Can Social Activity Replace Traditional Link Building?

As Google continues to crack down on link building practices many site owners are left unsure of how to proceed. Could one bad link upset the algorithm? How much influence is their link building past having on their present day success? Could another update come down the pipeline that changes the game again? This fear of what may be has a lot of site owners running scared from link building. And when you couple this crack down on links with the growing influence of social signals and author authority many are starting to wonder—could social activity replace traditional link building someday? Is a Tweet worth more than a link?

Here’s what Julie Joyce of Link Fish Media had to say about that;

I’d prefer a text link but I’d accept a tweet though, because I do think that good social signals can raise a site up in the rankings even if it’s temporary, and the traffic is good. I imagine you can get better traffic from a good tweet than you can by many links on sites that no one goes to.

I think Julie makes a great point—links are still very much the bread and butter of SEO, but social links from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and so forth can send a phenomenal amount of targeted traffic over to your site. And at the end of the day which would you rather have? A decent link or 10 more unique visitors? In a perfect world every link you built would be relevant and authoritative (the kind Google loves to reward) AND it would deliver a noticeable amount of targeted traffic. But we don’t live in a perfect SEO world; some of our inbound links are less than great, and plenty of quality links on quality sites send next to no traffic. In my opinion, a strong SEO campaign needs to balance referral links that can drive traffic (but maybe aren’t on the strongest sites) with links on incredibly valuable and trusted websites that add a lot of credibility to your link portfolio.

For instance, you could write a guest blog post on a relatively small site but if it has as strong social presence and a small, but dedicated, network of followers that post could get a lot of social love and send a decent amount of traffic your way. On the other hand you could write for a site with a higher domain authority (meaning a more authoritative link) but perhaps because it’s bigger and there is more content going live everyday your individual post doesn’t get as much social love and attention as the feature post on the smaller blog. There are pros and cons to writing for both sites—one creates more valuable links, the other creates more social pull and traffic. Does that mean one site is intrinsically better than the other? Not necessarily—my advice would actually be to try and write for both sites and cover your SEO from every angle.

I imagine that Facebook and Twitter are wildly protective of their data when it comes to sharing with Google, but the search giant is assuredly taping into Google+ to see what kind of linking and sharing is going on. While there is no proof, I’d wager that Google+ activity is being weighted by the algorithm in some way, shape, or form. If Google sees a particular blog post on a quality site (with a few links back to your site) AND that post is getting heavily shared on Google+ it helps legitimize those inbound links as something more than just an attempt to bolster your link profile.

Perhaps Google will never replace traditional links with social activity, but as Erin Everhart pointed out “Links will always matter, but links without social signals could easily be coming under scrutiny.” It’s entirely possible that SEO is moving into a realm where inbound links are still wildly important, but those links need to be backed up by social authority and activity in order to “count” in your favor. In my opinion, Google wants to encourage transparency and above-the-board link building practices and one of the best ways to encourage legitimacy is to rewards those sites that use real people to help market their brand. It’s much harder to spam when your name, face, and reputation are on the line.

What do you think? Is traditional link building on the out?

About the Author

Nick Stamoulis is the President of Boston search marketing firm Brick Marketing. With over 13 years of industry experience Nick Stamoulis shares his SEO knowledge by writing in the Brick Marketing Blog, as well as guest blogging for numerous top SEO industry sites.

Contact Nick Stamoulis at 781-999-1222 or

Social Media and Your Customers: Increasing Brand Awareness through Twitter

With hundreds of thousands of new accounts created each day, Twitter is arguably one of the most powerful tools for increasing brand awareness. As the second-largest social network, it reaches millions of people every second with 400 million tweets a day.

To increase brand awareness and promote your brand on this platform, consider these simple approaches to monitoring and managing your account:`

1. Stay In Touch With Hashtags

Have you ever considered the impact of a hashtag on your company’s brand buzz? In a survey conducted by RadiumOne, an online advertising firm, 71% of the respondents used hashtags on a regular basis and 34% of them used hashtags to search for and follow brands they are interested in. With the help of hashtags, Twitter allows companies to easily track how active they are in the Twitter community. Be sure to consistently monitor Twitter for mentions of your company. Hashtags have become so popular that American Express announced a new program, Amex Sync, that will allow cardholders make purchased by using hashstags.

2. Reach Out And Engagers-jetblue-tweetBeing mentioned is one thing, but responding to those who are talking about your brand is another. Research indicates 56% of customer tweets to companies are being ignored. This is a missed opportunity. It is important to ask questions, answers questions, and acknowledge tweets regarding your company. By building a presence on Twitter, your customers will make a personal connection with your brand; this will lend to your business’s credibility and trustworthiness. One company that has mastered customer service on Twitter is JetBlue. We all know how frustrating flight delays and cancellations can be, so JetBlue acknowledged this and made it a priority not only engage with happy customers but to respond to and help frustrated customers as quickly as possible.

