Does Facebook Activity Impact SEO?

In today’s post we are going to review the data we (Stone Temple) have assembled on the potential for Facebook actity to impact Google rankings. This is a follow up to the prior study we did to evaluate if Google uses Google+ Shares as a ranking factor. Let’s dig in!

Does Facebook Affect Google SEO?

Google Visibility into Facebook Likes

When you Like a web page it does not show up on your profile. Google has no access to see what you have Liked. This means that Google cannot tell when a respected authority has endorsed something via a Like or not [Tweet This]. They can, of course, execute the Javascript for Like buttons on a page, but once again, they can’t tell who has Liked the page. In other words, a Like purchased from Fiverr looks just the same to Google as a Like by the pre-eminent authority on a topic.

So while Google can load the total number of Likes a page has, it cannot evaluate the quality of those Likes, making the information useless. In fact, every single one of those Likes could have been purchased on Fiverr.

Back in September we published a study where we attemped to directly measure the impact of Google Plus Shares on Ranking. This study showed that there was no clear evidence that the shares in isolation impacted non-personalized search results.

At the time we also ran two tests related to Facebook. One drove a large number of Likes to brand new pages on established domains, and the other shared brand new pages on established domains via Facebook. In both cases, the Liked or shared pages had no links to them, including internal links, and there was no other means for Google to discover the pages other than Facebook.

In the Like test, we obtained a large number of Likes to 2 different web pages on 3 different domains, for 6 total test cases:

Facebook Study Like Counts

As you can see, we drove a considerable number of Likes to each page. About 50 or so from real people we knew, and the rest from Fiverr. The result? None of the pages were ever crawled or indexed by Google. None[Tweet This!]

Does Google Index Facebook Shared Content?

Great question. You can intuitively sense that this may have more value. A share implies more commitment by the person doing the sharing, and public Facebook pages and profiles can be crawled by Google. We attempted to test this as well. We asked over 50 people we knew to share a different set of test pages, but as you will see in the screen shot below, we had limited success:

Facebook Study Share Counts

We were only able to get 7 to 11 shares per article, including from Debra Mastaler, Heather Lloyd-Martin, and Clark Taylor.

As with the Like test, there was no sign of the pages getting crawled or indexed. However, the number of signals (shares) was small, and the profiles, while real, and public, were not highly authoritative. This may have led to the pages not getting crawled or indexed. This is what led to our performing the next test, which is described below! But first, an analysis into Google’s visibility into your Friends.

Google’s Visibility Into Your Friends

Of course, this is only relevant to public profiles, but if your profile is public, Google can see your Friends link. Here is how it looks in the source code for your profile page:

Facebook Friends Link Source Code

If you click on that link and go to the next page, on the initial load of the source code via a laptop/desk top computer, the page will show 20 of your friends, and that is all. Here is a sampling of people from my profile:

Facebook Friends on Display

To get more Friends shown, you need to scroll the page down, and when you do that, Javascript executes that pulls some additional Friends up and displays them. As you scroll down more, more and more Friends are loaded. It is possible for Google to get the entire Friends list in an automated way, but they probably don’t because of the nature of the Javascript. There is no separate version of the page for users without javascript.

However, on the mobile version of the Facebook site, there is a clean link on the Friends page to “show more friends”. This is a simple text link and it is not scrolling dependent. We can’t conclusively decide that Google is pulling this data, but clearly if they are motivated to get this data they can. For that reason, for purposes of this article, we will assume that they do!

Thanks to Aimclear’s CTO, Joe Warner, for his help with the analysis into Google’s visibility into a user’s Friends!

How Likely is Google to Index Facebook Posts?

Another great question. The reason it is interesting is because they need to index the post for it to potentially be a ranking factor. Well they certainly index a LOT of Facebook posts:

Facebook Indexes More Than 1.8B Posts!

