This is #7 of the in-Depth versions of the 7 Key SEO Ranking Factors
While getting links is critical for SEO, it is hard to do without the use of social media, which plays a part in the complete digital package. If you’re not already active on social media, before we get into the finer details, you should be aware that social media is critical for protecting your referrals.
If you search for your brand name or your personal name, you may find your social media profiles popping up in the search engine results. You do not want any of your social media profiles to look like a ghost town or you will turn high-quality referrals away.
As it intersects with SEO, social media doesn’t necessarily cause your rankings to go up. But, as we have mentioned in our link building discussion, social media shares usually attract organic backlinks.
Here’s what the search engines say about this issue.
Bing said they do use social signals as a ranking factor: We do look at the social authority of a user. We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results.
Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s webspam team, at one point early in the debate confirmed that Google used links from Facebook and Twitter as ranking signals, and later put out a video where he said they don’t.
In 2016, Gary Illyes, a Google webmaster trends analyst, was asked if Google takes social media into account for SEO. He then retweeted Cutts’ video that said, “Google treats Facebook and Twitter pages like any other web page for search, but not as a ranking factor.” He then said: “The short version is, no, we don’t.”
Yet according to Searchmetrics (one of the top ranking factor analytics firms) in their 2016 Rebooting Ranking Factors white paper: “The correlation between social signals and ranking position is extremely high, and the number of social signals per landing page has remained constant when compared with the values from last year’s whitepaper. … The top-ranked websites in Google’s rankings displays vastly more social signals than all other pages…. This is primarily due to the overlap between brand websites performing strongly in social networks and being allocated top positions by Google.”
So while there is a big debate about the finer details of social media being a direct ranking factor in advanced SEO circles, for the purposes of this guide we won’t worry too much about proving causation versus helpful correlation. Social media builds authority and helps you share your content, and that is what you should be focused on.
Let’s look at a few different social platforms and how you can use of each these to increase the number of social signals your site generates.
What are social signals?
Social signals are in part various links and shares from people’s social networking profiles to your law firm’s website.
If you’re looking at an infographic on a website, and you notice there is an option to “give it a like,” you will be providing that website with a social signal.
How do social signals affect your SEO?
Social signals have a positive effect on SEO in a really interesting way. The first thing to remember is that Google favors page time or what they refer to in patents they have filed as “dwell time.” That is, how long do people spend on your website consuming content?
If you stumble across a blog post on a law firm website that has been shared over 4,000 times, you’re likely to infer that the content is good and worth reading. Adding these social indicators helps other people ascertain the value of the content they’re about to read.
Secondly, think about it this way. The more social signals you can generate for each piece of content means that more people have visited your site in the first place.
All of these factors help Google understand that the content on your website is useful and valuable for the target audience. This will go a long way to increase your brand and search engine results page rankings over time.
Use social signals to learn what your customers are saying
Social signals are not only great for encouraging people to actively engage with and share your content, but they help you understand what your customers are saying about you and your niche.
Take each platform one by one and see if people are talking about you. Simply use each platform’s search feature and type in the name of your law firm to see what comes up. If you can find out what people are already saying about you, it gives you a good opportunity to control and navigate the conversation.
You might find that no one is talking about your law firm. This could be due to a number of reasons that you have yet to figure out. It could be because your law firm hasn’t done anything significant.
The next step is to take a step back from your own law firm and find out where people go online to discuss the questions and topics you care about. For example, if you’re a family law firm, you might research where people talk about divorce or child custody.
To begin this process, put together (if you don’t already have one) a list of keywords that reflect your own law firm’s business. It will be helpful to phrase these keywords in the same way your customers might. The same way you searched through each relevant social media platform to find instances of your own law firm, find when and where people are discussing your search terms. What this tells you is where you need to put your focus to reap the most rewards.
Each social platform has different marketing strategies
Before you begin to put together your social signals strategy, note that you need a foundation of top (valuable) content. The whole idea of social signals is that people use their own social networks to share your content. This way, it reaches new audiences and grows your brand. However, if you don’t have content worthy of sharing, you won’t succeed.
It’s also important to note that no two social networks are the same and each requires a different approach in order to have the most effective results.
Some of the types of content you might consider include:
- Industry surveys and research
- Infographics using research data
- Press releases
- White papers
- Company news
- Guest blog posts
- Customer case studies
Below are just a few initial ways you can send good signals from social media and build your brand. We’ll take a closer look at LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
LinkedIn is primarily a business-oriented social network used by professionals in businesses small and large to share content they find useful, source job opportunities, and connect with people from the same or similar industries.
