which means search engines like Google and Bing will respond by ranking these social sites higher in results. Brands should not only be focused on search engine optimization for the search engine, but the search engines found on social media sites as well. Along with that, having an official social presence on the web can only be helpful in ranking high in search results. These sites sit at the top of results pages. Make sure that duplicate social profiles are deleted and information is updated to keep profiles fresh.

Although Google may be on the fence about incorporating social media signals into their search algorithms, it’s not entirely a possibility in the future. Don’t forget, Bing has not flip-flopped on that at all. As the second-largest search engine, it considers social media as a huge ranking factor for search results. We don’t see social becoming a less important component on the web. Smart brands will continue to build active presence on social channels and value for their audience.