Social media has not always had a role in SEO. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is dictated by Google. They are the biggest and most popular search engine in the world, so when they say that something matters–the other websites fall into line. And, the fact is that social media has not had much of an effect on SEO until very recently.
It started to happen when Google+ came along
Many people suggested that social media had an effect on SEO for quite a while, but it did not. It only started to have an effect on SEO just after Google+ was released. Google had tried a number of times to get into the social media market, but had failed numerous times. Then they got lucky with one of their attempts and Google+ became popular.
It did not unseat Facebook, as some people predicted, but it did gain a reasonable following of a few million people. This is when Google announced that social media signals would now affect SEO.
This really depends upon the social media site itself. Google is not setting up social media rules for the sake of it. They are trying to figure out which websites are useful and popular. So all you need to ask yourself is, “How could this social media site show me which websites are popular?”
So take Twitter for example. If lots of people are Tweeting about a website at one time, and possibly linking to it, then you may assume that the website in question is popular. If you take this one-step further and consider re-Tweets, then you can see how it may be easier to track for a search engine.
A re-Tweet is the same message, with the same link, that is passed around Twitter. If Google comes across one re-Tweet, then it can backtrack to all the times the message has been re-Tweets and see how popular it is. This is easier than trying to pick up on different Tweets and linking them back to the correct website.
Take Facebook for example
Some people say that a mention on Facebook is a good thing for your website and it’s SEO. This is probably true, but Facebook has hundreds of thousands of people commenting on different things at any one time. So how is Google going to pick through all of that in order to find out what is relevant to your websites SEO?
However, if you consider direct links from Facebook, then you can understand how they may be easier to track (from Google’s point of view) and how they may also indicate the popularity of a website.
So, when you ask yourself, “How could Facebook show me which websites are popular?” You can see that links would be a good indicator. They are easier for the search engines to track, and their existence indicates that the website in question is popular.
Can the search engines detect a negative reputation?
This is a very good question, and few people (if any) know the answer. If we go back to the Facebook example, we can deduce that a link from Facebook is going to have a positive effect on your websites SEO.
But, if the link is there because the Facebook member is saying bad things about the website, then does it still count towards the SEO of the website? The answer (logically) is yes; even negative press on social media will help to improve a websites SEO in some cases. This may change in the future, but does not seem to be a feasible change at the moment.