We’ve discussed some of the relationship between social media and SEO strategy before, but now it’s time to take a closer look at one of the more puzzling aspects of social posts: The Hashtag. Our previous tips for great hashtags understandably left some wondering just how hashtags work in the grand scheme of SEO and page rankings.
There are generally two approaches taken to hashtags: Make them up on the fly, or use research to find the most popular hashtags out there. Both can be dangerous if not used in moderation: In short, customize hashtags to your brand. Now let’s look at what a good hashtag can and can’t do…
Remember, while we can make educated guesses about what Google and other search engines are doing, no one has direct access to the algorithms they use, so it’s difficult to be sure about some aspects of ranking unless Google comes out and tells everyone the details. One thing that everyone wants to know is just how social signals – such as Likes, reports, comments, and hashtags – affect website page rankings.
Google has proven a bit untrustworthy here. Back in 2010 the company reported, via Matt Cutts, that Google does take into account social signals, and various studies began picking apart what signals had the most effect. Then, a few years later, Cutts reported that Google doesn’t factor in social signals (Kissmetrics has a great discussion of this back and forth). Everyone was immediately confused and upset, and there are still arguments about whether Google actually uses social signals and to what extent.
How does this affect hashtags? Not much. Even when everyone assumed Google was looking at social media, hashtags barely made it onto important lists of signals. At most, they counted as keywords along with the rest of the text in social media posts, but were far outclassed (again, as far as SEO studies could determine via guesswork) by shares, backlinks, comments, Likes, and the presence of a post on multiple media sites. Everything taken into account, hashtags were assumed to be “seen but not heard” – and now that seems even more likely.
It’s tempting, then, to ignore hashtags as frivolous – and they do get pretty frivolous. But here are three things to keep in mind about hashtags and how they will affect SEO campaigns, often in positive ways.