Is the Facebook Share an SEO Factor or a Hoax?

By Tad Miller | Jun 17, 2011
More Articles by Tad

Have you ever been in a room that suddenly feels like all of the oxygen is sucked out of it?  I was in a very large room at SMX Advanced last week in Seattle.  The crowd of mostly experienced SEO’s had listened to Rand Fishkin speak about the very high correlations his study found between top 30 search engine rankings and Facebook Shares to those pages.

From the very start of Rand’s introduction of this data many weeks earlier he’s absolutely been the “Correlation is Not Causation” guy with regard to his latest ranking factor report on ranking correlations – so much that some have even joked at SMX that it should be a drinking game whenever someone at the show said “correlation is not necessarily causation.”  Either way, many in the audience were very excited about the possibility of Facebook shares being a possible ranking signal with Search Engine ranking algorithms.




Enter Matt Cutts, during the afternoon session on the same stage.  Matt went out of his way in his question and answer session with Danny Sullivan to express that ‘Google can’t even see Facebook Shares’.  However, Google can see “Shares” on public Facebook Fan pages.

I had drank the “Rand Fishkin Kool-aid” and had been looking at correlations that seemed to be apparent with our own clients.  Rand’s data was actually shocking based on all previous knowledge we had about Facebook as a ranking factor, but the correlations were VERY strong.  Matt’s statement really tempered the enthusiasm of what Facebook could do for Google rankings, and rightfully so.

What we KNOW about Google and Facebook

  • Google does have access to Facebook Fan Pages and does use them for Real Time search updates
  • Google does have access to some very limited Facebook data for people that have a Google Profile that link to a Facebook profile page.  Facebook somehow believes that the information that gets passed into Google’s “Social Circles” used for Google Social Search results is somehow “scraped” by Google.  Google says “indexed” / Facebook says “scraped” you decide.
  • Google has access to what has to be thousands of “Open” Facebook profiles for Facebook users that don’t utilize any privacy settings.  But all of the shared links external to Facebook are “nofollow” links that Google isn’t supposed to follow and give any ranking credit for.

Could Google be Using ANY Facebook data to help determine Search Engine Rankings?

Yes, Facebook Fan pages are in wide use.  The last known data (August 2010) about the number of Fan Pages on Facebook said that their were over 3,000,000 Facebook Fan Pages.  At their rate of growth I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are now well over 4,000,000 fan pages today.  A recent study indicated that a Facebook Fan Page with a million fans would average 826 likes and 309 comments per post.  So they are a very relevant signal as to what people find valuable.

Google’s Webmaster Tools shows me that there are links from Facebook Fan Pages to our client’s sites.  Just check out your Google Webmaster Tools to see for yourself.  If you do a deep dive into where those links are and what the anchor text of them is you will find some interesting data.  The links we see are all shared links from our client’s sites and the link anchor text is always the page title tag of the link shared.

We have a situation where we have a couple of our clients that have hundreds of franchise / dealer locations.  Many of those individual dealers / franchisees have their own Facebook Fan pages and they frequently share the content of their parent company’s website on their Fan Pages.

What is interesting about these links is the exact Facebook URLs that Google is finding the links on.  Almost all of the links that we see in Google Webmaster Tools from Facebook Fan Pages to our client’s websites are from foreign country-foreign language versions of Facebook.  India, Japan and Spain Facebook URLs seem pretty prevalent right now in those link lists.  Why can’t Google find the regular English language .com version of Facebook to index?

To complicate the issue, some of the links I see on Facebook Fan pages are “do-follow” links that Google can index and some are “nofollow” links that Google is not supposed to index.

I do believe that there could be a significant volume of shared links that Google could be finding in indexing the millions of publicly available Facebook Fan Pages in existence.  Whether this is enough to be making the correlations to top 30 rankings in SEOMoz’s rank study look so positive for Facebook Shares as a ranking factor, I don’t know.  If it is, then it’s another instance of Google favoring large brands in search – though perhaps not intentionally doing so.

I don’t see anyway that Google could be utilizing Facebook Likes as a ranking factor.  Google can’t really see Likes on Fan Pages, Google can see shared dofollow links and follow them though.

What You Should Do About Facebook With Regard To Your SEO

If you are a large brand with multiple locations/franchises/dealerships you should try to leverage the relationship you have with those organizations to get them to share your content on their own Facebook Fan pages.  Even if Google isn’t counting these shared links in ranking algorithms it’s a good practice to do so and is a very legitimate source of significant traffic to your content.  If Google is counting those shared links then you are likely getting an SEO advantage from them.

Google may not have the keys to the kingdom when it comes to the broad universe of Facebook content (Why don’t they?), but Bing absolutely does.  Bing is using Facebook Shares and Likes from your Facebook friends to personalize search results.  But perhaps more importantly Bing is aggregating Facebook Share and Like activity as a measure of “collective IQ” and is using it as a ranking factor in a non-personalized way as well.

We have seen several instances in the last weeks where our clients keyword rankings increased on Bing and the only visible differentiator seems to be our clients high degree of Facebook Shares, Likes and Comments on the pages that rank.

Oh Rand, I'm Soooooo Drunk!

Then again “correlation isn’t necessarily causation”.   DRINK!

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  • Jason Acidre

    I think Facebook share is the most precise tool that can really measure the quality of a content, given that FB shares are commonly utilized when the page that will be shared is extremely interesting or useful (the process do consume more time than just tweeting or liking the page).

    It may not be used by Google, as they have no access to these data (blocked by FB and password-protected pages), but I do think that they are still able to parse these links through fanpages’ wall, as they are able to be accessed by web crawlers.