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The Rise of Social Media SEO: How Consumer Search Behaviour is Changing

Content Marketing

It’s undeniable. Social platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest are overtaking Google as THE research tool of choice and even Google’s Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan concedes.

But let’s clarify something before we get into the nitty gritty – YES, social media can benefit brand visibility in many ways, but NO, it doesn’t directly affect rankings. Ultimately, social media works towards the same goals as SEO – serving the user with the most relevant content to answer their query. But, in 2022, social media has an edge because the content it serves is immersive, feels ‘human’ and is in visually rich formats like video.

Read on to learn about social media in SEO, why it is beneficial to SEO and how social platforms are search engines in themselves.

How Social Media Can Improve SEO Rankings 

It may sound contradictory to what we just said above, but yes, social media can improve your SERP visibility, share of voice and brand recognition. How, you ask? Social media content can rank and be served as a result on Google and can therefore help your brand’s overall visibility on Google.

As with most things in marketing, it all comes back to content (I would say this as Head of Content at Passion!). When a brand publishes informative content on their website and shares it on social media, it creates ‘positive signals’ that point back to the brand and to the website, and builds interactions across their online journey. Google recognises this as a good thing and indexes the website higher, meaning it’s served more consistently in searches. 

The key takeaway here? Make sure you have a content marketing strategy that’s focused on the creation of content that is informative, keyword-driven and answers search intent that is amplified across relevant social media platforms frequently and with strategic intention

Social Media as a Search Engine 

In 2022, social media platforms like TikTok, Pinterest and Instagram are being used as discovery tools in their own right, particularly by Millennial and Gen Z demographics. As we mentioned, Google’s own Senior Vice President has acknowledged that these digitally-native generations, who have grown up with smartphones, are looking for (and expecting!) more immersive and personalised results when searching for the latest restaurants to visit, brands to shop and cities to travel to. And for this audience, the results displayed are more engaging and importantly, shareable, on social media. 

Let me illustrate with an example: if you Google ‘things to do in London’, the results will be technically on-point and likely include listicles and reviews from publishers like Design My Night and Time Out London, as well as generic recommendations for landmarks like the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. 

But, arguably, travellers in 2022 are looking for unique experiences that feel personally recommended by locals and people immersed in the culture. Enter TikTok and Instagram. When we search  ‘things to do in London’ on TikTok, the top results range from a roller skating and bowling arcade in Queensway and a dining experience at The Murder Express in Bethnal Green to bottomless cake brunches in Battersea and an indoor theme park in Camden – all in exciting ‘feels like I’m there’ video format. 

With such engaging, current and ‘savable’ content available, it’s clear why platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest have become the tool of choice for discovery

TikTok SEO: What makes TikTok a good discovery platform? 

Brimming with user-generated content (UGC)about every subject under the sun, the beauty of TikTok – and the key to its success as a search engine – is that it’s perceived to serve more human-centric content as if it was recommended by a friend. Research shows that even back in 2019, 79% of people surveyed stated user-generated content highly impacted their purchasing decisions. In 2022, it’s clear that UGC is the digital peer-to-peer recommendation and arguably one of the most authentic and influential forms of advertising. 

Instagram SEO: What makes Instagram a good discovery platform? 

Over the years Instagram has become a reputable and profitable platform for generating both brand awareness and sales. Given the over-saturation of creators, brands and content on the platform, having a clearly defined strategy, strong branding and optimised content is more important than ever. According to Instagram’s own research, more than 70% of shoppers use the platform to research, discover or consider their next purchase – facts are facts, people.

Pinterest SEO: What makes Pinterest a good discovery platform?

One stat sets Pinterest above all others when it comes to discovery – according to research by Hootsuite, 97% of top searches on Pinterest are unbranded, meaning users are looking for new ideas, products and information. And talk about a crossover success; apparently, 86% of Pinterest users also use Instagram, so if your content performs well on Instagram, it’ll likely perform well on Pinterest.

A brief note on YouTube

We can’t talk about social media SEO without mentioning the big dog: YouTube. Yes, YouTube is partially a social media platform because it’s populated with content creators who have followers and can build a community. But YouTube should also be seen as a search engine – so having an SEO strategy heavily driven by fundamental search engine optimisation tactics, from developing a specific keyword strategy to optimising your videos, adding transcriptions and using tags, is important. Keep your eyes peeled for a guide to YouTube SEO, coming soon!

Best Practices for Social Content Optimisation

In order to get your social media content ‘ranking’ on the platform, you should use SEO tactics, like keyword research and defining user intent, when researching the topic, writing the post description and generating the captions for video, if relevant. But above all, you should focus on creating content in a way that feels natural and human-first, not robotically keyword-focused. 

Here are our top five tips to create or optimise content for key discovery platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest. 

  1. Make sure your profile is optimised BEFORE you begin creating content – Ensure you have keywords in your bio, a tracked link to your website and a sensical username people can spell and find.
  2. Conduct keyword research – Think about what you want your video to rank for, including the keywords, then take those keywords and add them individually to the platform’s search bar. The displayed results are the terms people are searching for, either directly related to or adjacent to your keyword. They can be added to your video to capture more search traffic 
  3. Think about what you’re saying (and how you’re saying it) – TikTok and Instagram automatically generate captions based on what you’re saying, so make sure you’re speaking as concisely as possible and say exactly the words you want to rank for within the first three seconds of your video (quick, we know!).
  4. Double-check your native text – ‘Native text’ simply refers to the platform’s in-app text editing feature. Whatever copy you add to your video using the platform’s native text will also help you to rank, so make sure your spellings are correct and include all the keywords you want to be discovered for.
  5. Include a post caption – A sometimes overlooked but essential ranking element! If possible, the first few words of your caption should include the keywords you want to be discovered for and similarly with your hashtags, make sure they’re the exact keywords or at a minimum, are highly relevant to your topic. They will help you capture a wider, more informational search intent.

In conclusion, it’s always going to be a combination of efforts that improve organic performance, but hopefully, we’ve shown here that social media may help improve rankings and is a viable discovery platform in its own right, and should be approached with a strategic SEO mindset

Interested to find out what Passion could do for your social media strategy? Get in touch with our content and social media experts today – and consider taking a look at our reviews. Peer-to-peer recommendation is important to us!