1.87 billion indexed posts sure seems like a large number. But, we don’t know how many Facebook posts there are, so we decided to measure indexing another way. The approach we used is that we looked at a large number of posts (40) across 85 highly prominent Facebook profiles. These are profiles for people who have large numbers of Likes and a strong PageRank for their page, and are therefore more likely to be seen as authoritative. For each profile we looked at the following:

  1. Their last 10 posts
  2. 10 posts that were 3 months or older
  3. 10 posts that were 6 months or older
  4. 10 posts that were 12 months or older

In addition, we separately tracked whether or not the posts were simple text posts, posts that included a link, posts with one or more images, or posts with videos to see if that has any impact on Google’s indexing behavior.

The results were fascinating to say the least! Of course, it must be pointed out that 340 posts represents a relatively small number of posts. However, we deliberately picked more prominent profiles so they would be ones that Google was more likely to pay attention too. Here are the results!

Indexing of the Last 10 Posts

The most recent 10 posts are interesting because they should help us understand if Google is treating Facebook posts as an indicator of news. If it is, it should index these quite heavily and quickly for that matter, but that does not seem to be the case [Tweet This!]. Here is a summary of the data.

Indexing of Last 10 Facebook Posts

Note that the additional 4 pie charts are classifications of the posts, as follows:

  1. “Images” indicates that a single image or an album was shared in the post.
  2. “Links” indicates that the post includes a link in it. This is interesting as it could be used as an endorsement in the same fashion as a traditional web link.
  3. “Text” is for those posts that consists solely of text.
  4. “Videos” as you would expect is for those posts that contain a video

Indexing of the 10 Posts that are Three Months Old

The following chart, and the next two charts after that, are intended to see if there are material changes in indexing over time, starting with posts that are 3 months old:

Indexing of 3 Month Old Facebook Posts

Indexing of the 10 Posts that are Six Months Old

Indexing of 6 Month Old Facebook Posts

Indexing of the 10 Posts that are One Year Old

Indexing of 1 Year Old Facebook Posts

Indexing of All Posts

Finally, we summarize all the posts we tested:

Facebook Indexing Study Totals

For those of you that want the gory details, you can see the full spreadsheet here. I am not promising this spreadsheet is easy reading, so be prepared for a time commitment to figure it out, but I offer it up for full disclosure purposes!

Conclusions

Let’s keep this simple and offer a summary of conclusions:

1. Clearly Google does not use the Like data. They don’t have it, except for raw aggregate numbers to which they can attach no value. This conclusion is supported by the test we did to see if 800 or more Likes attracted Google’s attention. It did not.

2. Our Attempt to Directly Measure Indexing and Ranking of Facebook Shared Links Was Inconclusive. We just did not have enough participation to be sure of the results. However, the data we did have showed that Google did not even crawl the pages based on Facebook shares. This is an indicator that Google does not use this either, but we can’t take that one to the bank.

3. If Your Profile is Public, Google Can See Who Your Friends are if They Want. They need to crawl the mobile version of Facebook to do so, but it is certainly available to them.

4. Google Does not Index All Shares on Prominent Profiles. Even for megastars, Google’s indexing of their posts is inconsistent. Under 60% of all their posts are indexed. Interestingly enough, they do index 85% of the posts that contain links, but still not 100%.

5. Query Deserves Freshness Behavior is Not in Evidence. There is no material evidence to show that posts are more likely to be indexed when they are new (and then dropped from the index later). The only interesting exception is images.

My net conclusion – Google doesn’t use Facebook as a discovery, indexing, or ranking factor. [Tweet This!]

You can, of course disagree with me. Some of you will. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Comments

  1. Luis Alberto says

    Great study, although one could argue that the fiver likes drove down the quality, but I lean towards your conclusion. Looking forward to your Twitter analysis, that should prove to be an interesting one as well!!! ;)

  2. says

    An interesting post Eric, thanks for sharing. I agree with you about G using Facebook for indexation, we found similar things. Twitter on the other hand… wow it’s faster than trackbacks.

    Speaking from personal experience I would say that Facebook comments & shares DO (or did at the time I looked into year or so ago) impact SEO performance. I once found a MASSIVE manual Facebook spam network for a very competitive vertical in the UK car sector. They were pretty much only doing Facebook spam at the time (no other links/ content) as far as I could see. Anyway we were tracking both the Facebook spam and rankings when one day the Facebook spam was all deleted and within a week the site fell off the side of a cliff. Not 100% sure if this was causation though. It’s a fascinating subject!

