The Increasing Influence of Social Media on The Future of SEO

The subject of how and if social media effects ranking on the organic web has long been a subject of controversy in the SEO world. While it’s true that links still play a crucial role in retaining visibility, and Google has long stated they don’t count social media much in terms of ranking, these trends are likely to die more sooner than later. I have bad news for those who’re still clinging to their links in hopes of ranking, as the Internet’s audiences have long been making a paradigm shift from a once dominant organic search to a socially propelled mobile world. As you’re about to see, the question of whether or not social media plays a role in SEO is likely to shift into, “how does SEO play a role in social media?”

Today, the average user’s first point of connection to the internet is no longer primarily organic search engines, but rather social media, and this trend affects both desktop and mobile traffic alike. No matter how you paint it, social media is “What’s Hot” today, there’s just no more denying it. According to a report from Statista (referenced at end of the article), 78% of American internet users alone now have a social profile somewhere, just to note the significance of an ever shifting web. The same report shows social usage soared from a mere 24% in 2008 to the staggering 78% it sits at today.

What’s even more striking, look at the user numbers for Facebook alone. The platform had an estimated 1.5 billion users at the start of January 2016, and by the end of the first quarter had already gained another 165 million!

Now, note that organic traffic has been consistently falling for some time. Many speculate the drop in organic searches to be attributable to a rise in mobile users. While mobile usage is definitely rising quickly, this doesn’t mean those organic drops are solely the result of an increase in mobile usage. In fact, desktop users too are putting more of their time and attention to social media, and in many ways social gaming as well. Steam has over 135 million members, all of which are primarily desktop PC gamers (Which I’ll touch more on in a moment).

Another thing to consider here is that, while organic search engines typically determined the rank of content on the web, the game changes completely with social media, as users now determine what gains visibility and what does not. Internet users are now the ones who determine the worthiness of what and who they interact with, not search engines.

A clear example of this is with the communities I manage on Google Plus. People post constantly, and our visitors decide what they engage with, and what they ultimately want to ignore. They decide what communities they join, who they become friends with, and what content they share, not Google.

Even with platforms like Facebook who’ve heavily manipulated the visibility of brands, publishers, and bloggers in hopes of forcing them to pay, their recent announcements they’re putting more priority over personal posts is a clear indicator that their attempts to dictate what people see and do has backfired. People don’t like being told what to do on social media, and if Facebook keeps it up, they will only continue to alienate their audiences even more.

While virtually all social media platforms have algorithms that help point focus to certain features, content, people, etc, in the end the people themselves are the real judge, not the social platforms.

The Shift of SEO From Organic To Social:

The tactics used to optimize sites today are only going to become more and more irrelevant over time. While the main point of SEO has always been to optimize for search engines, those who fail to focus their SEO efforts on optimizing for a social audience will fail over the long term. With search engines, publishers were at the mercy of single entities, but with social you’re at the mercy of every living breathing human being. The future of SEO will be focused on convincing people, and no longer the search giants who once ruled with an iron fist.

Even with the case of organic search engines, Google knows themselves that having one entity judge the worthiness of every idea that traverses the web isn’t going to be sustainable in the long term. The fact is, if you really want to serve people what they want, like and think they need, then you need to let the people themselves be the judge.

Shifting Audiences:

Besides the ever increasing shift from organic to social, one heavily overlooked area of the web is with gaming networks. People often think of gaming platforms as being a place of entertainment and nothing more, but they’re actually social networks in their own right!

Gaming networks like XBOX Live, Playstation Network, and even the Wii U, have staggering amounts of users who spend their free time playing games and socializing with friends on their networks of choice. XBOX Live is at about the 50 million mark, while Playstation Network has well over 110 million users, and the WII U appears to gaining speed as well. Collectively, all of these platforms including Steam have broken the quarter billion mark and are growing faster than the organic web ever will.

That quarter billion mark also doesn’t account for the hundreds of millions of mobile gamers out there!

Still think the traffic is on Google search? Wrong, it’s shifting towards Youtube and Twitch! Internet users spend just a few minutes interacting with the organic search engines like Google and Bing, while Youtube users are heavily engaged, and it’s not odd for a single person to spend hours on the platform. The same goes for those gaming networks as well.

What does all this mean for publishers? They need to learn to adapt to a socially driven web or fail! If the bulk of internet users are using Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, along with mobile apps like What’s App and Snapchat, where does this leave publishers who rely on Google search? Yep, dead in the water.

