Is there a link between search engine optimization (SEO) and social media? Depends on who you ask. Regardless, businesses today are eager to stand out in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and social space alike. And just like you can’t ignore social media these days, the same rings true for SEO.

That’s because both channels are absolutely critical when it comes to product discovery, research and helping people make purchase decisions. Rather than treating these marketing channels as a matter of either-or, it makes sense to find common threads between them. SEO can be an important pillar within your social media marketing strategy.

In this guide, we’ll highlight the basics of SEO and social media, including lower lift ways to boost your social media efforts via SEO (and vice versa).

Table of contents:

What is social SEO?

Social SEO involves optimizing your social channels and content to expand your reach in search results. It helps enhance the visibility of your content among the people searching for businesses similar to yours. For example, social SEO can help you rank higher in YouTube search results. Best practices vary across platforms, but it can involve adding captions, alt-text, subtitles and keyword research.

SEO and social media management strategies can complement each other because they are both channels for discovery. People are seeking the help of both search engines and social media platforms to uncover information. The lines between search engines and social media are blurring. For example, people use TikTok and Pinterest to discover new recipes, life hacks and more. And YouTube isn’t just a video platform anymore—it’s one of the most popular search engines in the world.

Is SEO needed for social media?

Discourse aside, SEO and social media have a complementary relationship. Companies can use SEO for social and it’s an important component of developing a mature marketing strategy.

What is the connection between SEO and social media?

The connection between SEO and social media—particularly if social links and shares have a significant impact on traditional search rankings—has been debated for over a decade now. Some argue that misinformation on social media has led people astray when it comes to SEO strategy.

A thread on X (formerly known as Twitter) between several professionals discussing SEO strategies. The final comment notes SEO professionals are using strategy effectively, but misinformation on social media has led many marketers astray.

Some SEO experts will tell you outright that Google doesn’t take social media performance into account when it comes to rankings. However, other SEO aficionados speak to the importance of using social media for business.

A Post on X from a marketing professional introducing a thread on why social media is more important than SEO.

Search engines do not use social signals as a ranking factor, but some professionals agree they are an indirect SEO booster that can help with traffic and rankings.

A Post on X from an SEO professional listing three reasons why social signals matter. The reasons include: build a strong social presence, it's an indirect SEO booster, and engage with your audience to encourage social sharing.

A Post on X from a SEO professional encouraging people to add social profiles to their Google Business Profile to earn more social signals and increase rankings in local maps.

Others say social media marketing is actually more effective than SEO, depending on the industry.

A thread from a user on X explaining why social media marketing is more effective for freight companies than SEO.

Even though the verdict is still out on the exact relationship between SEO and social media, there’s still a connection worth exploring when it comes to increasing your brand’s visibility.

Below is a brief breakdown of how social media impacts search traffic:

Social media profiles consistently rank among top search results

Particularly for branded keywords, social media profiles are often front-and-center, immediately following any given brand’s website result. On Google, social media channels are listed on the results pages and the knowledge panel, the box located on the right side of the platform that features specific information about the query.

Poshmark's search results page on Google. The company's social profiles are listed in the knowledge panel on the right side of the screen.

The SERP also includes previews of the brand’s most recent posts on X (formerly known as Twitter), further highlighting a relationship between SEO and social media.

Poshmark's X previews on Google search results page.

Meanwhile, Facebook represents a potential SEO goldmine for local businesses as it serves as an aggregator of positive reviews and potential bookings.

Mary Mac's Team Room Facebook page for Atlanta, GA on Google search results page.

Google Analytics highlights social media as a significant traffic source

Because social is a significant source of traffic for organizations, it’s treated as a unique entity in Google Analytics.

Using Google Analytics for social media can help you learn about social media efforts, target audience and search optimization alike. This includes:

  • Does social traffic engage better (or worse) than traffic from other channels?
  • How does your volume of social traffic compare to other sources like organic, email, etc.?
  • Which social networks drive the most traffic?
A Google analytics dashboard featuring various metrics for social media and SEO such as bounce rate, sessions and average session duration.

Social media links serve as a traffic funnel

Although concepts like social sites passing on link equity, also known as “link juice” have been debunked, consider the potential snowball effect of increased social shares resulting in more traffic.

Do social shares have a significant effect in the SERPs? Perhaps not. However, using social accounts to promote new individual pieces of content can be a significant driver of new visitors.

A Flipboard post on X sharing an article about their new podcast. Sharing links on social media profiles can help with SEO link building.

Brands that are active on social have the potential to build more backlinks either actively or passively. Consistently publishing content means more visibility and that visibility can result in links or brand advocates who enjoy sharing your content.

Social search optimization matters for social networks

Marketing organizations are using SEO best practices on social platforms like YouTube to increase views and promote their channel. YouTube videos and features like chapter titles show up in Google search results so marketers can optimize. For example, you can use target keywords in titles and descriptions. Adding captions will also send a positive signal to the YouTube algorithm.

