Social Media Link Building

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When it was finally confirmed that Twitter & Facebook links pass SEO value for search engine rankings, I must admit: I cringed a little.  It’s not that I didn’t see it coming.  It’s just: now that they have confirmed for everyone what many have been predicting for years, even the doubters are rushing to incorporate social media into their link building strategy.  And that worries me.

Eric Ward wrote about this a couple years ago, calling the idea of using social media for link building: “Spam 2.0”.  I think it needs repeating:

“…those of us who are in the link building business need to recognize and respect the distinct culture of social media networks. Social media is not there to be exploited for SEO. Don’t ask “what can social media do for my links”. That’s just spam2.0. Instead, ask, “what can I do to contribute to the conversation aside from link drops”. If you have nothing to add but company and/or client links, frankly, your wasting your time, and ours. If you worked for the engines, would you really trust anything about social links enough to incorporate it into a ranking adjustment? Maybe In certain cases, and for certain topics, but if you spend some time looking through the social apps, you’ll see they are polluted already by the usual suspects. “

Polluted now more than ever, I’m afraid.  And I can’t see how that will be getting any better in the near future, especially on Twitter.  So before you start revamping your Twitter and Facebook accounts in an attempt to advance your link building efforts, there’s some things you should consider first:

“Limited Situations”

Since Google admitted that they use signals from social media sites “in limited situations”,  there’s been a handful of SEO’s who are rushing around to do testing in order to determine just what the actual benefit these links carry.  What I believe they’ll find is this:  Just because you have a twitter account with 10,000 followers and you link to your site via tweeting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that link is providing any SEO value.  I might actually go as far as to say in MOST cases, they won’t.

The search engines are looking for signals of quality for the content in their index.  How far a link spreads and how influential the users are who are doing the spreading (followers ≠ influence) are going to be the big factors for what (if any) value is being passed.  There’s little doubt that a few will still find a way to take advantage if this value, but most spammers will be wasting their time.  At least, that’s my hope…

Questions about PageRank

An area of confusion of this new advancement is whether or not links from Twitter now pass PageRank.  The short answer is no, they don’t (they’re still nofollowed).  Yet the question remains: will the link carry weight similar the way PR works?  Or is it something totally different?

For example: even if you happen to be getting the link benefit from a tweet, it has been speculated that it may not only be temporary, but also page specific.  In other words: you may not be able to pass value to the rest of your site like you can with links that carry PageRank.   Just an FYI: I have little to back up this claim; further testing is needed to determine how this new signal actually works.

It’s not just about Twitter & Facebook

Social media link building doesn’t stop at Twitter & Facebook (I have plenty of evidence to back up this claim).  There are literally hundreds of social media sites & tools to take advantage of for their potential SEO value.  The problem is, even more so than on Twitter or Facebook, it’s not about adding a link and walking away.

You can submit to spam hundreds of social media sites and get little to no value from it.  Even if your content is appropriate and of acceptable quality, you still need to have some influence and a network of users for it to spread.  Otherwise you’re wasting your time.

Getting REAL link value from Social Media

Some social media bookmarking sites award submissions a direct dofollow link.  Sometimes it’s only in certain situations, like if the submission has become popular by being featured in a main category page or hitting the front page.  What I’d warn people about, however, is that it’s not the links from social media sites themselves that should be focused on.  For one, the PageRank value, if it’s passing any at all, doesn’t last  long.  Second, similarly to how SE’s are treating links from Twitter & Facebook, if they’re to take quality signals from these other social sites as well,  it’s all about how far the link spreads, and by whom.  Third, the link from the social site itself isn’t where the real SEO value comes from.

So where does this REAL link value come from?  It’s all about getting high quality linkable content in front of as many relevant webmasters & bloggers as possible:

  1. Network on appropriate social media sites & within relevant subcategories (this means being social)
  2. Focus on creating high quality linkable content designed to spread (e.g. link bait)
  3. Submit and promote your content to get it in front of webmasters
  4. Webmasters provide natural links to your content

Regardless of the added value Twitter & Facebook links pass, it’s also a great place to do this type of promotion.  In fact, when successful on Twitter, I’d argue it can be the best.  And I would still take the links you receive for having created content of value over the added power of a Twitter link any day.  But it’s a nice bonus!

Todd Heim

Todd Heim

Todd Heim is CEO, co-founder, and SEO manager of Essential Internet Marketing, LLC, an SEM and Social Media Marketing company based in Albany, NY.
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  • Nick Stamoulis

    Google (via Matt Cutts) admitted back in December that they are working to incorporate author authority into the relevancy and value of a link. It’s not just about posting link after link, it’s about WHO is posting those links. Quality content is going to attract industry leaders and other users, who in turn pass the link on to their friends. The more a link is shared, the more important it becomes in the eyes of the search engines.

