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Social Media Links – How SEO and Social Work Together for Link Building

Posted on Jul 11th, 2012
Written by Lee Odden
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  • B2B Marketing
  • Social Media Links – How SEO and Social Work Together for Link Building
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    social linkingJust about every day I do a Q and A with someone new related to Optimize, online marketing in general or about topics related to our agency’s marketing consulting practice. It might be prep for a journalist interview, blogger interview, Twitter chat or helping a friend out with a book like the Q/A below for Rob Garner (VP at iCrossing and SEMPO board member).

    Q/A is a great format since so much of search and social media based content discovery is about answering questions.  Editorial calendars for blogging are useful, but new topics add some nice flavor to the theme. Social linking for example. I don’t use that term at all, but the practices and outcomes involved are absolutely relevant to connecting consumers with brands for business.

    Here are 6 questions and answers on the fundamentals of using a social media focused approach for link attraction and acquisition.

    How do you define “social linking”? 

    I don’t really use that term but I suppose social linking most often means using social media channels to promote content that inspires social shares with links. A Tweet, Facebook status update or Pinterest pin that includes a link to the content being promoted are all examples of social links. Social shares with links = social links.

    It’s worth considering that social channels are also used to promote content to communities that include bloggers and journalists who may notice and link to the promoted source. Those are not social links per se, but they are inspired from content promoted through social channels.

    The advancement of social media and SEO integration has created a shift from seeking links purely for the potential impact on better search visibility to a content focused approach which emphasizes the impact that promoted and optimized content can have at attracting traffic directly. Social links achieved as a result of promoted content are either an equal or a secondary objective.

    How do you define the key types of social links?

    I think social links have different characteristics and so the definition depends on what you’re after.

    One marketer might look at links within social shares and discern value based on nofollow vs. those that pass PageRank because of a primary focus on traditional SEO.  Another marketer might evaluate links based on how much traffic was sent in a particular time frame, additional levels of shares of the link and overall propagation because of a focus on awareness, branding and reach.

    Other basic social link characteristics or types might include:

    • Content shared on social channels that includes a link (temporal and permanent)
    • Links contained within feeds (RSS, fire hose, syndicated)
    • Links contained on social profile web pages
    • Clean links that pass PageRank
    • Nofollow or crawler “un friendly” links
    • Shortened links/URLs

    With so many social networks using the nofollow attribute, do you see any indirect search benefits from sharing in these networks?

    The most important value from content promotion through social networks is to create awareness, interest and consideration for people that interact with the information.  People that are empowered to publish through blogging, commenting or other social content sharing may decide to act on content they’ve been exposed to through social channels in the form of a link to it.

    It’s completely up to the discretion of search engines to adhere to nofollow, or not. Search engine policies and terms of use are not something we can control, so approaching direct and indirect benefits from links within social channels should focus on the ability to affect a target audience first and foremost. Doing so in a search engine friendly way can make that effort even more effective.

    If nofollow social links are of little SEO value now, who’s to say search engines won’t value them in a different way that could be come a SEO or Social SEO asset in the future? If the links provide value to the influencers and followers we’re trying to reach and they act on those links in a meaningful, measurable way, then the most important objective is achieved.

    How much of an impact do you believe social linking is having on search engine algorithms for non-logged in and non-personalized users?

    The links contained in the millions of social shares that happen on a regular basis is too rich (in my opinion) for search engines to ignore completely. If content resonates with a community and they actively share that content at an accelerated rate, I can’t imagine why a search engine would not factor that signal for generic searches. It might not be a signal with substantial influence now for logged out users, but I suspect it will grow proportionate to the growth of social network usage.

    It’s important not to forget the ancillary impact of social shares with links that surface interesting content to people who decide to create “follow” links from their blogs, in comments or from other content sources that are outside of social networks. That’s an example of social linking that can impact search, albeit, indirectly.

    How do you view the measurement of social links, versus traditional links? 

    Social shares with links are important for driving traffic and creating awareness of content. The extent that they can be a signal for generic search or logged in search is a value too. The authority of authors that share the links, the rate and quantity of social shares and the topics associated with source and destination are all worth considering when evaluating social links.

    The reason why the link is created, the context, is as important as the distinction of social vs. traditional. A blogger might link to another web page or blog within an article that contains hundreds of words.  A link within a Tweet might only involve a handful of words. But that same link could be re-tweeted hundreds of times in a very short period of time. It’s less likely that hundreds of bloggers would write blog posts including hundreds of words within a similarly short period of time.

    The anchor text and page/domain authority of the source are important values for traditional links. The annotation (since there is no anchor text with a social link) and rate of link duplication/propagation are important values for a social link. I think there’s still value to the cumulative number of social links but not in the same way as traditional page-to-page links.

    Is there an ROI on social linking, or should marketers approach the same as link building, in the sense that it is known to be a key cornerstone for achieving higher visibility? 

    I would evaluate based on determining whether social linking is contributing to identified goals.  Social linking purely for achieving higher search visibility is a narrow view and leaves a lot of value unrealized.  Inspiring social shares of relevant and optimized content can drive direct traffic, additional waves of awareness and provide longer-term benefits for visibility through search.  New content discovery through social media often motivates a search. Brand awareness when searching can result in greater clickthroughs in the SERPs, even if the position is beyond 1, 2 or 3.