3. Quality Over Quantity – Use Twitter to give instant updates and insights regarding your brand, but be sure not to flood your followers with the same tedious messages. It is important to mix things up. There must be a real etiquette to your approach. Take a look at Nike for example. Nike engages its followers with interesting tweets and retweets. It pulls in its audience with messages directly related to its product but also counter-balances with tweets unrelated with its sales efforts. Nike also does a great job of showcasing future products and retweets their followers’ opinions on them. The company also has individual accounts for its subsidiary brands, including golf, running, football, and basketball. This is used to keep the messages tailored to each individual audience.

4. Incorporate Twitter into Promotionsciroc Just like with Facebook, you can run promotions on Twitter and increase awareness using Promoted Trends and Promoted Tweets. For example, Ciroc Ultra-Premium wanted to engaged Twitter users over the age of 21 to build its brand awareness and did so by creating a New Year’s Eve campaign that combined Twitter’s age screening technology with a Promoted Trend and Promoted Tweets to connect with their targeted audience. By incorporating the hashtag #CirocTheNewYear, the company launched the campaign that had the highest Promoted Trend engagement in 2012 by an alcohol brand and a 369% increase in positive brand mentions. Promoted Trends and Tweets are a great way to increase brand awareness because they will be placed where your audience can easily see them and can be targeted by keywords, interest, gender, and location.

5. Promote a Twitter Chat – Twitter chats are an excellent way to establish your company as an influencer on a given industry. They allow you to establish rapport with your audience and offer you valuable opinions. TipIt, an app that organizes your travel plans in one place, holds a monthly chat on Twitter where it discusses new topics and gives away prizes to participants. Creating a Twitter chat isn’t hard. You simply decide on a relevant Twitter hashtag and tweet about the topic at a set time and date. The key is to encourage other people to join the conversation and allow them to offer input. Post the Twitter chat on each of your social platforms and your website. You can find daily Twitter chats on different topics by visiting

What other ways have you used Twitter to promote your client or business? Tell us about your successes in the comments below.

5 Tips for Leaner, More Agile You

By Dan Leibson, Relevant Ads

Google’s recent Penguin 2.0 update affected 2.3% of English language queries. Despite significant foreshadowing during the weeks leading up to the rollout, a large number of affected websites obviously were not able clean up their link profile in time and were hit with an algorithmic link spam penalty. This is what happens when you can’t act rapidly.

Web marketing is a rapidly changing field. It’s important to have a process that allows for rapid adjustments and focuses on rapid iteration. Basically, systems are needed where experiments can be implemented and measured at the speed at which the research methodology and environment changes. As web marketing professionals in a constantly changing landscape, we can’t have processes that need to be re-done constantly while we adapt to a rapidly changing environment. For this reason, agile/lean startup methodologies are super hot topics in marketing communities right now. For those of you who are unfamiliar, I will give a quick overview, but I highly recommend watching this Whiteboard Friday video by Jonathan Coleman that gives a quick rundown of agile marketing.

Agile started out as an offshoot of extreme programming that put the developer at the forefront of development work (shocking right?). If you are interested in the origins of agile you should check out the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development.” Meanwhile, The Lean Startup, a book written by Eric Ries, combines some of the methodologies of agile with customer development as well as some of the tenets of lean manufacturing. I highly recommend reading The Lean Startup as well as checking out Jim Ewel’s website.


One quick concept before we start:

Do you persevere or do you pivot? This is a core concept to know when it comes to lean startup methodologies. The basic point of agile/lean is to ensure you are in a feedback loop where you are constantly working to iterate on your existing projects or develop new ones. Ries calls this the ‘Build-Measure-Learn’ cycle. After the learning component, you have to decide if you are going to continue to iterate down your existing path, aka persevere, or if you are going to alter your tactics and strategy because you aren’t seeing the results you would like: a pivot.

sempofail2 Prerequisite: It’s Okay to Fail

In fact, this is probably the most important part of implementing agile/lean and may require a major cultural shift within your organization (or for your clients). Sometimes we end up on “Failure Road,” and that’s okay, as long as there is knowledge gained from the failure that propels you towards success. However, very few managers want to tell their people that it is okay to fail. If you are in this position, then you must advocate for this change. Luckily, there is some correlation between telling people it’s okay to fail and subsequent success that you can share with people. In my experience, the resistance to this concept is based around the misconception that you are encouraging failure. This is not true. What SHOULD BE encouraged is people putting their best ideas forward, to think experimentally, and to try risky things. If people are worried about failure, they will only put forward sure things, which MAY succeed more often, but generally won’t be huge successes. When people believe they won’t be punished for failure, they will contribute more. Remember, you don’t have to succeed at first, as long as your efforts help to iterate or pivot toward the success you want.

