Do social shares correlate at all with SEO?

Rand Fishkin of Moz wrote a fascinating Whiteboard Friday article recently, making the claim that except for the top 10% of content producers, social media sharing appears to have no impact on SEO. Go read the article first.

This struck me as a very broad claim. I wanted to see how I might find that out for my site. As with so many things in digital marketing, your mileage may vary, and I felt instinctively certain that my experience is different from the aggregate.

Using one of the many SEO tools at my disposal thanks to SHIFT Communications’ data-driven marketing technology toolkit, I took a look at my website’s inbound links vs. social shares. I did a Spearman regression with Rand’s hypothesis that there should be absolutely no correlation between social shares and inbound links.

What did I find?


Above, we see a modest positive correlation between social shares and referring domains (which are the domains that contain inbound links to my site). While it’s not amazing, it’s also not zero.

I even took a look at Rand’s own site, (and Rand, that link with equity is on the house):


Above, an R value of 0.445 with a p value less than 0.001 is far from no correlation. In fact, it’s a moderately strong correlation.

What we’ve proven is that the aggregate statement “social has no bearing on inbound links” is an extremely broad statement. As with anything in metrics, analytics, and statistics, there is no substitute for doing your own work, with your own data, and analyzing for yourself. You can start with a hypothesis derived from a broad, aggregate statement, but do not make the fatal mistake of assuming the aggregate whole also represents your business. You’ll drive your business into the ground.

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Are people using social media during the holidays?

Emilio Murphy asked,

Instinct says yes, of course, but instinct isn’t data. So what might we look at?

First, let’s get a sense of whether people are using social media at all. Using the fantastic resources at data-driven PR firm SHIFT Communications (disclosure: my employer), I first examined the usage of common phrases like “good morning” and “what’s up” using Twitter as a data source. While Twitter has biases, it also has the largest publicly available data stream for analysis:

People saying common phrases on Twitter.jpg

As highlighted above with the arrows, usage on Thanksgiving is in the lowest quartile, while Christmas Day is in the third quartile. New Year’s Day is in the first quartile, indicating high usage. So, the basic answer to Emilio’s question is yes, people are around and using their devices.

Are people engaged with social media with brands? Let’s look at the venerable New York Times:

NY Times Per Post Engagement Average.jpg

Above, we see that Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day are in the lowest quartile for people engaging with their posts (favorites, retweets), while Christmas Day is in the second quartile, near the very top. Note also that while Thanksgiving is low in engagement, most of the fourth quarter of the year is in the lowest quartile. Engagement overall is a problem during this period, not just on specific days.

Finally, let’s ask the money question: is anyone talking about buying anything? To ascertain this, I looked for people saying the exact phrase “go shopping” and did NOT include a URL in their tweet:

People saying the exact phrase Go Shopping, no URL.jpg

Above, while volume is lower, in the thousands rather than the millions, people expressing their shopping activities appears to be quite high.

Should you post on social media during the holidays? As long as you have something relevant and interesting to post, the answer appears to be yes. People are around, people are using their devices. The greater challenge you’ll face is posting something worth reading and discussing, not activating the audience.

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Digital Marketing Trends, Part 4 of 5: Make it Stick

As part of the daily curation I do with #the5, I get a chance from time to time to aggregate all the news I collect to look for trends. In the fourth of our 5 part series, we’re going to examine some current trends in digital marketing and what they mean for you. Today, we’re looking at…

Make it Stick

Here are a few of the choice headlines in the last 7 months worth reflecting on:

Twitter to start recycling best tweets in “While you were away”
Facebook rolls out Timehop-like new feature
Should you repost your social media content all the time?
7 Ways to Stop Pogo-Sticking From Killing Your Website’s SEO
Opens, Clicks, And Blocks In The Third Age Of Email Deliverability
Does a daily social media ask help to sell more?
LinkedIn, Notorious for Sending Too Many Emails, Cuts Back

When it comes to stickiness, there are two distinct schools of thought. The first is content stickiness – how sticky is your content? How much do people remember what you have to say? How compelling or engaging is your content? Content stickiness was best described and operationalized by Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book, Made to Stick.

Make it stick!

The second school of thought on stickiness is algorithmic. When you look at the list above, what you’re seeing doesn’t relate directly to your content. What you see above relates to the way your content is distributed and how different digital marketing platforms try to re-attract users.

Consider this: who do you get the most email from? If you’re the average consumer, retailers, spammers, and social networks – and not necessarily in that order. Social networks fall back on email to get consumers to re-engage with content. Facebook offers its “On this day”. Marketers adore #ThrowbackThursday and schedule huge quantities of content to tie into that trend. Twitter recycles tweets. Even Google’s venerable SEO algorithm measures the stickiness of your site and how fast people come back to search results.

Sticky is the new sexy, from an algorithmic perspective. Everyone is giving favor to things that bring users back.

How To Make Use of This Trend

Obviously, your content should be sticky first, in the Made to Stick perspective. Master that first. Once you’ve figured out how to make content people actually want, the next step is to become far more proactive about inciting stickiness.

You can’t wait for a social network algorithm or a search algorithm to benevolently bestow more eyeballs on your content. You can’t leave re-engaging users to chance. You’re looking to Make It Stick, proactive stickiness. Proactive stickiness means seizing the reins and driving stickiness with your own efforts before the algorithms.

Why would you do this? To incite the algorithms to work with you and not against you. If your content shows signs of trending from your efforts, algorithms that favor stickiness will reward you even more. On the other hand, if your content seems like just a flash in the pan, algorithms will pass you by because you’re not showing any signs of bringing users back to benefit them.

What can you do? In the old days, I used to advocate that any time you sent an email, you would post on social media that you sent an email in order to encourage open rates (which improve deliverability). The reverse is also true – your emails should promote your social posts and social actions.

Another simple example: a relatively small amount of paid media spend can make content appear sticky to algorithms, particularly if you belong to an ad network. Pay $500 to promote a piece of content to a very targeted audience, and native platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn will see the increase in popularity and returning visitors. The algorithms will interpret that as more popularity, and potentially give you an added boost.

Made to Stick was the first generation of stickiness. Make It Stick is the current one. Make your content stick proactively to win.

In the next post in this series, we’ll look at some of the winners and losers in 2015 to date. Stay tuned!

Digital Marketing Trends, Mid-2015 Edition
  1. Discontent Marketing
  2. Broadcast Social
  3. Video Games
  4. Make It Stick
  5. Winners and Losers

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