Social Signals and SEO

// // April 07th 2014 // SEO + Social Media

Do social signals (Tweets, Likes and Pluses) impact search rankings? The answer to this question is yes, but not in the traditional sense. That’s why so much misinformation exists on the topic.

So before you run off and get all your friends to Tweet your post (or worse yet buy Likes etc.), read on to understand the math and real reason why social works.

Social Signals Are Not Part Of The Algorithm

Cat On A Leash

No matter how much we want it, or how many times we think it would make sense, it’s just not happening.

Social is not currently part of Google’s search algorithm.

At SMX West 2014 Amit Singhal stated that Google+ doesn’t have an impact on the relevance of non-personalized search results. (I was there and heard those words come out of his mouth.)

That’s the head of Google’s search effort telling you that they’re not even using their own social signals to improve search. So they sure as heck aren’t using Twitter or Facebook, sources in which they have less visibility and trust.

Using social signals in the algorithm is wicked hard for a number of reasons. While I’m sure smart people at Google and Bing are working on ways to use them, they aren’t currently being used. Period. End of story.

But … Correlation!

Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

Of course you’ve seen all the correlation studies that seem to show that social improves rankings. Now, the thing is, social is correlated with improved rankings, just as ice cream consumption and amount of clothing worn are correlated.

The key is to find the confound or confounding variable, that thing that explains why those two things are correlated. In the case of ice cream and clothing the confound is (of course) temperature. This is what is generally missing in the conversation around social signals and SEO.

Finding The Confound

It’s not the actual social activity that matters, but what happens as a result of that activity. 

One of the best things that can happen is if your content is seen by creators, the 1% of users who create all the content floating around the Internet.

Before we continue, you might want to acquaint yourself with the concept of participation inequality, something I talk about frequently, most recently as it relates to blog commenting. Because I’m going to mash-up social, participation inequality and the link graph to make my point.

Creators power the link graph and that’s why social can be so important if you follow the math.

Social SEO Math

How Social Signals Impact SEO

Say I get 100 Tweets on a blog post. Those 100 Tweets are seen by 10,000 people. I’m using round numbers here to make the math easier. But the idea is to understand the reach of those social shares.

If we use the standard distribution of participation inequality we determine that 1% of those 10,000 people are creators who might decide to include your brand or site in a future piece of content.

So, if 10,000 people see your content and (on average) 1% of those are creators then you’ve reached the eyeballs of 100 creators (10,000 x 1%), the folks who power the link graph.

Some of those creators will follow through and include you (links and mentions) in their content. It’s something I’ve referred to as the ‘Social Echo‘ in the past. But how do we measure and steer our efforts with this math in mind?

All Social Shares Are Not Equal

Does the share from your buddy with 10 followers (half of which are actually accounts for his pets) mean as much as a share from an industry leader with 20,000 followers? Of course not.

This is one of the reasons why buying Tweets or Likes just for the sake of pumping up that number is a waste of money. Shares that fail to find an audience with the appropriate creator mix will do nothing for SEO … or your marketing efforts in general.

Even the size of the following might not help you. It all depends on the creator mix.

Creator Mix of Followers Matters

For instance, 50,000 followers with a creator mix of .1 (a tenth of a percent) would only give you the opportunity to get in front of 50 creators. On the other hand, 10,000 followers with a 3% creator mix would give you the opportunity to get in front of 300 creators. (Note to self. Someone should come up with a way to quantify the creator mix of someone’s followers.)

The caveat here is that some of those 50,000 followers might re-share that content and they might have a better creator mix and get you to more creator eyeballs. You can see how this can quickly get complicated.

Long story short, the number of creators following someone who shares your content is important.

Did They See It?

Polar Bear Covering Eyes

You’ll notice that I say that you have the opportunity to reach a certain number of creators with those social shares. But there’s no guarantee that those creators actually see that one specific share amid all the other content passing through their social feeds. And there’s an argument here that creators might be more difficult to reach based on their time constraints.

So while I’m not in love with the idea of timing your social shares, it actually make a bit of sense. Because you want to maximize the potential for creators to see your content. Be warned, this is highly dependent on your vertical and will change over time so don’t get lazy and rely on cookie-cutter data.

