There’s plenty of hype online about social media and how important it is for your business to use. But if you’re just starting out and find yourself with only a few hundred followers collectively, then you might be overwhelmed when you see your competitors who have hundreds of thousands or millions just on their Instagram account, right?
Luckily for you, it turns out number of followers isn’t actually that important.
What do you mean, number of followers doesn’t matter!
Woah, woah! Let’s back up.
Of course number of followers matters – as long as your followers are real people. But not as much as you think and it doesn’t actually have to matter at all when it comes to SEO.
First let’s take a look at the few cases when size actually does matter and then, why it doesn’t overall.
So, when DOES size matter?
Making a good impression. Number of followers matters in the sense that it may give people who have not seen your social media accounts before more confidence in your company.
Although it may not actually be justified, when you see an Instagram account with 1 million followers and another with 10,000 followers, which one seems more “legitimate” so to speak.
The one with 1 million followers, right?
Using social media as advertising space. Size also matters if you are offering features on your accounts. So if you are charging other people to promote their account, product or service on your accounts then you need to have a certain size.
Furthermore, the bigger your audience, the more that you’ll be able to charge for features.
Selling to your followers. Lastly, size matters if you yourself are doing direct sales pitches through social media. If you’re trying to sell a product or service through a social media account, then you aren’t going to get many sales if you’re only pitching to 20 people, right?
Now, the caveat for all of these cases is that if you have un-engaged followers then it doesn’t matter how many you have, the followers actually don’t matter.
If you have 1 million followers but only 100 likes per photo then that takes away from a good impression. If you have 1 million followers but when you sell advertising space and the people you sell to get no followers themselves or no sales, then they’re not coming back and they’re not going to have good things to say about you. And of course, if no one’s engaged then no one’s going to buy any of your products either.
At the end of the day, it’s much better to have 1000 super engaged, hard core fans than 1 million people who just scroll over all your posts.
Still don’t believe me? Check this out:
It turns out that Markerly – a marketing company – advertised for a weight-loss tea company with Instagram giants like Jenner and the Kardashian sisters. The results were good with hundreds of conversions coming in but they were not as good as the conversions rates coming from “micro-influencers” with much lower numbers of followers but followers who were engaged and passionate about the niche.
But really in the end, if Google doesn’t care then should you?
No one really knows Google’s exact search algorithm. But we can do is take clues from what we see on Google. We also have to rely on what the representatives of Google disclose publicly.
According to these representatives, we have been told multiple times that social media is not a DIRECT ranking factor. Direct being the key word here.
In 2010, Matt Cutts of Google states that Google uses links posted on social media (specifically Facebook and Twitter) as ranking signals therefore social media links are treated as backlinks.
Then, in 2014, Matt states that social media posts (specifically again Facebook and Twitter) are treated like any other web page so again links are considered backlinks. Number of followers, however, is not a factor and it is very difficult to crawl everything on these social media platofrms given the increasing volume of content produced on a daily basis. Finally, Google has trouble making sure that brands are the same across different social media platforms. As Matt says, “How do I know that the John Smith I follow on Twitter is the same John Smith I see on Instagram?” This same issue applies to people as it applies to brands.
Most recently, in 2016, Gary Illyes who is a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst retweeted Matt’s 2014 video and states that Google does not take social media account information into account for SEO. Specifically he states: “the short version is, no, we don’t.”
So what does this all mean then?
Should everyone just cease their social media efforts right now?
Surely not since the top positions on Google are associated with vastly higher social media presence compared to lower positions. In general, correlation between “social signals” and ranking position on Google for websites is very high.
Is Google lying or are we missing something?
It turns out that we’re missing something. Notice above that I used the word “correlation” rather than “causation.” It seems as though what’s happening is that higher ranking websites generally have more presence online and therefore can generate a vastly greater social media presence.
Also brands with very large social media presence are more likely to generate white hat backlinks off of social media because they are generally better known. Matt actually hinted at this in his video where he uses the phrase “It’s correlation, not causation.”
