The widespread use of social media has, over the last five years, prompted Google to make influential changes in its search engine algorithms. No longer relying entirely on website content, backlinks, and other factors to rank websites, your organisation’s social media activity is now one off-page ranking factor that indirectly contributes to its search engine performance.

Search engines perform incredibly complex tasks in a very short amount of time, and use some very complicated calculations to do so. Literally hundreds of different factors are used by Google’s search engine to create ranked pages of search results. Why is social media now so important? One reason only: everyone’s using it. Facebook passed a big milestone in August 2015, with one billion people using the platform in a single day. Every second adds 10,000 Tweets, 2,800 Instagram photos, and 2,000 Tumblr posts to the total.

How Does Social Media Contribute to Rankings?

Social signals—likes, tweets, shares, and comments, for example—don’t directly contribute to search engine rankings in a way that can be easily quantified. There are, however, some direct and indirect effects that can be seen and measured.

Perhaps the most important example of indirect influence is the way in which an active and engaging social media presence helps an organisation to develop greater brand recognition. A trusted brand’s content is more likely to be shared and linked to. Those links to a company’s website are what contribute directly to its ranking, and the traffic they generate can be directly measured using website analytics tools.

What can’t be measured, however, is the brand recognition that’s generated, which also indirectly—and in the long run—improves search engine rankings, solely because brands that are able to establish themselves as trusted authorities rank higher in search results.

This can be potentially significant for smaller brands, because the size of the brand is irrelevant when it comes to consideration as a trusted authority. What counts is brand recognition and trust, which comes with regular publication of quality content, and an active and engaging social profile.