In 2018 LinkedIn had 590 million total users, 260 million of them deemed active. A smaller number than Facebook for sure, but it’s a business network and especially helpful for any law firm’s social media and content marketing.
Almost 50% of LinkedIn users have a college or postgraduate degree, two-thirds are over 29 years old, and 45% have an average household income of $75,000 or more. Not to mention you can use LinkedIn ads to target people by job title, industry, and fine-tuned demographics.
If you are using LinkedIn, start by making sure your own personal profile is up to date, along with a customer-centric headline and description. You should also be asking a handful of people to give you references that will get posted in your profile. Then create a LinkedIn company page for your law firm and connect your team members to it. This lays the foundation you must have in place before publishing content on LinkedIn.
If we conduct a search on the LinkedIn platform for the phrase “divorce law,” we get articles about how millennials are causing the US divorce rate to plummet.
We can see that people interact heavily with shared content from top publications. In the example above, there were 202 likes on the post and 159 comments.
That’s a lot of engagement.
If you can create stellar content using LinkedIn publishing and encourage people to share it across LinkedIn, you’ll not only increase the number of people who organically find and read your content, but you’ll get more people potentially clicking through to other pages on your website to find out more.
When you log in to LinkedIn, right at the top of your wall, you can add a little social blurb update or click “publish an article.”
While making a reasonable number of basic updates to your profile is good to keep In front of your connections, publishing an article is even better for your thought leadership. And we know for a fact that Google respects authorities.
Just in case search engines later decide they want to consider something you publish on LinkedIn as duplicate content, we recommend taking half of the content from the blog posts that are on your website and re-posting them as articles on LinkedIn. Then you can put a link back to your blog where visitors can read more.
Getting extra LinkedIn eyeballs to come see the content you’ve already written is one of the basics that requires a small effort but offers significant rewards.
Facebook had 2.41 billion monthly active users as of June 2019, which is an impressive feat. That said, they certainly have had their share of privacy-related controversies and it will be interesting to see how that affects them in the future.
If you want to use Facebook as part of your law firm’s social strategy, the first thing you need to do is to create a Facebook business page, which is entirely separate from your personal information and posts.
Even if you post on your Facebook business page just once a month and grow to 500 “likes,” you will look far more “alive” than if you are not there at all. You shouldn’t buy likes on sites like Fiverr, but you can use Facebook ads to do “like” campaigns and jumpstart your activity very quickly.
In order to stay profitable, Facebook has greatly diminished the amount of organic reach your content will get, so using Facebook boosts or paid ads is far better than just doing it organically.
Studies from Conductor and BrightEdge show that only 2% to 5% of traffic comes from social media to websites, so in order to increase your chances of it actually producing leads, you should set up even a small Facebook advertising budget. Pay a minimum of $10 to boost every piece of content on your blog; ideally, invest $100-plus. Again, an easy thing to do that gets more eyeballs with little extra effort, if you stick to a system.
Another effective technique is to get reviews on Facebook, which helps build trust in your law firm. While you might be more inclined to focus only on Google reviews, what happens if you are targeting a group of people who prefer Facebook as their main place to hang out online? Don’t let your own preferences block you from reaching your target audience.
On Facebook in general, people only interact with and “friend” people they know. Therefore, the content tends to be personal. People like to share updates about their lives and look into the lives of the people within their network. As many Facebook profiles are private, it can be hard to infiltrate their profiles to know what they’re talking about.
That said, there is a huge community of Facebook users who use the platform for business. There is a large number of Facebook groups dedicated to offering insights about legal issues.
These are often location-specific, so conduct a search to see if there’s one in your area. If there are no Facebook groups, consider whether your firm could create one. That way you can help people with the law, as well as offer value by sharing your content.
Facebook is also fantastic for sharing your brand’s personality and getting people to like you more. As the old saying goes, people buy from those that they know, like, and trust, and Google certainly appreciates a trusted brand.
If you’re looking to improve your social signal strategy, Twitter is an effective platform, particularly if you want to connect with journalists and get featured in the media.
Like it or not, even though being on Twitter isn’t necessarily a requirement to be interviewed, journalists have stated over and over again that they greatly appreciate seeing that someone they are about to interview is a thought leader on Twitter.
The ability to “retweet” content you like means that even if you share your own content it can reach a wide network of people – simply by others sharing what they believe to be valuable. If you add topic-specific hashtags and @mention other people, your visibility on Twitter will go up even more.
Twitter is all about sharing great content and having great conversations. Because of this, people often use the platform to find recommendations.
