Contrary to Google’s statements on social signals, there have been a number of industry leaders who are of the opinion that social media has a degree of influence on search results. With contradicting opinions, who should marketers believe?
Given that some time has passed since an in-depth social signals study has been conducted, and considering Google’s new relationship with Twitter, I felt compelled to revisit the subject and determine if social signals have any influence on search results now.
According to Weal Media’s Chief Marketing Officer:
[social signals are] visible activity or actions taken by other people on a given subject. – Dustin W. Stout
Going off my earlier hypothesis that +1s can cause search result to improve, most likely by causing an increase in website traffic, I was certain to carefully monitor webpage visitor analytics, as well as the blog post’s social signals; for a later comparison against search results.
Also, to test our content marketing strategies, I chose a blog post that was more than 30 days old and had demonstrated a significant drop in webpage traffic and social media engagement.
Over a period of 7 days I used Weal Media’s proprietary posting method, to make predefined contributions to Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Tumblr and Pinterest. With the help of MOZ Pro and Google Analytics to monitor and record search rankings and any incoming links, as well as Warfare Plugins to monitor and record social shares, here is the data I collected over a 10 day span.
Let’s see how that compares to search results for the same period.
It would appear that after 7 days, the social media posts had a DETRIMENTAL EFFECT on search results. Instead of improving them, the social shares appear to have caused 75% of the tracked search terms to fall, and in half of them; fall considerably. With the exception of a single search result (can +1s improve search results), that improved a single position, this does not look reassuring for a “social signals improve search results” argument.
Alright, time to pack up and go home. Right? No. Not a chance. One thing I know, and was reinforced during Weal Media’s Tumblr Study is that Google does not always act swiftly on the information it receives. It is as though it goes through a vetting process before any value is attributed. That said, I continued to study and collect data.
And, I wasn’t disappointed. On day 8 (after a 7 day waiting period?) search results for ALL 4 SEARCH TERMS IMPROVED! In fact, half of the phrases improved 5 positions. The excitement doesn’t stop there. Over the course of the next 7 days, search results for our terms saw continued improvement.
I know what you’re thinking … let it go, let’s see more.
Is that a number 1 position? It certainly is. More improvement. Final count after 17 days:
- can +1s improve search results +3
- do +1s improve search results +1
- can +1 improve search results +2
- does +1 improve search results +2
Hold on though. Before we attribute this search ranking success to social signals, let’s review the webpage traffic over the 10 day period to see what role (if any) the post’s visitors may have played in the performance.
It appears as though the rise in webpage traffic occurred during the same time that social shares increased, but also at the same time that SEARCH RESULTS DECREASED. So, although the social shares were successful in driving website traffic, it appears as though the large number of visitors had no (or negative) effect on search results. That said, I am of the opinion that the webpage traffic did not play a significant role in the improving of search results.
Although this data certainly points to the conclusion that the social media posts did improve my search results, there was something that troubled me after it was all done. The post I had chosen had hundreds of social shares before I began. I wondered if the post’s prior popularity had any influence on the results. So, I set out to prove my point again, with a less popular (but equally awesome?) post: This Recipe For Creating Great Content is as Easy as 1-2-3.
As with the first instance, there was a sharp rise in social sharing at the beginning of the 7 days, which flat-lined toward the end. How did this translate to search results?
As you can see, the first 7 days began much like our first experiment, with one of our search terms rising a single position. I know what you are thinking, where’s week 2?
That’s correct. Search results showed improvement in the second week, just as my first test had. 🙂 The final results after 10 days:
- recipe for great content +1
- recipe for creating great content +1
In similar fashion, it doesn’t appear as though webpage traffic did much to contribute to the improvement in search rankings. Although it was more consistent, there still were not the significant numbers.
Is Google+ The REAL Hero?
If the social media posts did in fact cause search results to improve as the data suggests, which social network made the greatest contribution?
According to the final figures, when it came to counting social shares Google+ was way ahead of the other major social networks. Taking this into consideration, with the performance of our search terms in the study, I change my original position from “+1s CAN help search results to improve,” to Google+ DOES help search results improve.
Update June 8th, 2015
One month after publishing this study, we went back to Moz to review the link data and rankings to determine if their was any further evidence that the social signals had improved search results.
It is apparent from the image above that both webpage traffic and rankings have experienced a sharp decrease since the close of our initial research. In fact, the rankings we tracked for our study dropped an average of 35% over the last 30 days.