And there’s more, as the real battle for user interest on the web will soon be pitted between the standard social networks and gaming networks. The average user spends just 20 minutes a day on Facebook, according to this report from Zephoria Digital Marketing: Top 20 Valuable Facebook Statistics (Right click to open in new tab). Think that’s a lot? Better think again. Users on gaming platforms spend closer to an hour a day playing games and socializing with other gamers on their platforms of choice.

In fact, social gaming is now the world’s #1 form of entertainment, even over Hollywood.

Now, Take a look at this report from Jason Evangelho on Forbes: Pokemon Go To Surpass Twitter Users, which states the widely popular mobile title “Pokemon Go” is about to surpass Twitter in terms of daily active users. Yes, just one mobile game has a larger audience than an entire social network that’s been around for years!

Many in the SEO and marketing world may have noticed the steep drops in engagement across virtually all standard social platforms in recent times. You can thank gaming platforms for this! When new consoles and popular titles hit the market, the web literally shrivels up and dies for days on end! Only one standalone social platform has managed to integrate social gaming on a mass level, and that would be Facebook. If the other social platforms like Google Plus don’t get back into the gaming arena, they could see themselves in a lot of trouble retaining an audience. Although Google has one huge advantage, they own Youtube, the world’s most utilized video sharing platform, which helps to solidify their control of traffic on the social web.

Look at it however you want, the organic web is dying, and it won’t be long before Google Search itself becomes completely integrated with Google’s social platforms. Either way, the volume of organic search queries is falling rapidly, and the focus of internet users remains heavily entrenched on social media.

The Push Toward Interactive Media:

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the web is becoming more interactive with each passing day. This isn’t 2006 when social media was still in its infancy, Myspace was the ruling social media party, and most people spent their time surfing the organic web. Welcome to the world of interactive media, where live streaming is the norm, video, gaming, and mobile apps are the preferred forms of entertainment, and people prefer to discuss their favorite subjects rather than simply read about them. Today, the traditional publisher is only secondary to the social platforms people use to reach them.

The Current State of Social Media and SEO:

While many keep arguing that links are all that matter, the fact is Google has stated time and time again that the +1 button is quote, “A recommendation for content in Google search” and across its social platforms. When someone +1’s something, they’re publicly recommending that content to their followers, and for Google to show it in search.

The bigger question is, what are publishers who placed their bets on links going to do when the major search engines take a backseat to the integrated search features available on social media today. In fact, the average social user tends to use the integrated search features of their favorite social platforms more than they do the traditional standalone ones.

Think about it? Does one really need to leave Google+, Facebook, or Twitter to get the latest news? No, they’re going to use the search capabilities these platforms already provide. Also, today the latest news often hits social media before it ever makes its way into organic search. Most stories originate on social media these days, and that’s a fact.

And what about Bing? Microsoft’s Bing search engine already heavily takes social media into account in terms of ranking your site. In case no one noticed, Bing actually asks you to include links to your sites interconnected social profiles to help determine your rank. It won’t be long before Google decides to follow suit as well.

Social Drives Organic Rank:

While Google Search is still the primary traffic driver for publishers at present, and links still count, social media remains the dominant force of driving rank, even if indirectly. For most publishers today, it’s the first point of contact for news published content. Plus, social platforms push content out in front of more people, giving publishers more chances to pick up new links to their content.

Other metrics like reach have always been a major component of Google’s search algorithms, and the effective use of social media can definitely increase ones reach across the web, effectively driving their rank higher.

Conclusion:

Without question, the audiences of the modern day web are shifting their wants and needs in line with those of the ever changing technologies that are available to them. The web is quickly transforming into a fully interactive multimedia environment where people are more socially connected than ever before. It’s a digital experience where social media, gaming, mobile apps, and emerging technologies like virtual reality are only going to continue to prevail. So the question isn’t how do we harness social media in hopes of ranking, but rather how do we apply SEO tactics to increase our visibility on social media, and how do we adapt experiences we offer users on our sites to fall in line with the wants and needs of a digitally interactive environment?

The future of the web will see gaming, mobile, social, and VR merge as one. How will web publishers respond? Better yet, how will web publishers find ways to integrate the modern technologies that people love into the experiences they offer?

All being said, the enormous growth of social media is set to forever change the future of SEO.

Written and published by Daniel Imbellino — Co-Founder of Strategic Social Networking and pctechauthority.com. Many thanks for reading. Be sure to check out Strategic Social Networking Community on Google+ to connect with tens of thousands of IT professionals and learn effective strategies to grow your social presence online. You’re also welcome to follow Strategic’s brand page on G+ for the latest social media and IT industry news.

Additional References:

Statista: Social Media and User Engagement Report 2016