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We’ve been talking a lot about SEO lately. That's because it’s hugely important, and you absolutely can’t afford to neglect it; after all, Google basically runs the internet, and if you aren’t optimized for their search algorithms, you might as well not be online at all.

But that’s not all there is to SEO.

Contrary to widespread belief, Google does not (and cannot) index every single tweet in the universe. There are over a billion and a half Facebook users and over 500 million tweets a day, and even Google’s vast resources aren’t infinite; every single status update and tweet is a separate webpage that has to be indexed and cross-referenced, and it’s simply not realistic for Google to bring all that together into a meaningful, data-rich picture with accurate authority rankings. So, as Google has repeatedly said, they do not factor social signals into their search results; this point was reiterated as recently as August 2015.

That is not to say that social media doesn’t have a place in an SEO strategy. It’s just not the one we thought it was.

Google crawls social media sites for data the same way it crawls any other website; it just can’t crawl everything, so it can’t reliably assign these pages authority and use them to rank other pages. That means that individual tweets and social accounts can turn up as relevant search results in themselves, which (especially because of how Google treats Google+) can help legitimize a business and provide users with additional resources.

But the real SEO value for social accounts comes from an unexpected direction: they’re valuable when you bypass Google entirely.

Social, as Neil Patel puts it, is the new SEO. That’s not an overly dramatic statement, either; people use social media in a lot of the same ways they use Google: to find answers to their questions. Social media channels are search engines, so we have to be very conscious of what we say and do on these platforms.

This can play out in a few ways; people very frequently discover brands because they saw a tweet or a Facebook post after searching for content. The volume of users discovering and interacting with content on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and everything else under that green glowing digital sun is extraordinary.

Companies need to expand their definition of SEO to incorporate social search, because it is rapidly becoming one of the primary ways that people find information online. People who find a brand via social search don’t turn up in search engine rankings, but they are interacting with and engaging with a brand in very real, concrete ways that need to be taken into account.

And these kinds of search are completely, fundamentally different.

Social search taps into a user’s existing social relationships to drive swarms of qualified leads to all sorts of businesses. Facebook, for example, offer highly personalized and individually curated search results that build upon existing social networks – which improves relevance to the end user. That’s instant search on any topic, any business, any individual, any single idea or concept that is totally disconnected from Google in any meaningful capacity – and is powered by the single largest human network ever constructed.

Twitter’s search engine is even more responsive, and arguably more powerful, driven by the raw force of billions of conversations. A Twitter search result immediately drives you to the single most talked about, relevant piece of content there is at that moment regarding it. It’s short-lived, but it’s happening constantly, and that churn is an incredibly valuable place to live.

So what does all this mean?

It means that SEO doesn’t begin and end with organic search engine traffic, and social needs to be prioritized to the same extent. Because Google simply cannot process everything on social media, we simply don’t have access to that stuff when we focus entirely on Google search results.

And that means we are not taking advantage of the most important paradigm shift in human communication the planet has seen in generations.

The Internet isn’t just a bunch of webpages anymore, and it hasn’t been for some time. It’s people interacting with each other and with content on a massive scale, and we are simply ignoring all this data and how people access it. Posting once or twice a week on Facebook doesn’t help. We have to be participants. We have to get active.

If we want to own social, we have to be social. Indisputably, massively social. We can’t game this system. We can’t trick twitter with the right search terms. We have to get involved and own these conversations right at the root, or this will pass us by.

There’s no way to guarantee success, because there’s no search algorithm we can game or exploit. We simply have to be available, interesting, and useful.

And that is a hard lesson to learn.