You must win the attention auction. That means optimizing your social snippets, using paid organic amplification to get things off the ground and sharing your content more than once (second chance Tweets etc.) among other things. At the end of the day you want to do everything you can to ensure creators are seeing your stuff.

Optimize and maximize creator impressions.

Creator Conversion Rate

Red Neon Yes No Maybe So

The last variable in the equation might be the most important one of all – the percentage of creators who wind up linking to you as a result of a social impression.

So lets go back to my initial math: 100 shares produce 10,000 impressions of which 1% or 100 are creators. How many of them are going to do something with your content that will impact the link graph?

I don’t have any hard data on this and, frankly, it is super dependent on the content. Really awesome content that’s relevant, timely and memorable might have a high conversion rate. Content that makes creators roll their eyes and curse themselves for clicking through in the first place may not get a single link.

I tend to use a 1% conversion rate when discussing this with clients. So in my example, those initial 100 shares would net 1 link.

That’s it folks. Links are the confound in the correlation between social shares and rankings.

Content that hits that sweet spot, getting a high number of shares that creates downstream links from creators (particularly in a short period of time), produces wildly successful results. Those additional references by creators often creates a tailwind of sharing on the original content, reinforcing the correlation we all recognize exists.

Fuzzy Math

Evil Distribution Plushies

Now, I’ve provided math on why I believe social is a valuable part of SEO. Downstream links matter. No doubt about it.

But it’s more than just a mathematical equation of links. Social drives more people to your site who might convert and become a reader or customer. Those people might wind up sharing in the future and the traditional math above kicks in again.

You’ll gain additional followers and true fans who help to distribute your future content. Guess what? You’re just optimizing the top of the Social SEO funnel. More shares lead to more impressions lead to more creator impressions and more opportunities for gaining authoritative references (i.e. – links).

You also might get more direct traffic as a result, as the mere exposure effect takes hold and they begin to associate you with specific topics and visit your site as needed. Even this could probably be reduced to math if you really wanted to go down the rabbit hole.

Good things happen when your brand is seen by more people.


Social has an indirect but powerful impact on search rankings. It’s not the actual social activity that matters, but what happens as a result of that activity. Optimizing and maximizing creator impressions increases the chance of obtaining links from the group of people who power the link graph.

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Comments About Social Signals and SEO

// 80 comments so far.

  1. Mark Traphagen // April 07th 2014

    Once again you’ve given us what I call an “encyclopedia entry” post, AJ. When I was a kid and asked a question about something in the big, wide world (which I did constantly), my parents would more often than not open up the appropriate volume of the Britannica set that dominated our living room and point me to the relevant article, saying, “Tolle lege (take up in read).”

    OK, actually my parents didn’t quote Augustine in Latin to me, but you get the idea 😉

    This is a post that we can bookmark and link every time someone asks us, “Does social affect SEO?” (Which is about as often as I asked my parents, “Why is there air?”)

    As I’ve improved in my blog writing over the past few years, and at the same time gained a larger social media audience, I’ve observed this phenomenon again and again. The post goes up, it gets good social shares, and a short while later: look mom! Relevant links!

    Where did those links come from? Did they come from link land, where links grow on little linky trees? (Someone give me props for the “Always Sunny” ref

    No, I believe my social reach brought my posts to the attention of relevant creators, some of whom found it worthy of linking from their content, just as you said.

  2. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Thanks for the kind words and the great comment Mark.

    I think people so want social to directly influence rankings (that’s the SEO community trying to drag them into the algorithm) that they forget the way things naturally work. I don’t know. For me, it’s just a case of Occam’s Razor.

  3. Barry // April 07th 2014

    I found your site through social – Twitter. And I will be linking to you on my new blog so social signals are pretty important as you point out. Another great post AJ.

  4. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Thanks Barry and that’s exactly how it works.

  5. scott // April 07th 2014

    Got here from G+. Great ripple! Point proven about social indicators. I liked the analogy used about ice cream consumption and clothing size…

    Taking into consideration what you’ve just explained, could you hypothesize that Google could change this in a future algo? The data collected from G+ has to be too tempting to resist for them to use.

    Sorry, I’m a conspiracy theorist and also don’t believe Amazon when they say that using FBA doesn’t impact their buybox either…because I’ve proven it does. Haha!

