Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have become such titanic presences in the consciousness of frequent web surfers that it is only natural for webmasters to wonder exactly how social media affects SEO. Below is a look at the two areas social media will most likely affect when it comes to other websites.

The first major effect is backlinks. Social media is about interaction and each time someone links to a given web page, it is an indicator to search engines that a trustworthy site finds that page of value, traditionally the most heavily weighted factor in search engine rankings. Since the resulting links may seem like a very small deal to most webmasters, it is good to remember the difference between average and extraordinary. In virtually every field, the measurable difference between average and extraordinary is a few tiny percentage points. In the 2012 Major League Baseball season, the difference between the best batter in baseball and the tenth best was a mere .034, thirty-four thousandths!! In other words, every little bit counts and those minor backlinks from social sites could be the difference between a page that is #1 in search engines and one that is on the second page of results. Additionally, beyond the SEO benefit, social media sites are a pretty terrific source of direct traffic in their own right.

The second effect of social media sites on SEO is the ability to “+1” a page. The ability to quickly vote for a page is something that will undoubtedly become a larger factor in search engine rankings moving into the future. The reason there are algorithms that determine page rank is that there are so many web pages (and the number is growing exponentially) that it would be impossible for search engines to retain enough staff to individually asses the value of those pages. When someone records their approval for a page through a “like” plugin on a page, they have just done what is impossible for search engines – put a pair of human eyes on the page and found it worthy. With billions of people voluntarily doing their job for them, it is simply impossible to imagine search engines not taking advantage of this unpaid work force. As with backlinks, these likes and pluses can bring tremendous traffic direct from the social networks.

Many people dislike social networks. It is a running joke that people really do not need to know what kind of sandwich their favorite celebrity just ate. Even for those who never use social networks themselves, it would be irresponsible and foolhardy for any webmaster to ignore the impact that those networks are having on SEO and the likelihood of that impact increasing in the future.