“Social Signals” – A Key Component of Online Marketing

August 24, 2015

Author: Sascha Lienesch

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What are social signals? What do they do? Why are they useful? These and similar questions are asked over and over again and this blog aims to answer them. We also want to show you how to get the most out of XOVI’s social signals tool, just by thinking outside the box a little bit.

What exactly are social signals?

As you can probably gather from the name, this is all about social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc where users can post domains and URLs and thus recommend them to friends. They effectively place a type of backlink in their social media profile to link their friends (or, on Facebook pages, also customers) to particular documents on the internet. And it doesn’t just have to be whole domains, it can also be single URLs which are shared, liked or retweeted.

You will surely have seen the buttons for various social networks at the bottom of articles on websites which you can use to share the URL in the different networks. You can see them at the end of this article too.


The buttons to the right allow you to “share”, “tweet” or “g+1” the page’s URL in the respective social network, providing you have an account for it and are logged in.

Social signals then are all about the success with which a domain or its sub-domains are shared and spread throughout social networks. The key is “virality”, the ultimate aim being to “go viral”. You can see from social signals which topics and issues were particularly interesting for readers since “shares”, “likes”, etc are actual user interactions. A real person somewhere found the article interesting and shared it on his or her profile or fan-page for others to read too. The same thing happens when users simply copy and paste the URL from the browser’s URL bar into their social network of choice.

What are social signals NOT?

Social signals have nothing to do with how many likes or friends your company’s Facebook page or your Twitter profile has. The number of Facebook shares and Twitter retweets (which are shown in XOVI, for example) do not contribute to your ranking. Social signals are just that – signals. The fact that a blog article has been shared on Facebook is a signal, a sign, a clue, a hint that it is popular. This information can then inform your campaigns. It is important therefore to make the distinction between monitoring these social signals and the practise known as “social media monitoring”. They are not the same thing.

What use are social signals for my SEO?

So what’s the point? A subject of discussion is often whether Google uses social signals as a ranking factor or not. Not such an unreasonable question; these are genuine user signals after all. Nevertheless, they can easily be manipulated by any switched-on SEO who can then present Google with false information. The head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, has frequently denied that Google takes social signals into account as a ranking factor.

However, as Cutts explains in the video, social marketing and social signals are nevertheless a useful addition to SEO:

Cutt explains that the basis of SEO is good content. Your website should feature quality content which provides genuine value, for instance responding to a customer question or providing the solution to a problem. Add images or videos, or maybe an info graphic explaining the topic. Entertain your readers and show that you are a specialist in the sector you are writing about.

Now we come to “social marketing”. Spread your content over social networks to make sure it gets as much attention as possible. You need to let your customers know that the text or article exists, and Facebook, Twitter, etc are perfectly suited to this. If the content of your posts and articles is good enough, you can expect them to be shared further or retweeted on Twitter. These are social signals for your domain.

Google’s current stance

In a webmaster hangout a few weeks ago on 30 July 2015, John Müller of Google Switzerland responded to a question from an SEO as to whether social signals contributed directly to optimization. The answer was a clear NO. Müller nevertheless explained that social signals from Google+ are likely to be more easily visible in personal search results when the user is logged into Google and linked with somebody in Google+ circles. Apart from that, social signals are not used.

So if Google doesn’t consider social signals, what use are they to me and my SEO?

Firstly, social signals work indirectly. When hundreds of users notice your content and read it and share it further, it is likely that one or two of them even mention it in their own blog, perhaps directing their users to your site via a backlink. Perfect! You’ve just earned a thematically relevant backlink and a genuine recommendation for your website. What’s more, it is a totally natural link which won’t be keeping you awake at night worrying about angry penguins and their algorithms …

Secondly, SEO is not the be all and end all. It is a means to an end. The ultimate aim behind SEO remains to attract as much traffic to your website as possible – and preferably from the target group your business is aimed at. Traffic generated over social networks is still traffic and should be welcomed as such. Good social marketing also makes your business that little bit more independent from Google – it’s always good to have multiple traffic sources.

How can the XOVI Suite help?

In XOVI’s social signals tool, you first of all get an overview of the number of social signals to your website. This data is taken from the API interface of each respective network and not crawled by XOVI themselves.


From the two charts above, we can see that this domain has attracted over 55,000 Facebook shares but that it is not as strong on Twitter. As Facebook is by far the biggest social network, it is no surprise that so many signals come from there.

Now we need to know which specific URLs are particularly strong and frequently shared in the various networks. We can see this in the table below.


We’re using the domain www.blume2000.de as an example, and we can see that the “Advent” landing page is attracting the most social signals. This URL has since been redirected other content but the page is still present in social networks. Rather than storing week-old data, XOVI retrieves social signals directly from each social network’s API for each new query, so you are guaranteed to receive up to date information from each network every time.

Just beneath the table in the XOVI Suite, you can also add additional URLs for monitoring. For instance, if you set up a new landing page on your website, add the URL to XOVI’s social signals tool. Social signals for this page will be then be included the next time you run a query.

Using social signals for your content marketing

Keeping track of your competitors’ social signals is an important part of competitor analysis. Has your competitor enjoyed particular successes or traffic increases in a particular network? If so, make a note of the date and check their social media channels. Did they announce a new product or service which went down well with their followers? Did they run a competition? Use your competitors’ social signals to react promptly and implement measures of your own.

Use the “shared URLs” table to find out which rival content was most warmly received by social media users. Everything that you can analyse for your own domain you can also do for your competitors! In our example for instance, pages themed around “advent” were particularly successful in December. As a competitor who hasn’t yet produced any content or launched any particular features around the subject of advent, or if your content hasn’t been as successful, take a look at your competitor’s landing page and compare it to yours. What are they doing differently? Can you “borrow” any good ideas!? Use your competitor’s success to inform your own campaigns, and prevent them having such success in future!


Social Signals are NOT a Google ranking factor. But they are nevertheless still vital for the success of my website since they can lead to genuine SEO benefits such as natural back-link building. Social Signals measure the success of your social marketing measures, and this can increase traffic to your website which in turn can lead to bigger profits in web shops or more demands for a service. In short, better conversion rates. Social Signals can also be useful for competitor analysis, and are a therefore a key aspect of my online business.

Author: Sascha Lienesch