In the example above, the Twitter user has asked in their network if anyone can recommend a good charity lawyer. Now, an approach you could take here (beyond recommending yourself) would be to provide a resource or some content that helps people decide how to choose an attorney, as in the next example.
YouTube is not only the second-largest search engine in the world, but it appears to be passing Facebook as the most popular social media platform.
A Pew Research Center survey from March 2018 revealed that the number of American adults using YouTube had climbed to 73% — more than Facebook, which came in at 68 percent.
And if that’s not enough, by 2021, video will make up 80% of global internet traffic, according to Cisco. So you would be remiss to leave video out of your law firm’s digital marketing strategy. For people who prefer audio and visual content, YouTube is just the platform.
Video should be professional, but even iPhones used with a tripod can give you a reasonably good-quality video that you can edit with iMovie.
Short videos (30 seconds to two minutes), especially FAQ-style videos, are a great way to build your brand on YouTube.
We have had legal clients tell us that not only do people call them and reference their YouTube videos, but attorneys have been interviewed by journalists because of the YouTube strategies we have recommended for them.
One of the four times Google flew us to their headquarters for our Google advertising partnership, one of their executives complimented us on how we not only focus on having attorneys give helpful content instead of sales pitches, but that we also include the transcript of the video’s content for disabled visitors. The transcripts can help with your organic search rankings because of the in-depth content, which is much better than just having the video on the page alone.
Videos often pop up in the search results, and Google gives preference to its own video platform YouTube.
You can embed YouTube videos right into your practice area website pages, but you should also add them to a blog post with the transcript. Add the transcript into both the blog post and in closed captioning directly in YouTube. YouTube will auto-translate your video into text for the closed captions, but the results are often incorrectly rendered, so don’t leave that job up to robots. Instead, be sure a human from your law firm reviews and corrects transcripts as needed.
In the example below, you can see that a lawyer is providing the audience with advice on divorce.
They’ve also included two relevant links back to their site.
As with all these platforms, the more people who share your content, the more people who will inevitably end up visiting your site.
In numerous studies about what content generates the most backlinks, videos come up in the top three. So, if you want your social media to impact your organic SEO, don’t just put your helpful videos on YouTube but also add them in a shareable and linkable way to your website.
Other social media networks
Beyond the major social media platforms discussed above, there are many more available. From Snapchat to Pinterest and Instagram, there are lots of other social media networks that you could use. Outside of having a basic presence on the major channels mentioned here to protect referrals and send strong brand liking signals, the key is to focus on the platforms where you think your customers are spending the most time.
Social Media Content
Social media requires content. At the very least, you need to write little blurbs when you make a status update. Even better is to develop eye-catching graphics and links to the valuable content you have posted on your website. A big part of social media is engaging customers and interacting with them, but the content will make that easier in terms of having something consistent to offer that isn’t just fluff.
For example, if you create an infographic, you can take little pieces of it and make smaller graphics that you can then share daily or weekly on your social media channels to promote that deeper piece of content.
If you have an industry survey, you can take quotes from the survey and make graphics out of them to share on a regular basis.
You get more bang for your buck when, instead of focusing mostly on creating content, you repurpose content and spend more time promoting it with a smart strategy.
When it comes to social signals, make sure you set goals. These goals will help you understand which social channels will be best for your law firm to target and will help keep you accountable.
You can use your goals to measure how effective your social signals campaign is, and whether or not you need to make any additional changes to take you from where you are now to where you want to be.
Use Google Analytics to track the number of leads you get from social media, but don’t be discouraged if it’s not a large number. When you factor in social media as being a critical part of protecting referrals and promoting your content, the return on investment is clear.
One major advantage you have as a forward-thinking law firm is that there aren’t too many lawyers or law firms really taking advantage of their social media, especially when it comes to social signals.
If you take the necessary efforts to ensure you are encouraging people to provide you with social signals for your website, you’re doing better than most other lawyers.
Here’s a quick recap of some of the reasons social media is more important than it appears on the surface.
- Protects your referrals
- Generates potential for attracting links
- Helps you build an audience
- Increases branded searches
- Helps with content promotion
- Videos, photos, and personal content increase conversions
- Social media profiles rank in search engines
- Social media channels are search engines too, and the number of searches in social channels is growing all the time
You might not be a social butterfly and it might just feel like there are one too many social media platforms to tackle, but if you start with these basics (and remember that you don’t have to use every social media platform), it will pay off in spades.
At this point, you’re starting to see how the pieces all come together for SEO to work properly from on-page edits to social media.
In the next section you will see how, even for local rankings in an organic search, Google looks at a variety of factors. So you can’t just check a list of boxes in each tactic; instead you need to build overall authority from search and content to social and public relations.