    Martin

  3. Michael Stricker says

    Thanks, Eric, I really appreciate the effort that goes into each experiment! One wonders, had discovery not been an issue, and all other factors being equal, would Likes then become a factor? As Luis says above, I am eager for Twitter tests, as I recall some early Tweet button analyses indicating accelerated discovery, indexation and rank attainment when Tweets were the sole prop. Thanks again for your generosity!

  4. says

    Well written article! All of the findings align with results I have seen in my own tests as well. I agree with your conclusions. Thanks for sharing them! Cheers, Warren.

  5. says

    Thanks for cutting through the hype and putting these theories to the test. People love to say what a big factor “likes” are in rankings, but this study blows that BS out of the water! Also interesting to see that images, which do so well on Facebook, are often not indexed. Really helpful data.

  6. says

    Really interesting post Eric. I’d be curious to see a similar study carried out in Bing. Since we know Bing and Facebook are in cahoots, and search results can already be personalized with the help of Facebook, I’d love to see how likes, shares, etc. play a part in just every day indexing of content.

  7. says

    Interesting, Eric. I agree with your findings, in fact I think they make perfect sense. Given that Google’s access to FB is limited, it wouldn’t make sense for them to utilize that limited data for ranking purposes, although discovery would seem to be fair game… puzzling.
    I find it interesting that images and videos are significantly less impacted. Maybe that’s just a reflection of machine cycles.
    Thanks for taking the time to do this and share it, Eric. I’m eager to see the Twitter stuff, too.

  8. Dan White says

    Interesting study & results to be sure. One other “variable” that might be useful to study is the increasing use of Facebook signin (also Twitter and other major SM) and subsequent comments by those users on websites, whether they have any more or less impact that non-Facebook ones. I suspect not , it may just be a convenience for users and a way for the website to be able to collect more data on their visitors.

  9. says

    This aligns with what I had previously suspected. Google and Youtube seem to be where the timeline of our future of technology and business is headed where facebook seems to help for business, however is fading out like myspace.

  10. says

    Great work Eric (as always). Having never proven, or believed in the Facebook “like” influence on Google, I appreciate the investment you’ve made to demonstrate it publicly. Social queues impact search, but clearly the belief that shares on Facebook improve visibility on Google is misplaced.
    G+ and YouTube are much more likely to influence visibility.
    Thanks for sharing your findings!

  11. says

    I found this posting here by chance. And while I feel that the size of the sample is way too small to allow for a definate anwser on the topic, I think that the overall conclusion is correct. Given the strong emphasis Google puts on structured data and authorship to evaluate content and links it seems evident that likes and content postings on facebook or elsewhere, which can not truely be linked to any author or publisher at the moment, will effect rankings in search engine results.

    This is not so much a question of statistical evidence rather than logic conclusions from what Google says about where it wants to take its service. Anything a website does to support these goals will help it with its rankings. The rest will receive a neutral treatment even if they are on a 1bn+ user platform with 500,000 fans, an average of 10,000 likes per post and 2,000 sharings. There should be no need to have to prove with numbers what is dictated by sheer logic.

  12. says

    Thanks Eric, I would have assumed this and only because Google and Facebook seem to be arch enemies lol Therefore why would Google give any love to Facebook that they don’t have to give. Like someone above mentioned I bet if you tested these same things on Bing the results would be completely different..So as you mentioned Facebook is great for driving traffic to your site but don’t count on it bringing your rankings up in Google SERPS with a few exceptions Im sure as well.

  13. says

    Dear Eric,
    Sorry but I don’t agree with some of your conclusions.
    Statistically they are not valid.
    I branded Lena Levterova using only Facebook. Google the name and you will see thousandth results.
    One should test the Hypothesis that a person or company can be very popular on Facebook but will be excluded from Google search index and not the impact of number of Likes on indexing.
    It’s also makes sense:
    If you were working in the Google Search Algorithm team, you would make sure something like that will not be impossible.
    What do you think?
    Tzachi

    • Eric Enge says

      Hi Tzachi – you are misreading the conclusions. What we are saying is that:

      1. Google cannot know what pages you Like (there is no ability for them to access that information as Facebook does not expose it in any way).
      2. They don’t appear to index all of the posts by people with extremely popular profiles.
      3. That our belief is that they don’t treat links contained within Facebook shares as ranking signals for the pages they link to.

