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Do Social Media Links Help Your SEO?

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Social Media

Today’s guest post is written by Norm Elrod, a contributor to Search Engine Watch, producers of the Search Engine Strategies San Francisco Conference & Expo. Norm is also a digital media consultant who blogs about his employment experiences at Jobless and Less.

Links heavily influence your rankings for a particular search term. Anybody who practices SEO, wants to learn about SEO or has ever heard of SEO probably knows this much. A few link-related factors that contribute to a page’s search ranking include:

  • Anchor text of incoming links
  • Link popularity
  • Diversity of links

Anchor text refers to the actual words in a link. Link popularity means the sheer number of incoming links. And link diversity represents the number of sites from which those links come.

A company’s search and social-media efforts can each improve the other. But what’s with all this SEO link talk? Funny you should ask. Social media offers ample opportunity to create links — lots of them, from many sites, all with the proper anchor text. It seems a social marketer could seed every social-media site with backlinks to his site, and then watch the site soar to the top of search-engine results pages for the most-sought-after keyword terms.

Seem too good to be true? It is. Social media offers some nice link building opportunities, and the potential to hit the jackpot, should a link go viral. But creating a ton of backlinks across the major social-media sites won’t improve your search rankings much, and in Google not at all.

Many of the biggest social-media sites apply what’s called the “nofollow” attribute to their outgoing links. This tells the search engine robots that periodically crawl a page and report back to not follow a given link. In other words, the SEO benefits mentioned above – commonly called “link juice” – don’t transfer over. Google strictly adheres to this; Yahoo! and Bing, less so. Users can click the link and visit the target page, but the link itself will not help the site in search results.

Facebook and Twitter use the nofollow attribute, as do YouTube, Digg and Flickr. Wikipedia, which I don’t consider a social-media site, is nofollow. Even links in the comments section of most blogs are nofollow, which makes all those spammy comments extra annoying. Most of the big social-media sites don’t pass along any direct search benefit from their high ranking.

But these sites can still provide some SEO benefit. Many social-media sites let the user have an RSS feed of the content. While links on the page are nofollow, those same links in the feed are not.

Social media is all about sharing information, and links — nofollow or not — are a major way this happens. They invite people to click. If the content is good, readers may link to it from their own site. Bloggers, especially, are always on the lookout for something to write about. And all the major blog-hosting sites – WordPress (.com), Blogger, Tumblr, etc. — do not nofollow, or “dofollow,” if you prefer. Links from hosted blogs and self-hosted blogs, if relevant, will help rankings.

Other linking options include forums and article submission sites. And let’s not forget the many less popular social-networking sites that pass along the link juice. A quick search on “dofollow sites” will bring up some good lists.

The best way to utilize social media for SEO purposes is to participate in the conversation. Have something to say, say it and link to it. Focus your efforts on the social-media options that yield results. The results may come in the form of additional traffic, better search results or both.

Image credit: Rellas, via iStockphoto