    Anyway, I know it’s a moving target trying to anticipate Google…but it’s fun to speculate :) Thanks!

  6. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Thanks for the comment Scott.

    Do I think Google is going to use social signals in the future, particularly those from Google+? Yes. How quickly will that happen? Probably not as quickly as we might expect.

    The thing is, for Amit to say that Google+ doesn’t help the relevancy of non-personalized search means that they’ve tested it. They’re clearly interested and Ripples and the Activity API show how they might think about it.

    But the intent behind social sharing is less defined and there’s less confidence in identity (beyond Google+) that makes it far more difficult than measuring the output of all that social activity.

    I mean, the links we had 10 years ago where the result of social, it was just social that took place on different platforms (forums) and outside of the Internet altogether. So while I think they’ll figure something out I’m not quite sure they’re in a rush to do so nor is there a critical need for it either.

  7. Kath Dawson // April 07th 2014

    AJ, I pay attention to your posts because you discuss and explain important concepts in an interesting and engaging way. I don’t often tell you how much this is appreciated so I thought I’d stop by and let you know. I really like your discussion around ‘creators’ – an interesting variation on ‘influencers’ who are related but not necessarily the same.

    Reaching the right creators is so much harder than creating the content in the first place. There is no substitute or quick way to build an engaged audience but when you have that they do all the hard work for you – you just have to keep feeding them the awesome content they want to consume.

    I like your style and will be sharing.

  8. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014


    I had to rescue your comment from spam which is why I’m so late in responding here. But I sincerely appreciate the kind words. I try hard to explain these concepts in an accessible and entertaining way.

    And you have the exact right attitude. It’s not easy connecting with those creators and building true fans but once you do, they start to do all the hard work for you as long as you stay true to yourself.

  9. Mark Traphagen // April 07th 2014

    Adding to AJ’s reply to Scott:

    And Google+ is working just fine in the one place where their testing shows it’s signals DO benefit search: personalized search. When you search logged in to Google, content recommended by your friends on Google+ that is relevant to your query can get elevated just for your search results. Often I find that helpful, and obviously Google sees it being helpful to enough people that they’ve kept that feature for over two years now.

  10. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Completely agree Mark. I didn’t go into that tangent in the piece but the power Google+ has on personalized search is … EPIC. Google knows it, we know it, but very few others have figured it out IMO. So if you’re still on the fence about Google+, don’t be.

  11. Andrew Dennis // April 07th 2014

    Excellent post AJ!

    I must agree with Mark that this the best presentation of why social signals ARE useful, but have no DIRECT SEO value I have read. As you pointed out, both Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal have clearly stated social signals are not used in Google’s search algorithm.

    However, you also did an excellent job of logically walking through why they can have an indirect impact on search results.

    While I would agree that Google is striving to include these signals into their algorithm in the future, I still feel they have a long way to go.

    Thanks for the great post!

    P.S. Since nobody else has yet, I will give you the props you deserve for the Always Sunny reference Mark. Awesome show!

  12. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Thanks Andrew and I’m glad folks are finding the post and explanation accessible.

    And yes, Matt, Amit and Duane have all made it clear social isn’t currently part of the algorithm. In fact, you can tell they’re pretty weary and annoyed with the question now.

  13. Brad Brewer // April 07th 2014

    Great post, AJ. Its very clear and concise explanation of where Search and Social converge.

    Can’t wait for your followup post examining the Creator Mix of this post.

  14. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Thanks Brad. I’m intrigued by defining a follower’s creator mix. When I’ll get around to that is another matter.

  15. Mark Traphagen // April 07th 2014

    Although Duane of Bing has hinted that Bing has tested using social for discovery of “popular” content, which they then popped up higher in search ranking to see how searchers respond to it.

  16. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Correct Mark. I’ve had that chat with Duane. Using social to discover content is clearly happening. Whether surfacing the trending stuff to searchers panned out … I’ll let you decide.

  17. Krystian Włodarczyk // April 07th 2014

    Nice post. I was getting fed up with all the internet marketers repeating that social signals mantra (especially after Moz’s and Searchmetrics’s ranking factors report).

  18. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Thanks Krystian. And don’t get me wrong, I think the Moz and Searchmetrics studies are great but they’re often misinterpreted.

