Designing your way to a better social signal

Social media is one of the most empowering forces in the modern world. Whether it’s driving political change from the bottom up or keeping friendships together across continents and oceans, it’s transforming the way that we live.

This is as true in search engine optimisation (SEO) as in any other part of life. Social signal is the big rising trend in SEO, and good design is central to getting it right.

Why social signal matters

While the algorithms behind search engine rankings may not be open to the public, it’s clear that social media outcomes – your shares, your likes, your followers, friends and circles – all feed into your search engine rankings. Google, which only a few years ago left Facebook largely untouched, now takes account of a broad spectrum of social networking sites.

Social signal of course feeds into backlinks, one of the biggest factors in SEO. If people are sharing links to you, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or any of a number of other sites, then that’s more back links to your site, and that contributes to a higher ranking.

But there’s something else as well, the actual social side of social networks. A strong social signal means you are more connected to your customers. It allows you to be more responsive to their needs, and allows them to feel like they can reach you. This adds to all those likes, links and other contributions to your ranking.

Visible value

The best way to increase your social presence is by providing value through your site, and by making that value instantly clear when your pages appear on social media. This can be tricky to achieve. Most social media have limitations around what will be visible, such as Twitter’s 140 character text limit. Good design is therefore crucial.

Think carefully about which images will appear on each page, and where. Which of them will show when the site is shared through Facebook, through Twitter, through Pinterest? What image or design trick have you used to make your site appealing through those formats?

Think carefully too about how much text you put on the page and where. Which piece of text will Facebook show? What are your 140 Twitter characters, and why will they make people want to read more? The better your page presents itself on social media the stronger your signal will become.

What people see in the first instant after they click your link will also matter. We see hundreds of links a day on social media, click on a select few, read even fewer. If the very top of your page grabs readers then they are more likely to carry on reading and so to share. If not then your signal is instantly weakened.

Customer focus

Social media create a pull system for customers to get content, not a push one driven by producers. Your potential customers skim through the different options available and pick out those that appeal to them, not the ones you want them to read.

This means that, in designing your site, you need to stay focussed on the desires of your customers rather than your business. You might want them to go to your store, but unless they’ve already decided to buy from you that’s not the thing to show in your social signal. Design your pages to show customers interesting content in a pleasing way and they’ll come to you. Getting them to the store or the bookings page can follow from that.

Social design

As people grow up with social media, social signal is going to become ever more important. Design is a big part of that, so make sure that you’re designing to support your social signal.