Increasingly in recent months, social media has become one of the core signals used by search engines in ranking new content. Of course, we don’t know this to be a fact for sure (none of the major search engines will reveal exactly how they rank websites), but we do know how the rankings respond when social media is integrated into SEO plans.

So to help you capitalize on this growing trend and make the most of your SEO efforts, both in terms of results and ROI, here are a few of the most effective social signals for your site:

  • Google+ Authorship – Even after nearly two years, we don’t know just how valuable Google+ is as a social network. Even with more than 200 million users, it often looks like a ghost town, but that doesn’t stop Google from using it as a prime signal for its search rankings, in particular when it comes to Authorship. There is some discussion of late about whether Google+ authorship really matters, but the results we see for people who use it actively shows that attribution will only continue to grow as an important factor for Google’s algorithms.
  • Total Shares – It’s impossible to know how much weight is placed on the number of shares you get from social media sites, but we know it is measured. The issue of course is that these can be easily manipulated. Even with Facebook, Twitter and others actively cracking down on fake shares, it’s relatively easy, with $25 to get a couple hundred likes on an article. That said, real likes and shares from real accounts are always valuable.
  • Unique References – The number of unique references, meaning original tweets, Facebook Posts, Google+ shares or pins on Pinterest, have a huge impact as well. While many people share and re-share content actively, when someone goes out of their way to create a new citation, it’s seen as a more valuable link.
  • Multimedia Citations – Citations in multiple media types are big too. That means social sharing on YouTube, Pinterest, Facebook, and others in text, images, and video format.
  • Traffic from Social Media – Of course, the bottom line is that all of this sharing needs to turn into traffic. If Google sees 40 hits a day reaching your site, spending a lot of time on the site and reading your content from Facebook, that’s important. So too is the source of that traffic. A share from Justin Beiber, for example, would probably hold more weight than from Sal’s Deli down the street.

How to Capitalize on This

The mere act of sitting here and trying to dissect what works and what doesn’t is dangerous, because social media, by its very definition is about engaging with readers and building relationships, not driving hits and improving SERPs.

So if you focus too heavily on these things, you’ll never see the same results as a big brand or speaker who spends hours a day answering people’s questions and building relationships with those followers.

The future of SEO is in the relationships you build and the marketing you perform, much the same as offline marketing for a brick and mortar business or service. You can pull all the tricks in the book, but at the end of the day, the real success stories will come from those who use their greatest asset best – themselves.

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