  19. Takeshi Young // April 07th 2014

    Thanks for this post. People are always asking whether or not social has an impact on SEO, and this article really breaks down why social can play an important role in SEO, even if it doesn’t impact rankings directly (although sites like Google+ & Tumblr that have dofollow links CAN have a direct impact).

  20. Bill Franklin, you know, from Lavaboom // April 07th 2014

    This is a really awesome article, thanks for spelling it out.

  21. Paul Shapiro // April 07th 2014

    I’ve been working for a couple of month on quantifying to correlation between various social shares and link acquisition with a huge data set.

    More to come :)

  22. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    I look forward to seeing that Paul! Ping me when it’s available.

  23. Patrick Hathaway // April 07th 2014

    AJ, thank you for putting forward so succinctly an argument that I always think should be obvious to people, but disappointingly seldom is.

    I think one of the reasons that social has thus far been only experimented on by Google is their inability to quantify the value of a social share. Mere share numbers are not important – as you point out – it is the sharers themselves that are important and the affect their shares can have. Further, it seems likely that most powerful social influencers are also creators themselves – those with the power to link. Which does sort of validate the idea that social probably wouldn’t massively improve link-based search results.

  24. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    My pleasure Patrick. I think people want so badly for social to count that they just don’t see the obvious.

    I agree that the intent and the value of a share is murky, which makes it a thorny issue. Did I share that to get a discount on a promotion? Did I share that because I’m friends with that person? Did I share that because I want to show off? Did I share that because I think it’s valuable? Did I share that because I wanted to point out how dumb it was?

    And many creators are also those who have great social influence and likely have a decent creator mix of followers. Birds of a feather and all that. So you’re right about the idea that it might not really produce anything new. But there might be some Gladwell like stuff in there to mine but it’s taking a back seat to the Knowledge Graph and entities for the foreseeable future.

  25. Matt Lacuesta // April 07th 2014

    I saw the video response that Matt Cutts had to your question the other day, so between that and your comment from Amit, it’s nice to have a definitive answer regarding social signals being a factor in the algorithm. We don’t get that kind of clarity most of the time, so thanks!

  26. AJ Kohn // April 07th 2014

    Yes Matt. The responses from Google (and Bing) have been pretty definitive in my view. Of course you’ll have people who believe that they’re lying so that SEOs don’t start abusing social or some other tinfoil reason. But my experience has been that they’re honest when they discuss things and they get tight-lipped when they can’t. If they can’t tell the truth they shut up.

  27. Dan Shure // April 07th 2014

    AJ – Killer article as usual. Although (and maybe I’m biasing against my personal behavior) – I’m not sure creators link to something directly after seeing it on social. I feel like social brings awareness, but anytime I’ve ultimately linked to something it most likely wasn’t right at the moment I saw it in social. You’d literally have to be writing a post on that very topic at that very moment to link to it right then and there. I find the initial social share brings it to awareness. And if the content is good … err MEMORABLE enough I’ll find it in my history or search Google for it.

  28. AJ Kohn // April 08th 2014

    Thanks Dan. YES, that’s right, social gets it in front of those creators and then it has to be memorable enough so that they include it when they’re putting together their own content. You get how the pieces all fit together 😉

  29. Deepak Kundu // April 08th 2014

    AJ – I think this article is definitely an authority on the social sharing and ranking debate. Most importantly, it provides a framework as to how the two – social media and search rankings are related.

    Social media amplifies the eyeballs that your content gets. What others (1%) do with that – citation, reblog, shares depends much on content quality – the old mainstay of SEO.

    Deepak Kundu

  30. AJ Kohn // April 08th 2014

    Thank you for the kind works Deepak. Hopefully this does provide an easy framework to understand how search and social are related.

    Produce memorable content, do your best to market that content and get it seen and good things happen as a result. It’s easy to say but actually difficult to do.

  31. Brian Jensen // April 08th 2014

    AJ, I’ve been really enjoying the uptick in posts recently and this one is no exception.

    In a post you wrote some time ago on crawl budget, you referenced a study from Mitul Gandhi that discussed how pages that were crawled more frequently produced an increase in organic search traffic. My takeaway from the experiment was regardless of the allocation of resources dedicated to crawling those pages, by increasing the crawl frequency, the pages experienced a lift without necessarily increasing in authority.