The “Rich Get Richer” Phenomenon
So to clarify, we know that links are definitely one of the top ranking factors for Google. But links on social media are not considered individual backlinks anymore.
Thus the key is to provide links within awesome posts but you can’t assume that those links themselves are actually impacting your rankings.
So if you’re just mindlessly spamming links from your website, no more of that!
The reason for this correlation is therefore due to the “rich get richer” phenomenon:
- If you’re well known via social media, you’re much more likely to generate higher amounts of traffic and generate organic backlinks on other websites.
- If you’re high up in the rankings, you’re much more likely to get many more followers on social media than lower ranked websites.
So if it’s not number of followers or the number of links that you post which you should be focused on, then what will boost your SEO and actually get you more traffic?
More importantly, what are the concrete steps that you need to take in order to get there?
These are things that are much harder to find online but here they are:
3 Concrete Habits to Boost SEO with Social Media
The way I’m going to describe the following habits is going to be what you will need to do each time you implement the habit. Keep in mind, however, that you will need to do these things routinely in order to see consistent and compounding results.
I recommend making a schedule where you set aside time to do these habits in your weekly schedule. I’ll specify how often you should be doing each habit in the following sections.
Habit 1: Consistency Across Platforms (The Exception)
This is the one habit that is actually the most important when you’re first setting up your social profiles. If you’ve already set them up and they aren’t “consistent” then don’t worry, just make the necessary modifications now.
What I mean is, this is a “habit” you only really need to do one time.
Staying consistent can also be helpful to growth as a routine activity but it is not essential and so I will leave it up to you to decide if you have enough time to implement it or not.
So what exactly does consistency mean? It basically means that you want to make it as easy as possible for Google to see that it’s the same person/brand that is running all of these accounts.
The username across all your accounts should be the same. So if your username on your instagram is @bestbrandever, the username of your twitter account should be @bestbrandever. Although it’s not as important, the titles of the accounts can also be this. For instance “Best Brand Ever”.
If your name is not the same as your brand name, then sometimes, people choose to make their titles as their names. This part of it is flexible.
For me: “Equestrianbootsandbridles” is my handle on all my social media and also the domain name for my blog
The profile picture across all your accounts should be the same. Every social media account will give you a spot for a profile picture. Some accounts will also give you space for a cover photo.
Choose 1 profile picture and 1 cover photo that you thing really represent your brand and use the same ones for each account. Good profile pictures are usually either a brand logo or a professional headshot but don’t feel constrained here.
If you think it represents your brand well, then use it – just make sure it’s the same across all your platforms.
The description across all your accounts should be the same. There will usually a section that you can use as a “bio”, “story” or “description”. Find the shortest character limit between your social media profiles (usually 150-200 characters) and write something within that limit.
Using emojis is a good strategy to convey messages without using as many characters. Also a call to action with pointing fingers towards where the URL is located can also help promote conversions but we’ll talk about that more later.
The URL for your website should be included in the website section for all your accounts. If possible you also want to make sure that the usernames for your social media accounts match the domain name of your URL.
This just helps Google further to not only associate your social media accounts with each other but also associate them with your website. If Google successfully links your website with your social media accounts, then you will immediately (within a week or two) see a jump in your website’s rankings just because of their existence.
Consistency of content posting (optional). Everything that we’ve talked about above is something that you only need to do 1 time. But something that you may choose to continue doing throughout your social media growth is stay consistent in terms of the content that you’re posting.
This actually usually happens automatically depending on your posting strategy but sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re using something like Hootesuite then generally every piece of content that you post, you’re going to want to post to all accounts. If you’re posting manually then this can get more time consuming.
The benefit of posting the same content across all your profiles is that each time you create a piece of content, you’re creating a backlink to your website, which will contribute to increasing your ranking.
Be aware that you sometimes need to be optimizing your posts for your different platforms.
For instance, on Instagram, you shouldn’t actually be putting a URL at the end of your post like you would on Twitter because Instagram isn’t compatible with URLs. Instead on Instagram you should finish off with something along the lines of “check out the link in our bio @yourinstaname” and the “@yourinstaname” piece will turn into a link.
