Not too long ago, a company’s SEO ranking depended largely on just two things: keyword placement and backlinking from external sites. But as search engine algorithms continue to evolve, social media is making a growing contribution to a brand’s SEO strategy for building authority and ranking high in search.

Out With the Old, In With the New SEO

Google isn’t the only search engine; Bing runs a close second. But Google remains the undisputed king of search worldwide, and its frequent algorithm updates set the tone for SEO strategizing in companies large and small. “Traditional” SEO best practices for ranking well in Google search emphasized single keywords or keyword phrases in website content – and when searched, that content would attract links back to it from external websites. The number and quality of those backlinks, along with the volume of searches for keywords, could push a site higher or lower in search rankings.

The race for rankings led to massive abuse of keyword search and backlinking, with a surge in low quality “keyword-stuffed” content, along with black hat gambits like creating fake websites for the sole purposes of generating backlinks. In 2011, Google smacked back hard at these tactics with the much-publicized Panda update, which changed the rankings game forever by taking down spammy, low-quality sites and rewarding substantial, useful content and natural language searches.

With Panda and subsequent updates aimed at blocking manipulation of its search algorithm and raising the quality of content on the Web, Google’s decisions have driven a major shift in the way websites of all kinds establish themselves as authoritative, trustworthy and inhabited by real people.

Enter social media.

Social Media and the New World of Search

In the pre-Panda paradigm, social media channels didn’t matter much in SEO. Today, though, both Google and Bing are turning to social media of all kinds for confirmation of a brand’s value and authority. And that means that, along with quality content and standard optimization tactics, social media should become a core component of a company’s SEO strategy.

In this new world of search, the key to building authority and value lies in producing quality content that responds to long-tail keyword phrases and authentic search queries. When that content is shared widely on social media, the tweets, retweets, reblogs and likes it gets can create the kind of organic backlinks that boost rankings, especially if those shares come from credible, influential entities.

Social Media Channels: The New Search Engines

Although Google and Bing top the list of true search engines, many people use social sharing channels as search engines too. Rather than visit a company’s formal website for information, users may turn to its Facebook page or Twitter account. With its wide range of curated boards, Pinterest helps users find answers to questions of all kinds. These sites give visitors a different look at a company’s personality and culture, with an interactivity that’s often absent from website pages.

Backlinks generated from social media and the sharing of content by influencers and other trusted sites are largely immune from the kind of black hat manipulation that led to Panda, so they add credibility to a company’s online presence. For that reason, marketing experts recommend optimizing social media profiles with relevant keywords, regularly posting and sharing rich content and encouraging sharing by influencers and trustworthy sites.

Social media is just one aspect of a company’s overall SEO strategy. But as leading search engines continue their shift toward rewarding natural interactions and organic searches, cultivating an active, optimized social media presence may be the key to building authority – and boosting rankings.

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