Tip # 1: Establishing Metrics


You may think this is obvious, but I am always shocked when I hear people talk about the metrics they put in place before launching/changing a marketing campaign or altering something on their website. In today’s online marketing climate, data is pervasive and should be used to determine not only relevant success metrics (KPIs) but also metrics that may help determine if it’s time to pivot. This is particularly important for the current wave of search marketing, where data are already being used to drive decisions. Marketo has a useful guide on marketing metrics, and Joanna Lord has a great post about marketing analytics that I highly recommend. If you need more help, the amazing Avinash Kaushik lays out his best web metrics for you in this blog post. The best piece of advice I can give here is both tried and true: stay away from vanity metrics.

Tip # 2: Bias towards Action


Don’t let the focus on metrics and data bog you down with analysis paralysis. A key component of agile/lean is continual development, so it’s important to constantly try new ideas out, measuring them and pivoting/persevering based on the success of the strategy. Keep in mind, having a bias toward action is not the same as regularly throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. The latter is not a strategy; it is a tactic that results from a lack of a strategy. A tactic I have used to help create a bias toward action is “Unless I Heard Differently.” This technique is based on putting your best hypothesis forward and explaining the reasoning behind it, while at the same time preparing to implement it in accordance with your internal agile/lean processes if you don’t hear back from key principles. I understand that all teams are different, so your mileage may vary, but I would urge you to check out the website linked above and give the technique a test drive.

Tip # 3 Use a Canvas


Canvases stemmed from some of the problems surrounding business plans, project plans, and product requirement documents. They are one-pagers that generally take less than an hour to create and are designed for constant updating and manipulation. There are tons of lean and agile canvases out there. Seriously, there are lots. My personal favorite is the Lean Startup Machine’s Validation Board. It can be used for search marketing with very little adaptation. Another good choice is Jim Ewel’s marketing model canvas. Whatever canvas you chose, the important thing is to treat your canvas like a living document. This is important because the decision to pivot can be a tough one, and when you have an easy-to-consume document that contains all the relevant data, getting buy-in for that decision will be much easier.

Tip # 4 The 5 Why’s


A tactic Eric Ries talks about in The Lean Startup I have found to be incredibly useful is asking “why” five times to get to the root cause of an issue. Here is a great article about the tactic. Not only does this process help to get to the root cause of problems, but it helps break down transparency barriers and teach people that failure is okay as long as you work rapidly to correct the problem and drive toward success. This is one of the most successful tactics I have implemented to get to the bottom of issues surrounding poor performing campaigns, or a lack of proper training.

Tip #5 Using an Agile Board

agileboardDon’t try to manage projects in a spreadsheet or worse, Microsoft Project. An agile board is the preferred project management system for agile/lean and for good reason. It is designed to work best in an environment where there is constant iteration. It is different than a canvas, at least in the way I use them, because the canvas is very high level while the board is for project management. You can use a wall and a bunch of sticky notes or you can use a software program. Trello is a free agile project management web application that is pretty amazing. At Relevant Ads we use LeanKit, but there are a lot more available for choosing if you find either of those options lacking. Personally, I would recommend Trello. Speaking of which, Miranda Rensch gave a fantastic presentation on agile at MozCon 2013 and created this work sheet for creating your own agile board using Trello.

What it Looks Like When You Are Doing it Right

A great example of having a bias toward action is Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet. In case you haven’t heard about this, there was a blackout during Super Bowl XLVII that delayed the biggest American sporting event of the year. While the stadium was still dark Oreo put out this tweet:


They developed messaging to a real-time event, had creative designed, copy written, and went live. The result of this rapid development process for their marketing campaign speaks for itself.


Look at all the top tier sites that have embedded this tweet! This tweet was retweeted by 11% of Oreo’s followers. Granted they are not all Oreo followers but we are going to use that number, retweets divided by followers, to normalize disparate follow counts and act as a proxy for reach. For example, it was retweeted 101 more times than this post by Rand Fishkin announcing the rebrand of SEOmoz to Moz.


Those 157 retweets only represent .09% of Rand’s “reach.” On the other end of the spectrum, the following tweet by Barack Obama announcing victory in the 2012 presidential election is the most retweeted post in the history of Twitter. It was retweeted 50 more times than Oreo’s post, but it accounts for only 2% of his “reach.”


Bringing it back to agile/lean, do you think the copy for the Oreo tweet was the first copy that came to mind? Or that the graphic design of the image was the version that got done the fastest? Absolutely not! They have an internal process that had been perfected during the 18 months prior. They had some early success like the infamous gay pride post that they iterated on to build a process so finely tuned that in the matter of minutes they were able to put out one of the most memorable ads of the Super Bowl. For free, on Twitter.

A Couple of Final Takeaways

It takes time to get your agile/lean processes to the point at which you want them. Post-mortem reviews are critical because it takes a while before hitting your stride. This allows applying the same methods applied to campaigns and tactics to be applied to your agile/lean process and allows you to get to where you want to be quicker.

Do you implement agile/lean in your company? I would love to hear from you regarding successes and/or horror stories in the comments below.