Thankfully Twitter has updated their character limit up to 280 so it’s a little bit easier to use the same posts for Twitter as for your other profiles such as Pinterest. This used to be really frustrating because either you had to create a new condensed post for Twitter or you had to post really short content to all your profiles.
As you’ll see in the next section, you want to avoid ultra-short posts if possible such as just sending your blog post link out.
Habit 2: Quality, Long-Form Content Creation
More and more, the key to top search rankings is quality, long-form content. This is because it’s important for real people to be able to understand, enjoy and get value out of your content.
Google wants to make sure that you are in fact providing your visitors with what they are looking for. And your visitors are more likely to click through and share your content if it’s high quality, useful information.
So what you’ll normally read on the internet or hear from gurus and experts is that you should write plenty of content on a blog and then share that link across your social media on a consistent basis that it will boost your SEO.
This is, of course, true; however, it is not the whole story.
Sending your link out to your profiles is not enough to significantly bring your rankings up although it will give you a little boost. It’s also just not a good strategy to use when you’re trying to communicate your content with real live human beings.
You need to actually be optimizing and repurposing the content of your post for social media.
What exactly does this mean?
Well Google likes to give users the best possible content in order to answer their search query in the least amount of time. That’s their business, right?
According to Backlinko, of the many ways in which they evaluate “best possible content” is the amount of time that the person spends on the website that they click on.
Think of the last time you went on Google because you wanted to find the answer to a somewhat complicated problem you were having and Google helped you to come up with a solution. Think of the links that you clicked on.
Did you find your answer on the first click or did you go through a few websites before you found your answer?
Usually what happens is that you’ll click on one website, and then maybe another one before finding one that really answers your question in the clearest and easiest way possible.
Now think about how much time you spent on each site.
Most likely, you didn’t spend too much time on those first websites that didn’t answer your question because either the information that wasn’t relevant to you or it just took too long to understand or it wasn’t easy to read. But you probably did spend a while on the page that did answer your question because you were reading the answer.
This is called the “long click” and it’s a huge factor you should be considering for your website and for your social media profiles. Here’s a little schema from to illustrate:
You want to be applying exactly these same principles to your social media content.
If your content is getting no likes, no comments and no shares, that’s the equivalent of a short click or a “high bounce rate”. People are looking at your social media post and just “bouncing” away from it to the next thing.
You don’t want that. You want people to stick or the equivalent of the “long click” which means you want lots of likes, shares and comments on your content.
Tip 1: Make your post visually appealing
You can do this by adding a great image, a video or an infographic to your post. It’s absolutely vital that you have something eye-catching.
Videos are probably the best option because they’re fun to watch.
If you’re low on resources, here’s a great post from Hubspot on how to film a video for your brand if you just want to be filming yourself talking. Another great option is to use software such as Shakr to make videos from a photo slideshow.
If you want some amazing videos to help you get inspired – here’s 7 of the best promotional videos ever. Hubspot notes that the best videos “focus not on the product itself, but on the stories of the people who use it”.
If you really don’t think you’re up to creating videos, then you can use something like WordSwag or Typorama in order to create awesome images or Canva to create infographics that you can share on your social media.
The best thing about all this extra stuff is that you can add it back onto your blog post to make it even better than it already is.
A great tip if you have an existing blog and you’re trying to get into the whole social media scene is to go back to the beginning and repost all of your blogs onto social media (stagger this! not all at the same time!) using videos, images or infographics and add them onto your blog post. You could also take this time to add some additional content to those blog posts around the keywords that are doing the best but we can get into this in another post [link to post about ranking old articles].
Tip 2: Make your content long-form (like this post…haha)
Yes there are some restrictions to this but as mentioned above Twitter has increased its character limit to 280 and then there’s platforms like Google+ and Tumblr that don’t have limits at all.
