Can Social Activity Replace Traditional Link Building?

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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 nick@brickmarketing.com

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