    • Todd Heim

      Thanks Nick! I agree. How far a link spreads might be just as important as who is spreading it. In other words: just because a powerful twitter user tweets about a link on your site (perhaps because you paid them to?) doesn’t mean you get the added ranking value…unless the link continues to spread (e.g. retweets).

  • Glenn Ferrell

    One of the things I am intensely curious about is how Google deals with influence. Historically it seems that, as Google puts pressure on Black Hat SEO techniques, Black Hat SEOs just get more sophisticated. By contrast, it appears to take very little sophistication to ‘game’ Klout scores. For example, I am seeing very high Klout scores for a subculture of teenagers in Brazil who appear to be posting nothing but long lists of (@) mentions. I would hope that Google’s more academic staff could find algorithms that see through this kind of influence gaming.

    • Todd Heim


      Thanks for the comment. That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? HOW does google calculate user authority? It’s not all about followers. Certainly not the # of followers (Google has admitted as much), but even the quality of followers may not be enough, but how often followers retweet & engage in conversations, perhaps? I’d love to hear more theories!

  • steam showers

    Very interesting post!

    It still amazes me at the levels of Black Hat SEO techniques still taking place.

  • Samantha McCormick

    I found literally nothing of use in this post, besides the 1st and last links you mentioned. This could have been a Tweet…

  • Joanna Ciolek

    This is percisely the reason why so many small business owners will not see much of an SEO value from their social media involvement. Sure, they’ll have extra traffic and maybe even clients but it will most likely stop there. If Google cares about social authority, which makes complete sense, those small mom and pop shops will have a hard time as their involvement in social media is very limited, mostly by budgets/lack of resources.

    • Todd Heim


      I disagree, somewhat. It isn’t so much as a SMB’s involvement in social media that will be helpful (this we agree on). But they still have an opportunity to create great content that other (more influential users) will like/tweet/etc.

  • Jordan Kerr

    I think it’s an interesting discussion, but I don’t think there is any need to be so negative about the development. I think it’s a good thing.

    First of all, Google are using it for news stories (not across the ranking of all content). Isn’t that fairly sensible? The news I’m likely interested in impacts my friends, my locality, my community (all the criteria I likely have for being friends with someone on Facebook or Twitter). So I don’t think a bad thing in terms of relevance.

    If this then leads to SEOs having to think about what makes good relevant content for a segment of people, that can’t be a bad thing. If it forces companies to actually have a conversation with their customers about what they want and what they like, again not a bad thing.

    And yes, SEOs ask “what can social media do for my links”, it’s true, but that is just their perspective. Any sensible consideration will lead to the same conclusion, that you must create things of value to people so they’ll share it.

    And, no, I don’t think getting your content to the gatekeepers of link value (the webmasters and bloggers) is necessary any more. Ideas that spread and content of value is more the key than ever before. Anyone can publish and anyone can vote. Websites used to be the only “people” voting on the net, now with social networks, we all vote.

    • Todd Heim


      My negativity is only towards those who seek to spam social media for the supposed link value. Believe me, that’s all some SEO’s are after and they’ll go to great lengths to make it work for them with as little consideration on quality content as possible.

      As far as my claim that getting your “content to the gatekeepers of link value” as being more valuable refers to that SEO value only. If you are truly doing social media marketing, that value should be an afterthought (if a thought at all). So I agree.

  • Moosa Hemani

    Tedd, so far the best read on social media link building! Thank you for sharing this!!

  • Richard

    Helpful and interesting post, thanks Todd! Seems all the movers and shakers of the web e.g. Google are constantly trying to eliminate spam and useless content in favour of genuine and valuable content. Long may it continue. It does make it more difficult for people to get authority, but they’ll live! Thanks again!

  • Randy Addison

    This is certainly food for the brain! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on social link building. I started doing the process several months before but I never ever thought of doing such things in the process.

  • Generatebarcode

    In order to enhance your page rank value one needs to take benefits through social media advertising but it needs to be in right way or manner. So, it’s good if you try to get real link value from this media advertising technique.

  • Patankar Jasmine

    The above information is so useful but I want to know that what is the difference between inbound and out bound link. I wan to know about in detail.

  • smith brell

    Link building is more exciting than ever in 2009. This is where social media link building is really taking off.

  • Anonymous

    Great read on social media linkin

  • Web designer from sri Lanka

    Pls put of a list of social medai site which allow for link building