A good rule of thumb is to make posts as long as you can. If you have a really short word count than include as long a video as you can. This is a difficult thing because you also don’t want to fill this long content or long video with useless information or “filler” content so to speak.
I find what works really well is when I’m creating a video or writing a post, I’ll write it at least 2x as long either the text for the actual post or the content to be spoken or conveyed in the video. Then I’ll spend some time cutting it down. If it’s a really important post, I’ll write it out 3x or even 4x as long.
Note: This is actually a great technique to use on blog posts as well!
What this technique helps you achieve is distilling out all the useless, redundant information to the core ideas that your audience needs to know. Too much fluff is not a good thing. Expert marketers use absolutely nothing extra in what they convey – only what’s useful for the reader or what will convey their message appropriately.
Again from Backlinko you can see how the total word count of posts is actually directly related to their rankings on Google. This actually applies to things like Facebook posts and Google Plus posts that can themselves rank on Google and help you get tons of traffic for your topic.
It also just goes to show that the more thorough and in depth your content is, the more popular it is. One liners may sometimes be funny but they don’t engage readers for very long and they don’t solve people’s problems, right?
Getting on the top of Google for queries through your social media profiles is definitely possible but like all things ranking related, it can take a while to happen organically.
So in the next section I’m going to talk about a short cut…
Habit 3: The Shortcut to Link Building
Okay so we know that the whole point of social media is to be an avenue for your content to get out there and seen by people.
People see your content on social media, they click on the link in a post and they go to your website. This website visit alone boosts your SEO as long as the content is useful and they stay on for more than a few seconds.
This is one way social media can boost SEO, simply by generating traffic.
Another way that is the real magic trick to boosting rankings quickly is by expediting the process of link building for your website. Not only are all your posts building links for your website but shares and links built by others who see your content will really help your site rank.
It turns out that lots of links is ALSO not enough to really get you to position 1 consistently. Where the links come from matter and who builds those links matters.
If you get dozens of links from bad sites, it may not be worth as much as getting 1 link from an industry leader website recognized by Google.
So the million dollar question: how do you do this?
There is in fact plenty of ways – you can comment on their website with your link and hope that they approve your comment, you can pay them to backlink to your website, you can offer to write content for them and ask to include a link, etc.
The problem with a lot of these ways is that 1) they are super time consuming and 2) often the owner of the website will say no.
So now what?
Well Neil Patel actually suggests a great tactic on his website. Use content/opinions/ideas from the expert (kind of like I’m doing now so consider this an example!) within your blog and, of course, give them credit.
Then when you post on social media, you can actually mention them in your post! This way they will get a notification to their social media account that they’ve been mentioned.
They will therefore look at your post, see that you’ve used their ideas in an article and like anyone else, they’re going to go take a look.
Assuming that you were ethical about it, didn’t misrepresent them in any way and that you gave them due credit, the likelihood of them 1) sharing your post and 2) linking to your article in their blog is very very high.
Because they want to show others that their ideas have been used by others on the internet since this boosts their credibility! Wouldn’t you want to?
Case Study Example
The following is a condensed summary of a case study with comments from internet marketing professional Matthew Woodward’s website:
The case study was done on how to rank an article for the keyword “unhealthiest foods”.
Step 1: Picked 28 relevant keyword phrases to target using Google Adwords
Step 2: Used Buzzsumo to search related content and then “make it better”
Step 3: Produced 17 relevant articles and optimized articles for SEO by interlinking and using Yoast
Step 4: Produced web 2.0 property links, which are essentially PBNs with more articles linking back to the main website. Now the strategy would be to create 10 additional relevant articles and guest post them with backlinks on related websites with different anchor text than the desired keyword.
- natural white hat links started appearing
- exploded on Facebook hitting over 60k likes and 30k shares with a celebrity share
- after which the main article became #2 and eventually #1
Here’s some key lessons learnt from the points we’ve been discussing above from internet marketing professional Matthew Woodward’s website:
Whew! That was a long one – hope it was helpful for all my fellow horse bloggers and other bloggers too!