The search industry is always abuzz about how social media can influence SEO. Social media SEO refers to how social media activities can boost your website’s organic traffic through search engines. It’s a topic that never gets old. The reason being simple: social media is important for SEO in more than one way. It not only makes your SEO activities effective but also lucrative. Yes, social media and SEO might look different, but there’s no doubt that they help each other.

However, contrary to popular belief, social media doesn’t directly contribute to SEO. In other words, social signals don’t directly help rank better. The links that you share on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest may help your brand get more exposure, but they aren’t seen by Google as a ranking signal. Now, here’s the thing: even though social media is not a ranking factor on a superficial level, it has significance if you look deeper. Indirectly, it does have a positive effect on a page’s ranking. So yes, there is a definite correlation between a site’s position in the SERPs and the number of social signals it has.

So, what is the impact of social media to SEO?

1) Social Links May or May Not Boost Your Search Rank

Social signals pertaining to a profile’s authority are out, but does Google consider links published on social accounts to be credible backlinks? When a blog post goes viral on Twitter, do those new links boost the post’s search ranking? While Cutts’ 2014 video is crystal-clear about the absence of social signals from the search algorithm. But he does say that Google crawls social websites for data in the same way that it would any other site. Yet research seems to show that social helps SEO rank.

2) Social Media Profiles Rank in Search Engines

While social shares may or may not affect a web page’s position in search listings, your social profiles definitely influence the content of your search results. In fact, social media profiles are often among the top results in search listings for brand names. Social channels can feel more personal than web pages, and they’re a great way to get a sense of a company’s personality off the bat. When researching a company user don’t know much about they typically go straight to their Twitter or Facebook page. So if a social account shows up at the top of the search results, just as likely to click on it as I would be to click on their website.

There’s no doubt that your social profiles matter to Google and especially to people who are looking for you online. A few active social channels can make the experience of getting to know your brand online more fun, engaging and personal. As such, it pays to have profiles with up-to-date info and engaging content.

3) Social Media Channels Are Search Engines Too

Nowadays, people don’t just go to Google and Bing to look stuff up; they also use social media channels to find what they’re looking for. This works in a couple of ways: First, if you’re active on Twitter, it’s entirely possible that people will discover your company’s new content distribution app after searching for content marketing-related tweets with Twitter’s search engine.

Likewise, brands that lend themselves to beautiful visual content can benefit from making their content visible in Pinterest and Instagram by using hashtags and properly categorizing their pins. Moreover, as mentioned in point #1, if someone wants to check out your company, they’re likely to open Twitter and Facebook and do a quick search to see what kind of presence you have on each channel. YouTube is also a search engine.

When searching for a brand on Facebook or Twitter it’s not uncommon to see several different profiles pop up, and it’s not always clear which one is the real deal. Marketers need to ensure that it’s super easy for users to identify their official social profiles. This may mean deleting duplicate accounts and/or clearly labeling each social account so that users understand what purpose they serve for example, accounts for HR or press versus general brand pages.

4. Not Now Doesn’t Mean Not Ever

Just because Google says that social signals don’t currently impact search rank doesn’t mean they never will. Social media shows no sign of becoming a less important part of a brand or person’s online presence anytime soon. Moreover, recent research, like the study conducted by Hootsuite, shows that search engines at least take it into account as they look for signals of authority and value. There’s no reason why social signals won’t begin to affect search rankings in the future, so smart brands will continue to build their authority in key social channels and think about social when designing their SEO strategy.