When Lance Concannon of social media monitoring and measurement company Meltwater asked me to write a few paragraphs for him on whether social media has an impact on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), I immediately thought I should ask him to give me a less contentious subject, such as Brexit, whether Marmite is a good thing, or which religion is, actually, right. 

Wars have been waged online between social media and SEO experts on the impact of social media activity on search engine ranking positions for much of the last 8 or so years. For every moment where one side definitely seems to have won the argument (Matt Cutts saying Google does not use social media to influence search results in 2014) the scales soon shift in another direction (Google adding Twitter results to search results in 2015). 

From what I've seen, there definitely does not seem to be a direct, provable casual link between social media activity and improved search engine ranking positions. But there is correlation found by a number of studies. From experience in the fields of SEO, PR and Marketing over the last few years, here's what I've personally seen, which may be of benefit: Social media is a goldmine for ideation of link-able content - 

Using social media to source content ideas - trending topics, finding issues people are talking about, sharing and engaging with most online is a great place to start for ideas for your blog posts, articles, research or other online content. If people are talking about it, and engaging with it on social media, chances are they'll engage with you on your perspective on your owned channels. And hopefully link back from their domains. Which IS good for SEO. The other way that social media can help is in giving you a platform to debate (politely, please), discuss and test ideas out, before going to the trouble of spinning 800 words up on a subject no-one cares (or shares) about...

Sticky traffic, via Google Chrome, is good for your SEO -  Google still essentially works on the citation principle - the more (quality) sites which link to your content, the better. Links to content are a sign of authority and relevance. But, Google and Bing have said that they don't use sharing of links on social channels as a *direct* ranking factor for their respective search results. However, if people are sharing links to your content online, and clicking on these within Google Chrome and spending time on your site, this is sending an important signal to Google about the quality of the content. Traffic, and quality, sticky traffic with a decent dwell time is something Google pays attention to. 

Social media profiles appear in search engine results pages, and help give you a strong "page one" for your brand - Most companies, particularly those in the earlier stages of growth and development, want to have a strong page one for their brand, which features their website, recent news about the business, a knowledge pack, Glassdoor ratings, Wikipedia page and, ideally, social media profiles for LinkedIn and Twitter, for example. Consumer brands would also want Facebook and Instagram there, too. And, ideally, no negative comments, reviews or news stories. Strong, regularly updated and engaged with social media accounts help to occupy a slot on page one, and give greater depth and context to your brand for people looking for you online. And help push anything potentially negative further down or off of page one...

Social media is a fantastic way to ideate, create and distribute content, to give you the best opportunity to find the thing that people are most interested, in, and create content to address it and reach them with it, and take them back to your domain as site traffic. Ultimately, whilst I might be able to tell you that Brexit is definitely a bit of a mess, Marmite IS delicious, and "Jedi" is unquestionably the religion for me, it's up to you to make your own mind up, from experience, where you sit on the great social media and SEO debate.