      None of these statements would prevent you from branding Lena Leverova. And, we do agree that Facebook profile pages can themselves rank, but the above statements don’t deal with that situation. The reason why your site and social media profiles rank is a very old fashioned one – links!

    • Darren DeMatas says

      Hey Eric – Thanks for giving back to the SEO community. Your studies help guide all of our marketing efforts.

      Tzachi – Facebook is a great branding tool. It is the largest social network and can drive tons of traffic. The study is looking at the SEO value behind FB, which seems to be minimal.

  14. Jatin says

    If google can’t read the Facebook shares & like than why many E-commerce sites which have tens & thousands of products are ranking of their product name. We this study do put some light what Matt Cutts have been saying that Google don’t use social likes & shares as ranking factor but they are & will be many which won’t agree.

    • Eric Enge says

      Hi Jatin – please read the post before you comment. I clearly say that Google CAN read Facebook shares. Likes are another matter, and Google can’t see those. To your question though, as to why e-commerce sites are ranking, it is because they have links.

  15. says

    I see that Google can index/cache Company/Business Pages? If the likes of a business page do not contribute to rankings, would the posts/links on that business page have any value?

    • Eric Enge says

      As you indicated, Likes of a business page are not going to be valued by Google because Google cannot see who it was that Liked the page. However, the business page itself can rank because that page can obtain links and Google can recognize the association with your brand. Now to your question! If you share a link on a business page, it is possible that it might be given some weight by Google,p however, we don’t know for sure. What our study showed is that even for very prominent Facebook profiles, Google does not index all of their posts (they index about 59%).

      If Google saw Facebook shared content as incredibly valuable, we would think they would index a much higher percentage of those posts. However, that is my interpretation of the data, and the fact is that it is possible that they do place *some* value on those links. There is no way to know for sure.

  16. says

    The recent changes in SEO and link building have generated a lot of interest. There are a lot of things that one can learn from this. It is time to get to work and stop making excuses. I was very encouraged by this.

  17. says

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks a lot for sharing your results. If I got correctly. the number of likes just increases the visibility of our posts in Facebook and maybe the referral traffic to our site. Is it right?

    • Eric Enge says

      Hi Azadeh – yes the likes should help you in Facebook, and you should definitely value them. I don’t know the details of the Facebook algorithm, but I would guess that they place weight on who it is that Likes the content, so I doubt there is value to getting a ton of likes even there. But getting lots of Likes from real people engaging with your Page/Site/Content is a good thing for Facebook visibility.

  18. says

    Great post Eric. Where so many articles state conclusion, I appreciate the in depth explanation as to exactly how Google looks at Facebook signals.

  19. Hobbes S Sujith says

    Great post.. need to look into it specifically the way you have done the trials..

  20. says

    Great study Eric and thanks for sharing your findings.

    I guess we might have to wait for a Facebook Search engine to reap the benefits of our activities on Facebook.

  21. says

    Interesting, thanks for sharing Mark.
    Couldn’t it be possible, in the context of the Knowledge Graph, that Google is more interested in the relationships between people (friends), than the actual data/content from Facebook?

    • says

      The problem, Rebecca, is that they really can’t see those relationships on Facebook, at least in a rich enough way that they could have confidence in the data.

      • says

        True, however 20 friends could be enough, when coupled with other data/intelligence sources they have access to for identity verification – which may be enough for them to connect the dots, create a more comprehensive understanding of who you are, who your ‘friends’ are, where you are connected…for the calculation of authority.

        I suspect they may be more interested in creating a map related to each identity than the stream of conversation between individuals. Matt Cutts recently stated in a video, that Google is not interested in indexing conversation on social platforms, but they do care about identity. Kristine Schachinger may offer additional insight here.

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