    Do you feel a temporary influx of high frequency crawling from +1s and other social shares could result in a lift in organic?

  32. AJ Kohn // April 09th 2014

    Thanks Brian. I’m making a conscious effort this year to blog more.

    The question you pose is interesting. I still believe that getting deep pages crawled with a certain amount of frequency produces better rankings. But I’m really talking about sites that have millions of URLs. So would you be able to +1 enough of those pages with enough frequency to get that lift?

    I think it’s likely that it would work in some small way. Some pages that were in a backwater and got a +1 might get crawled and that crawl might help it algorithmically. But I don’t think it would work for all pages and I doubt it would be repeatable.

    One of the problems is that most pages do get crawled just not as frequently so I’m not even sure if a +1 crawl would be seen the same. It’s worth testing.

  33. Ryan Glass // April 09th 2014

    I borrowed the Social SEO Math graphic to share with our team today as an example of how NoFollow links are still useful and provide real-world value. Thank-you for creating the image that I’d had in my mind but struggled to realize.

    I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more on followers who are creators from tools such as Followerwonk already, given that’s already a popular method for link prospecting.

    Great comments on this post, too. Glad to see people engaging on the topic and hammering home the original points.

  34. AJ Kohn // April 10th 2014

    Thanks Ryan. It’s very rewarding to hear that the graphic was used in that way.

    And my comment in the post about measuring creators was, in some way, aimed at Followerwonk. I agree that it seems relatively easy to come up with something.

    Look at the account and see if they have a site/blog. If so, look at date of last post to see if they’re active. If active, take last few posts and look to see if there are external links (to validate that they aren’t just self-referring douches). Then you could measure strength of that blog from a domain authority perspective or from the aggregate amount of shares on recent posts.

    Maybe someone will listen and try to incorporate this in a tool in the future.

  35. Khuram Dhanani // April 10th 2014

    Mind blowing analysis. You just know how to catch the nerve. The simple idea here is to increase the exposure for our post through social activity. Even if I don’t understand the math much, I do know one thing for sure – it’s always best to be socially linked up as it gets us the desired attention:- Khuram Dhanani

  36. Depesh Mandalia // April 10th 2014

    Fact is, as someone has eluded to above, this post is a great example of your exact point.

    I found this through my Hootsuite feed. I read it. I retweet. This page has (at time of posting) nearly 900 shares (based on the left hand side social links stats) – 9 people will potentially be writing up sub-articles based on this, ideally with some/most linking back to the main article.

    That said, I think Google has seen social as a strong contender to links to formulate PageRank flow but as you’ve said they’ve not cracked the code yet.

    What you’ve written is social impacting SEO as a side-effect, what SEOs are looking out for is social impacting SEO algorithmically which is still some way off.

  37. AJ Kohn // April 10th 2014

    You’re right Depesh. I expect that I’ll be cited by at least a few (hopefully 9) other sites over time who are writing on this topic. One of the tricks is to ensure that what you write is memorable enough so that in, say, two weeks time when they do publish, they remember and include your content.

    While I think Google is interested in social as a signal it’s taken a back seat to entities and will for some time. One might even say entities need to be perfected so that they can better parse and understand social conversations.

  38. John Dietrich // April 10th 2014

    A powerful piece here thank you! To me this sums it up perfectly, “Optimizing and maximizing creator impressions increases the chance of obtaining links from the group of people who power the link graph.” Simple. Brilliant. Well done!

  39. William Bay // April 11th 2014

    Very well said. Been using social media networks for my photography clients for many years and I always associate it with my SEO strategies, indeed it is very powerful.

  40. Daniel Bailey // April 11th 2014

    AJ, this post perfectly described the relationship between social and SEO. Well done.

    I’d add that while not part of Google’s ranking algorithm, activity on Google+ can also affect SEO by improving SERP CTR (thus increasing organic search traffic). Users are more likely to click on results by authors in more circles, and local results with more reviews.

  41. Gavin Llewellyn // April 12th 2014

    Really interesting post, AJ, and one one of the best I’ve seen recently on the social/SEO influence debate. There’s still a lot of mystery and confusion as to how exactly social impacts SEO and I think your thought here make a lot of sense.

