Can You Rank High in Google Using Just Social Signals?

social signalsIf you are looking for the simple answer to the above question then the answer is no, probably not. I know that social signals have become increasingly important these days and we’re seeing lots of new “strategies” for building them automatically. However, while social signals are definitely important, they are not in fact the only thing you need. Here’s what you need to know:

Just What are Social Signals Anyway?

For those new to the world of SEO or who have simply been living in a cave for the past couple of years, social signals refers to various places where supposed “real people” provide links back to your website. This is kind of ironic because the original way that links were supposed to be used was a measure of what “real” people thought of you.

Social signals are links coming from sites like social bookmarking sites, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest. The idea is that people tell their friends about you and then you get more traffic that way. This is also the key to most so called “viral” campaigns where you are trying to get people to share your link with their friends who will share it with their friends and so on and so forth.

Over the past couple of years, social signals have become increasingly important to the folks at Google as they have been using them as a “real” measure of how good your content is. The thing is, while such links are important, they’re not the be all end all.

Compare This to a Movie Reviews

I admit it – I haven’t been to the movies in ages because frankly, I can’t afford to waste $11 to go out to the theater and then be forced to buy a $7 bucket of popcorn and a $5 cup of soda. However, I used to be a huge movie buff back when I had a deal with my old union (I was a teacher and got discounted tickets from the union. And yes, I know you can do it through one of those “savings clubs” but frankly it doesn’t mean enough to me to do that).

Back when I went to the movies on a regular basis, I’d look for two different kinds of reviews of the movies. I’d look to the so called “experts” such as Siskel and Ebert (and yes, I know, Gene Siskel is dead many years. I’m kind of dating myself in that I still recall looking for his review together with his partner Roger Ebert) .

I would also look occasionally to see what so called “real people” thought of the film. Yahoo started running such reviews a little over a decade ago and I would occasionally take a look at what they said. Often, I found that such reviews were not terribly exciting or interesting but they did offer a unique perspective.

For me at least, I learned not to trust reviews of friends too heavily ever since my friend Isaac back in high school insisted he had heard “good things” about a horrible movie called Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (the dance of the double chainsaws was when I got bored and walked away) from watching it).

Anyway, the reason for trotting down memory lane (other than offering fun little anecdotes) is that social signals for your website today are kind of like the way I thought of movie reviews around a decade or so ago. Google wants to see what so called “real people” are saying but they also want to see what the so called “experts” (i.e. major sites) are saying.

If you can get social signals pointing to your website then you will do pretty well. However, if that’s all you’ve got then you could end up being considered like my friend Isaac from high school and his infatuation with a terrible movie just because the girls were dressed ahem…skimpily.

It Also Looks Artificialartificial

Another thing to keep in mind regarding social signals is that if you create only social signals, especially if you create them using some kind of automated program, they tend to look as if they are very artificial. Remember that Google is trying to crack down on anything that looks artificial in the world of link building and you are much less likely to actually get good rankings if you try to be too artificial.

In fact, I would not be surprised if the next major Google update upends the whole reliance on social signals. The engineers at Google are not stupid and they are very likely to notice how heavily people are investing in this. They’ll inevitably find some way to discount the junky social signals links that so many of us have been flooding the Internet with. Watch for something like that within the next year or so.

Oh and don’t assume that just because you use something that looks more “natural” that they won’t catch on to you. I’ve seen sites tanked for all kinds of weird reasons.

What Kind of Mix Do I Need?cocktail shaker -- what kind of mix do I need?

Okay, so assuming I’ve now convinced you that you do need to create social signals as well as links if you want to rank well in Google, the question then arises, what kind of a mix of the two kinds of links do you need? The answer is, it depends.

I believe that social signals have different kinds of value. How many of them do you have? How many are real and how many are just bots that you programmed to spam the web (and yes, I know we all use them and I know that some of them are designed not to leave a footprint but let’s face it, the folks at Google are smart and they can figure these things out).

The flip side of the coin is the quality of the links you are getting created. Where are they coming from? Are they context links or comment links? Are they well written or junky?

Generally, I’d say that you should have around 30% social signals with around 70% ordinary backlinks. Of course, the specific mix can change depending on your specific situation which is why we recommend that you work with a professional in the SEO business rather than trying to go it alone. You need to make sure that the stuff you put out there is the right kind of mix and not just a generic 70/30 mix.

Getting Social Signals

Now that having been said, there are a number of programs which can help you to get social signals on the web so that you will get more of that Google love you want. First and foremost, if you are a WordPress user, you can install any number of social media plugins which offer what’s known as “pay with a like.”

In essence, these kinds of products will stop your customers from reading an article beyond a certain point or they will stop them from seeing a video beyond a certain point until they “like” the article, tweet about it or whatever else it is that you may want them to do.

The big advantage of such things is that they can help you to build a true viral audience by forcing your site visitors to share the content with their friends. The bad part about doing things this way of course is that if your content isn’t compelling enough, people will stop reading and may even tell their friends to say away because they are annoyed by what you have set up on your site.

The other half of social signals is that you need to make sure that you create links on various social bookmarking sites. There are thousands of such sites and it is possible to find various programs which will spin your words and then post them to the social bookmarking websites together with your link.

I highly recommend that if you use such programs though that you consider using them only with a proxy server. You should also be very careful about making sure that the spun comments that you are leaving actually make sense. This means that you check the various permutations so that you won’t get junk (never use auto spin by the way – spintax is the only way to do this).

Oh and very briefly for the newbies here, spintax is a special system which was devised a long time ago for creating many different versions of the same piece of material. Special programs can read spintax and then use it to create dozens or even hundreds of different versions of the same comment. Here’s a quick example:

Spintax {is a system | exists} to create {multiple |different |several} versions of {content|writing}.

In essence, a specialized program can read this and create at least a dozen different versions of the sentence by picking and choosing the various synonyms I put into it. This allows each site you post to to end up with different words instead of the same thing repeated hundreds of times. The only catch is, the longer your spintax sentence is, the more likely you are to make mistakes which make it sound like gobbledygook.

Bottom Line

The bottom line on this is simple – there is no such thing as a magic silver bullet in the world of SEO. Yes, social signals are very important and you need to make sure that you make good use of them. However, they are not the be all end all of building your backlink presence online and if you think they are, you are fooling yourself.