Social signals have been getting a lot of attention lately; obviously they are important, but what are they exactly, and what good can they do for your business? Some experts believe that they are a decided factor in search engine rankings, and others believe that while they do have a certain relevance to search, they are more of an alternative to search-based traffic. Are either of these options the correct one, or is the true value of social signals located somewhere in between?
Stefan Weitz Discusses the True Value of Social Signals
What Are Social Signals?
Social signals are signs of activity surrounding your brand and its content.
Most often these signals come from social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter; through these platforms businesses receive input from consumers who are connected to them as well as from those who are not. Social signals are an important kind of feedback that businesses can definitely benefit from because they indicate how the public at large feels about a variety of topics related to a given brand.
Social signals are just that – they are signs of the opinions of a diverse groups of people. A lot of positive social signals can indicate a strong brand by building up said brand’s relevance and authority in the court of public opinion. Each signal is one more vote for your business!
Why Are They Important?
Just as interesting as the definition of social signals is the answer to the question of exactly what they do. What is the goal of measuring a social signal? What does the presence of such a signal prove (or disprove)?
Social signals are important because they are votes of confidence from a variety of different sources, arguably backed by real people. Other people use these signals to learn things about your brand and come to their own conclusions; whether or not search engines pay the same amount and sort of attention to social signals as people do remains to be proven, but there is no denying that when it comes to people, social signals have a big impact.
Short version: Social signals are important because they help show that your website / brand is actively being discussed and is being found to be important and relevant to other web users.
Do They Affect Search Engine Results?
No one really knows what sort of relationship social signals have with search results.
While it is confirmed that they have some sort of undisclosed impact on Google’s results, that is as far as it goes. As with many other aspects of SEO, it’s too soon to tell, and we may never get a straight answer from Google as to the exact role social signals play. If social signals do play a part in search results, what value is given to which signals? Will a Google+ account be worth more (and be able to generate more valuable signals) than one on Facebook? What will a tweet or pin be worth?
Regardless of the precise nature of their direct relationship with search results, social signals can still be valuable in terms of SEO. If social signals help drive targeted traffic to your website and these visitors stay and browse a while, these are some pretty positive factors that can do good things for your SEO efforts.
Click for a larger version — Thanks to Tasty Placement for the infographic! See their original post for more information
How Authentic Are Social Signals?
How easy is it to “game the system” and obtain social signals unethically? Surprisingly so.
This is a gray area, with some people being comfortable with the concept behind shared social signal building (you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours type thinking) and others vehemently opposed to such tactics. Whether you personally believe that encouraging or otherwise obtaining social signals in a less-than-authentic way is wrong or right, the fact remains that it can be done. It is easy to spot many of the “spam” accounts that are the source of “fake” social signals; no picture or an obviously low-resolution or stock picture, minimal to no information or bio, and little to no “personal” activity. The trouble is that, like so many other spammers before them, the people behind these accounts are getting smarter. It is becoming increasingly difficult for search engines to separate the fakes from the authentic accounts on the major social media networks, allowing these accounts to continue to produce social signals that are far from genuine.
So the question remains; How authentic are social signals? How can we know whether or not the numbers are true or artificially inflated?
The long and the short of this post can be summed up here:
The true value of social signals lies in the opinions and people who created them. Social signals have the ability to confer authority and relevance on their target (a business for example) which will in turn drive more traffic in that direction, regardless of whether or not social signals have any sort of direct impact on search results.
What do you think? In your own words, what is the true value of social signals?