Since most of the social sharing is done by power users, you can’t get overly fixated on exactly how much these signals will do directly for your rankings, but know that taken as a whole it is a powerful and authoritative realm of signals you just can’t ignore. Any answer to exactly how signals are passed is highly debatable due to the secrecy of the search engine algorithms, but I believe that social signals have both some limited direct and a strong indirect impact on organic search rankings. Sometimes it might be due to causation like retweets directly being used in the Google Algorithm as a limited signal, to give a temporary boost for certain types of queries, such as when a news item gets retweeted heavily. You could then say retweets caused your rankings to get better. Other things might be more correlation, like things Google can’t see behind the Facebook wall and that are not used exactly in the algorithm, but that influence others to link to you and then lift your ranks indirectly. That would be a case of more Facebook activity correlating with better rankings but not directly causing it.
In addition, it may actually depend on the individual query as well. For example, if you have herpes and use herpes cream, you may not want to share that query as readily as one for an entertainment site that easily gets shared. So these factors are still evolving as scalable ranking factors.
Social media’s ability to generate new inbound links by improving brand awareness and visibility is one of the most important factors because links are still at the heart of Google’s search algorithm. It is also a good idea to share content that mentions you on other sites, such as press releases, YouTube Videos, SlideShare presentations, or guest blog posts.
At the July 2012 SMX Advanced conference, Matt Cutts of Google hinted that links were still the most important criteria, compared to social signals. Cutts said: “So, there’s this perception that, yes, everything will go social, or links are completely obsolete, and I think it’s premature to reach that conclusion. I don’t doubt that in ten years things will be more social, and those will be more powerful signals, but I wouldn’t write the epitaph for links quite yet.”
Where do you think social is headed in the future?