Backlinks vs. Social Signals: What Matters More to Google?
Which is more important to rank a page, backlinks or 1k+ social signals?
I’m going to first explain some reasons why the question you ask warrants the response “it depends.” If you want my answer, scroll to the very bottom. I hope it helps.
Not all backlinks are created equal
Some can hurt you. Some, like a backlink from a 70+ DA (domain authority), will tremendously help boost your page in rankings. Social signals are not all created equal, either. And there is more than one kind.
But despite the nuances and algorithmic subtly we’ll scrape off this iceberg, one truth remains true and will remain true: it takes backlinks to rank in Google search.
Here’s what David Farcas from MOZ said on link building in his Moz blog: 10 Link Building Lies You Must Ignore
In order to get people to find you, you have to build the roads that will lead them to where you want. This is where link building comes in.
A majority of people searching Google end up clicking on organic results. In fact, for every click on a paid result in Google, there are 11.6 clicks to organic results!
Are The Correlation Between Social Shares and Ranking COntent in Google is Implied
But if we’re talking about Google search rankings, then social signals by themselves aren’t enough to do anything. Let’s say you have 1k+ social shares. Ok great, but what happens after it’s shared? It’s assumed that the more content gets shared on social media, the more people are opening it and reading it; thus increasing other ranking variables, such as traffic, time spent on the page, scroll depth, etc.
Therefore, if a piece of content acquires 2k social shares but nobody is opening and reading it, or they’re bouncing right off once they do, then you’re hurting your page in Google’s eyes, but you might be increasing your organic reach on the social platform where it’s being shared.
The Problem with Social Signals & Backlinks: Both Are Easily Purchased
Both Google and social platforms are independent of each other and tricky. The reason is that both backlinks and social shares can be purchased. Each platform wants to rid its users of bad content slipping through so they have algorithms and highly paid, very smart people making updates to those algorithms daily. So it’s best to stay away from purchasing signals or backlinks.
The Key to Winning In Search is Giving
Social media and Google are fundamentally similar in one way: to win on them all comes down to having content that real people like. On Google Long term success comes by creating quality, authoritative content that is also written by someone who is considered an expert in the topic (especially with law websites or medical websites. If it’s informative and unique, and not too “salesy,” it’s easier to acquire social shares and backlinks because it’s worthy of them.
As with backlinks, social signals can be anything. If by “social signals” you mean, comments, well, those will increase engagement signals on the social platform you’re using. But they won’t do anything on Google by themselves (again it’s what happens once they engage with it on social that may or may not help).
Comments are the highest engagement metric on social media other than watch time for videos. (The longer any content is keeping users on the social media platform, means the more ads can be shown to the users, which means more money is being made for the social media platform. Hence, high watch time will get more organic reach and visibility than content that is getting little to none.
Not all social media platforms are created equal, either
On that note, not all social media platforms are created equal. Meaning that they have their algorithms for measuring and handing out visibility; they get pretty granular. For example, comments that are asked for are far outweighed by comments that display true engagement and express emotion from the content that you posted.
Ok, I’ll jump off my soapbox and answer your question from my personal opinion.
To your question, are backlinks or 1k social shares more import when ranking a page? My answer is backlinks. For this to be true, however, they must meet the following criteria: high quality/high DA, anchor text variation (what do they say? Do they include keywords or are they all branded), they don’t all go to the homepage, they link to the content you’re writing that, in turn, ranks the inner pages of your website, rather than the homepage. Obviously, the more the better. Yet, I’d rather have one 60 DA backlink than ten backlinks from a sketchy site with 100,000 external links and a bad backlink profile of its own.
I hope that helps.
Link building and SEO are not rocket science. There’s a lot of confusion out there, thanks mainly to the fact that Google’s standards change rapidly and old habits die hard, and the answers and strategies you seek aren’t always obvious.
Ps. Here’s a tip: your homepage should rank for the brand name naturally. Only rank the homepage for a keyword if all you do is one thing; for example, if you sell yellow teacups and only yellow teacups, go ahead and rank your homepage for “yellow teacups”.