    In many ways, I’d be pleased if social signals wren’t part of Google’s (and other search engines’) algorithms, as this means social wouldn’t be manipulated (as much) to ‘game’ the system. The theory you’ve put forward puts the onus on the creation of quality content as that’s the only way to truly engage with content creators.

  42. AJ Kohn // April 12th 2014

    Thanks Gavin. And I think one of the reasons search engines are finding social signals hard is that there’s more difficulty in determining intent.

    We all think about links as being less organic than they used to be and it’s true that the SEO industry created a number of links where the intent (a citation) wasn’t pure. But as a percentage of total links generated those impure links are a drop in the bucket (maybe ocean).

    The problem with social is to figure out what the intent is for that share or Like or Plus. The motivation for those actions aren’t clear to begin with, and the amount of manipulation is already pretty high with automated scripts, Tweet rings and general Fiverr like endeavors.

    And you’re right. It would only get worse if search engines began to use them directly in the algorithm.

  43. Gavin Llewellyn // April 12th 2014

    You’re welcome, AJ – and thanks for your insightful response.

    You’re point about intent is a very interesting one and not something I have really thought about before re social signals. As you’ve expanded on above in responses to other comments, the intent and the value of a share is murky at present and will need to become clearer to search engines before social signals can become genuine ranking factors.

    Thanks again and keep up the great work :-)

  44. Edmund Pelgen // April 13th 2014

    AJ, What a great read. I think the critical piece of your explanation here is the emphasis on the Creators and their importance in generating the resultant link.
    I’ve seen more and more content created by very creative people who are focusing on tactical content that is targeting the creators, even calling them out with the goal of soliciting the linking behaviour.

    Thanks again for creating something for the brain. I’ll be sharing this article in my newsletter.



  45. Gene Eugenio // April 13th 2014

    Maybe the reason they keep saying they aren’t using it is that it would open the floodgates to socially gaming results. Note that he didn’t say Google doesn’t it on a complete or absolute basis. Google often leaves enough wiggle room for them to maneuver. Don’t expect a company as awesome as Google to paint itself in a corner.

  46. AJ Kohn // April 13th 2014


    While there’s always the future opportunity for Google to use social directly in the algorithm they’ve been quite definitive about not using it presently. And with their attention on entities now I don’t think we’ll see much traction with social signals in the near term. But of course, never say never.

  47. Rey Villar // April 15th 2014

    Great article, and it definitely adds substance to this important debate about social signals and SEO. I just found your blog for the first time through the Moz newsletter highlight.

    I’ve also heard about Matt Cutt’s and Amit Singhal’s claim that social signals are part of the algorithm. And though I’m willing to give them the benefit of doubt, I still believe that somehow social signals are seeping into the ranking formula. I’ve seen articles by connections in the past jump to the first page of my searches (but disappear when I log out of Google), so I’m convinced that there’s some sort of social-based personalization at play there.

    Your analysis definitely provides a possible explanation for how social signals could indirectly affect SEO.


  48. AJ Kohn // April 16th 2014


    If you’re logged into Google and use the default personalization then Google+ data is absolutely used to personalize your results. But that’s different from the non-personalized results presented algorithmically.

  49. Andy Crestodina (@crestodina) // April 15th 2014

    I wonder if email subscribers correlates with high rankings even more than social signals. I think it might…

  50. AJ Kohn // April 16th 2014

    Yes, I think that would prove out to be true Andy.

  51. Danny Cheng // April 16th 2014

    Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve always thought that Google’s algorithm could measure social signals in the traditional sense of the word- as a way to determine a site’s SERPs- thanks for clearing that up.

  52. Drew // April 16th 2014

    Good maths!
    The reason Google puts so much energy into detecting and neutralising the activity of SEO agencies is that it wants the best or most important websites for any particular search to get to the top. Given the importance of social in reflecting, changing and genuinely (ie without SEO activity) promoting what’s important, it seems incredible that it will not be a priority for Google to add the key social media to the algorithms very soon

  53. AJ Kohn // April 16th 2014


    Thanks for your comment but I think understanding true social intent is far more complex than that of links. And with the impetus on entities right now I don’t see a real push on integrating social in the near future. Remember, social does show up. It’s just based on the downstream links it creates.