How to optimize your social profiles for SEO

We’re going to focus on actionable optimizations that’ll increase your social channels’ visibility in the SERPs. The good news is that doing so doesn’t mean overhauling your presence or making any major changes. Here are the basics of social media SEO:

Fill out your social profiles with as many details as possible

Some platforms have much more real estate than others to fill in your details (think: Facebook’s generous “About” section(s) versus a minimalist Instagram’s bio). Either way, don’t let these spaces go to waste. Make a point to include industry and brand keywords, location and relevant links.

Buckhead Village District's Instagram profile. The shopping district includes information about their location and a link in bio.

Integrate keywords into your profile(s) and posts

Speaking of keywords, consider that social media at large is becoming more and more search-oriented. Performing keyword research is a good idea just for the sake of finding potential topics to post about and likewise optimizing your content for visibility. You don’t have to (nor should you) optimize every single caption or description that you write.

However, there are plenty of opportunities to integrate keywords into your posts naturally if you’re aware of them. This is especially true on platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn or Pinterest where you have plenty of characters to work with.

A pin from Trader Joe's on Pinterest featuring a recipe for maple marshmallow popcorn bars.

Point links back to your site

Chances are you’re probably doing this already. Although your own links shouldn’t be the sole source of your social content, they should definitely factor in if you’re hungry for more traffic.

From blog posts and promotions to downloadables and beyond, make sure you’re taking advantage of link tracking to assess what’s getting the most clicks and how visitors behave once they’re on your site. Doing so also clues you in at a glance at what your most popular links are via social. Here’s what the process looks like through Sprout Social’s URL shortener:

Video visual of creating a UTM link within Sprout Social

Share on-site content and encourage others to do the same

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to get shares beyond your brand account is through employee advocacy. Now a staple of B2B social media, encouraging colleagues and coworkers to share content through an established employee advocacy program is a much more measurable and scalable way to increase visibility.

Publish content that’s worthy of backlinks

Posting linkable assets on social media is a no-brainer, but which sorts of posts are prime for links?

When in doubt, infographics and original reports are safe bets. These posts are typically among the highest-performing on social since they’re unique and share statistics in a way that’s easy to digest. Likewise, original research often represents a primary source that hasn’t been linked elsewhere.

Sprout's post on X promoting The Sprout Social Index™. The post explains we surveyed over 1.2k consumers and 900 marketers and includes a bitly link to the report.

How to optimize your social posts for social search

Here’s a quick overview of some best practices to optimize content for social search:

  • Use relevant keywords and hashtags in captions, titles and descriptions
  • Use alt-text to make visual content more accessible
  • Use subtitles in video content on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok
  • Tag your location so your content can appear in social search results
  • Say your main keyword out loud on YouTube and TikTok
  • Incorporate SEO into your file management process by using keywords and key phrases in the video file name
  • Aim to use high quality photo and video assets to benefit from visual search
  • Be conscious of overstuffing keywords

4 quick social media tips to support your SEO efforts

To wrap things up, let’s look at some other tactics that combine SEO and social to get more out of your investment in both channels.

Make your website content easy to share

Social sharing buttons are staples on blogs and websites. Quick copy links and single-click sharing should be integrated into your site in some way, such as including buttons on blog posts to make sharing easy.

Bonus points if you don’t have to make your readers dig for your sharing buttons. Below is a good example from Grammarly, showcasing social share buttons that follow visitors as they scroll through a post.

Example of using social sharing buttons on websites and blog posts.

Translate your social data into content ideas

If you’re strapped for fresh content ideas, look no further than your social feed. From potential blog topics to the latest trends and keywords, there’s arguably no better place than social media to find them. Social conversations are timely and you can assess trends instantly rather than wait for traffic to roll in to figure them out.

This is where a tool like Sprout Social really comes in handy. With our platform’s Social Listening features, you can quickly hone in on topics and trends without having to do a bunch of guesswork. Social listening is also a useful tool for making sure your marketing messaging lands and you speak your audience’s language.

An example of keyword tracking using social listening in Sprout. Related keywords and hashtags appear.

Fine-tune your publishing frequency

Establishing a consistent content calendar produces better traffic results than posting at random.

Familiarize yourself with the best times to post on social media and make sure links to your site are part of your social content strategy. As a side note, don’t be afraid to publish and recycle links to blog posts. Given the legwork required to put together any given post, they deserve to be shared multiple times. If you don’t want to repeat yourself, consider repurposing your content for social distribution.

Foster relationships with your audience and influencers

We’re all about building customer relationships at Sprout. Building an engaged community means you’re more likely to score clicks and attract meaningful traffic to your site. Those same folks can also give your content a much-needed boost when prompted. You can use social media as an avenue for developing and nurturing relationships with your target audience, including influencers. Influencers can help support content visibility. If an influencer reshares your content, you amplify your brand’s reach.

Create a strategy for SEO and social media

Whether search or social is your primary focus, consider how both channels complement each other because doing so means getting more out of your marketing efforts. Likewise, you can uncover a ton of customer insights and content ideas in the process.

Our social marketing guide breaks down even more ways to create top-tier content and grow an audience.