Growth experts at social networks don’t think about SEO the way we might do for a SaaS company.

They face a unique set of challenges, such as getting Google to crawl and index billions of pages or render heavy JavaScript frameworks, and that takes a different mindset.

While only a small subset of sites deal with these challenges, there is a lot to learn from observing how social networks excel at SEO.

In this post, you’ll learn how Facebook and LinkedIn drive billions of search visits and how Instagram has a significant competitive advantage over TikTok.

I will leave Twitter out because of their partnership with Google, but cover Snapchat’s bare potential to drive more adoption through SEO.

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Facebook

Ironically, social networks don’t get social traffic.

They get traffic from direct (majority), organic (second), and referral (third) channels, and rank predominantly for brand names like CNN, Walmart, and Google.

Facebook’s traffic sources

The SEO professionals at Facebook are doing a great job at growing organic traffic (33 million top 10 keywords in October).

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Facebook raked in 16 billion global visits in October, of which 10.8 billion came from direct and 2.3 billion from search (data from SEMrush).

Keep in mind that this captures only a fraction of users because most use the Facebook app.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOFacebook’s top 10 keywords

Facebook’s main challenge is making sure all pages are indexed and crawled.

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The problem is that Google won’t create a Facebook account and crawl all posts, profiles, and pages.

As smart SEO pros know, the solution is HTML sitemaps or “indices” of the most important content.

Facebook links to those indices in the footer of the homepage.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOFacebook’s homepage footer links

Facebook has indices for more than 4 million popular pages.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOFacebook’s page directories in Google’s index

Each of them carries a massive amount of internal links.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOA Facebook page index example.

Really smart SEO professionals also create cross-categories in their taxonomy (the logic by which information is structured).

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Facebook hasn’t just grouped pages alphabetically, but also by business category.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOFacebook’s business categories

Those same directories exist for over 1.9 million people, 3.2 million places, 340,000 groups, 765,000 jobs, 63,000 games, 83,000 local lists, 1.5 million businesses, and 1,300 fundraisers.

LinkedIn

Social networks are two-sided marketplaces of users and ads.

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LinkedIn has a SaaS offering as well, which is not the only way the job network sticks out: LinkedIn doesn’t just link to indices but to directories in the footer.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOLinkedIn’s footer links to directories

They have 27,000 of them and link to subdirectories like /salary/, /school/, or /jobs/.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOLinkedIn’s school directory

LinkedIn doesn’t get as much traffic as Facebook – the market is smaller – but grew steadily over the last years and achieved an organic traffic share twice as high as Facebook’s (29% versus 14%).

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Instagram Versus Tiktok

Even though TikTok has almost as many users as Instagram, its organic traffic doesn’t come close.

Even when comparing TikTok to Youtube, the same outcome applies.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOInstagram’s top 10 keywords

Instagram follows the same strategy as Facebook and LinkedIn for indexing its massive corpus of pages.

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They go even further and put Googlebot in front of unique taxonomy: cities and hashtags.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOInstagram’s homepage

TikTok fails to adapt its framework to Google’s rendering requirements.

The result is easy to see when you visit the app with JavaScript turned off: Google can’t crawl, index, and rank TikTok’s content.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOTik Tok’s discover page (JavaScript turned off)

Snapchat

Where is Snapchat in all of this?

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I highly respect Snapchat for its grit and innovation.

However, it’s an anti-example of social network SEO.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOSnapchat’s top 10 keywords

Though snapchat.com has grown over the recent years, a lot comes from the /add subdirectory, which only shows profile QR codes.

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Snapchat could add a lot more information about its users to profile pages and give search engines more information to understand their relevance.

That’s one reason why Snapchat ranks below Instagram and Facebook for high-volume name searches.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOSnapchat’s ranking for “Ana Lorde”

Another missed opportunity is the story feed, which has no taxonomy structure and no internal linking modules.

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It’s just a plain feed that doesn’t give Google much to index, render, and rank.

How Social Networks Drive Billions of Search Visits with SEOSnapchat’s stories feed

Snapchat could go as far as to create a directory out of its maps feature (maps.snapchat.com) and list local stories by city.

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I think it’s a gold mine and could drive massive adoption of the app.

Organic Growth: A Different Set of Principles

The thinking and execution of organic traffic growth for sites like social networks are what I call “organic growth” (organic traffic + growth).

Instead of cheap “growth hacks,” organic growth is a specific set of principles that apply to companies with user-generated content or a public “inventory” (products or information).

Indexing millions of pages is only half the race.

The other half is dealing with rendering frameworks that scale apps over billions of pages.

It involves close work with engineers, product managers, designers, and running experiments that impact the logged-out user and machine experience.

And, it demands a tight set of KPIs.

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Observing, understanding, and learning such principles allows us to find and scale growth levers for our own sites.

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, December 2020





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