  54. Joe Griffin // April 16th 2014

    AJ, very well written. It was simple yet smart. I’ll keep it in my top shelf bookmarks list. You explained it better than I could have so thanks for making my life easier :)

  55. AJ Kohn // April 16th 2014

    Thanks Joe. Glad I can help out and perhaps put some arguments to bed a bit quicker than usual.

  56. Kath Dawson // April 16th 2014

    I think the goal posts just moved with the roll out of Google Plus Post Ads today. I think this is a game changer when it comes to social and SEO as the spread of content to a relevant target audience just got a huge leg up.

  57. Andrew // April 17th 2014

    I’m writing a summary for my list of small business owners who get very confused by this kind of thing – thanks for the clear outline. Just FYI – I think icecream is consumed rather than concumed ;-p

  58. AJ Kohn // April 17th 2014

    Yes Andrew. The image is from another site (which I link to in the post). But the concept is too good not to use, even with the typo.

  59. Dave Elliott // April 17th 2014

    Thanks AJ! i just had tell someone off(well kinda) for implying that social impacts search rankings. Was nice to be able to fire off this post at them rather than just ranting! 😀

  60. AJ Kohn // April 17th 2014

    Glad I can tell them off for you Dave. :)

  61. Aidan McCarthy // April 17th 2014

    I have this conversation with clients (and even people in the industry) who think social sharing somehow directly helps their general SE rankings, all the time.

    I am blue in the face from trying to explain the effect is an indirect one and it works by increasing the potential for link acquisition to great content. I still have people saying that’s wrong and I should know better, the social media ‘gurus’ have a lot to answer for!

    From now on I’ll just direct everyone to this article. Just like I direct the bounce rate fanatics to the long click article!

    Thanks AJ, yet another great piece and a help to preserve my sanity.

  62. AJ Kohn // April 18th 2014

    Thanks for the kind words Aidan and glad I can provide you with some reference material that helps you keep sane.

  63. Jason Robbins // April 28th 2014

    Thank AJ. Seems like I can chill out on pushing my social focus staff to get us more likes etc.. We are in B2B. It’s hard enough to get a social audience if you aren’t a personality. We are going to focus our efforts on the tried and true B2B channels not try to push our customers to a Facebook, G+, Twitter platform in order to communicate with us. i think we’ll have better luck with our monthly email newsletter than with pushing content of Facebook. It’s been years of disappointment and thanks to your information a relieve that we can stop beating our heads against a wall.

  64. Paul Shapiro // May 01st 2014


    Maybe you should consider LinkedIn. I’ve got awesome data, which makes sense, and it’s effectiveness in the B2B world.

  65. Nick Samuel // May 13th 2014

    Oh, so that’s why my Fiverr retweets packages didn’t boost my viagra pumper :( As usual great deconstruction, AJ!

  66. AJ Kohn // May 13th 2014

    LOL. Thanks Nick!

  67. Simon // June 02nd 2014

    AJ, do you think the rel=author and rel=publisher tags are for future social signals? According to Moz they already carry weight, no?

  68. AJ Kohn // June 02nd 2014


    I don’t think the actual tags are going to be the way Google leverages the authority of authors or publishers. Instead, I believe that will be done via entity identification, extraction and matching. That’s still some way off but when it comes to fruition then you’ll see social engagement with entities (and perhaps the sentiment of that engagement) having an impact on rank.

  69. Swayam Das // June 06th 2014

    Hi AJ, so the “Social for SEO” system actually works like this —

    By sharing a blog’s content it actually opens up to future free link building possibilities right? If that is so, then my query to you is – will it be worthwhile for a brand new startup to work on these marketing methods? What do you suggest?

  70. AJ Kohn // June 14th 2014


    Making sure that you’re content is sharable and marketing it to your community is certainly something I’d recommend to startups. But in the beginning, blog commenting (coupled with your own content) may be one of the better methods so that you can earn true fans who then make any social effort easier.

  71. Damages // June 06th 2014

    I still think this is absolutely wrong.

    Here is one example of how Google uses Twitter directly for breaking weather news:

    I’ve seen articles with no relevance or backlinks and 26 email shares in the social share widget outrank New York Times articles and Wikipedia entries…

    I would assume that when Google says that they aren’t, they are.

