SEO for 2013- Does It Demand Social Signals or Quality Backlinks?

Geno Thampi by - 12/12/2012 7003 Views

What matters the most in 2013?

2013 SEOAgain we are igniting a debate which only Google would know the true answer. Social media signals (links, mentions and likes from social media sites) Vs the conventional SEO backlinks has become a hot topic through 2012. While the majority say social signals play a vital role in successful SEO, does this mean that the conventional SEO links are of no use and has only limited effect? As I said, only Google knows the answer! Thankfully Google has shared the answer when Danny Sullivan interviewed Matt Cutts, Head of Google webspam team during the SMX advanced in June. Barry of SearchEngineRountable posted this video snippet where Matt Cutts shares the valuable point about backlinks.

Now you know what Google values the most! But do you believe what Matt Cutts says?

Matt CuttsWhen preparing the SEO plans for 2013, I am sure that majority of the SEO experts would certainly offer more weightage to the social signals than the conventional links. However, Matt Cutts says otherwise. The big question is “DO YOU BELIEVE MATT CUTTS?” I ran through the comments posted on Barry’s article on the same topic and here is what people think about Matt:

I don't believe Matt. All my friends in social media swear social is more important than links for organic rankings. They can't all be lying..... Or maybe they are just drinking each other's koolaid. – Karen

Social signals have highest correlations with highest search ranking.It based on the relative newness of the results of networks.It had strong correlations with signals of the points. - Sanket Patel

Social metrics are easy to manipulate, i am happy that links are still the most important factor, the problem with Matt is, that he is not always telling the whole truth :( - Marije

Not only in this article, I have seen comments where people openly mention Matt as a “Liar”. No offence Matt, I am just highlighting what I saw in many articles written based around your public information shares.

Believe in Matt Cutts or not, but we did a quick research on this
We did our own research on the importance of social signals in achieving keyword rankings but the research is still immature to come to a conclusion. However, I would share what we have found so far.


  • We focused on finding the backlinks and social media popularity of the sites ranking on the top 4 results on Google for a popular keyword.
  • The top 4 results showed inner pages of 4 different websites and we did a backlink analysis and a social media popularity check for all these.


Search Position



Google +





1st Position








2nd Position








3rd Position








4th Position









As said earlier, this is limited data to come to a conclusion because; the figures about the backlinks are just the number of backlinks. The quality of these backlinks which is a very important factor is not taken into consideration.  As you see, social signals from “Twitter” seem to have a good effect on the keyword rankings.

  • The web page on the first position of the search results for our target keyword had only 122 backlinks but has 135 twitter signals which tops the list.
  • The website on the second position doesn’t have any social media signal impact but has higher number of backlinks compared to the site in the second position. While checking the quality of the links for this website, the links were from relevant and high quality sources.  Here the backlinks have an upper hand
  • The site on the 3rd position has moderate amount of social signals and moderate amount of backlinks. The quality of the backlinks on a quick look was okay as well.
  • The site on the 4th position is what the most interesting one. It obviously has lower social media signals than the site in the 3rd position but has the most number of backlinks when compared to the other 3.

The basic findings

Social Signal Comparison

Social Signals

From the social signal comparison chart, we can see that social signals are vital for good search engine rankings but not necessarily. Because, the site on the 2nd position has the lowest number of social signals compared to the others. However, gaining many social signals may be the shortest and quickest route to achieve good keyword rankings as of now.

Backlink Comparison


Comparing the backlink count between these 4 websites, the website in the 4th position has the most number of backlinks but still ranks low. Now the interesting fact is that, the website on the 2nd position has moderate number of backlinks but of high quality from organic web directories and best quality editorial content. That is the reason why the site ranks well even though there isn’t any considerable number of social signals.

So here is the immature conclusion…
We are digging deep into all these findings to come to a solid conclusion on this debate and would be soon publishing the results at our SIM LABS. Right now on a quick look, it seems quality backlinks from top sources still have good effectiveness in terms of keyword ranking. The site in the second position is the best example for that. Social media signals seem to play a vital role in getting an immediate boost in the search engine rankings as well.  The website in the first position is a good example for that. Finally, the website on the 4th position proves that the number of backlinks doesn’t matter at all. To be precise, 3167 random backlinks are equivalent to 745 top quality backlinks.

The biggest challenge in 2013 would be to find a balance between top quality backlinks and good number of social media signals. Below you would find the ratio of social signals and backlinks that each site has. Backlinks are being built by website for almost a decade now and it would take another decade (as Matt Cutts said) for social media signals to overtake backlinks.

We have planned to implement a perfect balance of social signals and backlinks in all our SEO packages for 2013. So, what is your SEO strategy for 2013? More social signals or more backlinks? Share your thoughts!

Category :

SEO News

Tags :

SEO 2013, SEO packages, backlinks, Social Signals

About Geno Thampi

Geno Thampi Not a born Shakespeare! But I still write articles and blogs to share my ideas and thoughts on SEO and SMO. Being a part of SEO research team of SubmitINme, I keep my ears and eyes open, and the pen ready to grab, write and share trending topics in search engine .... more info