  72. AJ Kohn // June 07th 2014

    You’re free to think what you like … Damages. But the use of Twitter and Tweets in the Public Alerts is far different from using Tweets as a ranking signal. The former is for those subscribed to a service looking for specific information, the latter is helping to rerank search results using that information.

    Anecdotes abound and you’ll see them more frequently given your bias.

  73. Daisy // August 27th 2014

    Thanks for helping me understand the correlation vs causation argument AJ!

    Being a young grasshopper in SEO, I was researching this topic for an upcoming blog post and having had little exposure to the debate beyond likes are good thus good for SEO :-) The conversations around this topic has changed over the past few years, and although I came across articles still extolling how social signals can improve SEO, what your’re talking about definitely made sense.

    It also made the post I’m writing a lot easier as well. Thanks!

  74. AJ Kohn // September 04th 2014

    No problem Daisy. Glad I could help make sense of all the FUD out there on the topic.

  75. Tyler B // October 21st 2014

    I’m “wet behind the ear” new to content marketing and I am so thankful that I ran across your site.
    It’s funny that I found this article while researching social signals in one tab, and looking to “buy likes” from a popular site in other tab. Boy am I glad I found your post and didn’t waste the money on buying superficial likes/people that will probably never share my content. Now that I know social signal will play some role in the process, my focus will be on tactics to get the highest ROI in the social atmosphere. I also feel that using time sharing methods to post content may backfire in some cases since many others would be timing their post for the “prime” time slots as well. I guess my new journey will not go without its trails that are for sure. But without trying, you will never know if you can actually fulfill the adventure you set out to achieve.

    Thanks again.

  76. Me // January 07th 2015

    A well written post but one that grossly underestimates the Google propaganda machine.

    Back in 2010 Matt Cutts told everyone that social media WAS used in their ranking algorithm. If they had the capability to do that back then, then I certainly believe they will be now.

    Sure it’s true that he’s gone back on this statement since then but Google actively uses propaganda to combat black hat SEO. Now I’m not claiming that social signals alone can rank a site (although a number of people have demonstrated that it can) but rather I would argue it forms part of their ranking algorithm, i.e if a site has social signals AND backlinks then that’s a big green tick.

  77. AJ Kohn // January 13th 2015

    I’m not quite sure how to respond since you don’t cite this reference from Matt in 2010. If it is like many other statements it was not an admission that they actively use them but that they actively look at social as a potential signal. Those are very different things.

    Further, I’m unsure why you equivocate since you say you’re not claiming social signals can rank a site but then tell us that this has, in fact, been demonstrated. Overall, I remain steadfast that social signals are not a direct ranking signal but clearly have a material impact on ranking through downstream actions.

    Of course, Google is always looking for ways to integrate social but they’ve had their hands full with entities lately and will be for the near-term future.

  78. Mark Traphagen // January 17th 2015

    Dear “Me”

    I’d love to see a link to those whom you say have “demonstrated” that social alone can affect search rankings. I’ve seen many such posts and have yet to see one that actually proved what it claimed. It is incredibly difficult to isolate social from all other possible ranking signals, and many who claim that they have only demonstrate that they don’t understand that complexity.

  79. John Reiner // July 15th 2016

    i realize this article was written in 2014 – which is an eternity in the SEO analytics world but I think the raw number of “likes” and “follows” does influence search results. But not universally for every search.

    Different searches yield different types of results: Consider these two searches:
    A) “best ice cream in Boston”
    B) “conference tote bag with full color imprint”

    “A” returns a map with locations that have a lot of Google+ reviews followed by “best of” articles and finally review sites like yelp.

    “B” returns a list of on-line sources where you can purchase the bag. No reviews and no maps.

    I believe that the social influence of “likes” and “follows” influences search results – but the amount of influence depends on Google’s interpretation of the search itself.

  80. AJ Kohn // August 21st 2016


    I think you’re seeing something else entirely here. Those two searches have vastly different intent. One is an informational search with local intent which would trigger a local presentation with reviews, while the other is a transactional search without local intent.

    Searches with local intent will bring up local results, which will have reviews but that’s different than social signals from Facebook or Twitter.

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