Lee Odden

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

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.


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. The primary purpose of social media should be to engage with followers and provide them with relevant high quality information that can help inform their decision making. As long as you are doing this, the content will get clicked on, shared, etc. and will contribute towards your social signals. The SEO benefits are really an added bonus to the brand awareness.

    • I think the trick here is to use all forms of linking, you will then get the SEO love and also benefit from social media traffic. I have seen my pages rank with twitter, Google+ and a few web2 syndicated pages, but I guess depending on keyword competition, in the end it all comes down to time spent.

  2. Avatar Mike Bayes says

    There seems to be a trickle of research that confirms (at least as a correlation) that a facebook share (With your link) has some ranking impact. Seems logical, as getting a facebook share is far more democratic than other forms of back links.

    • I think if we view that Facebook link as useful because it connects people to content, then we’re good. SEO value is icing on the cake.

  3. Avatar Upstream Marketing says

    You should write an entire blog post from this one sentence. “The most important value from content promotion through social networks is to create awareness, interest and consideration for people that interact with the information.”

    If more people took this into consideration when writing content, they would see the results they were hoping for.

  4. social linking is a very effecttive one in seo , as it goes virally across social networking site,and bring lots of traffic.

  5. Hey Rob, I’m glad you suggested it because practically, that’s what marketers are looking for. People understand new things in terms of what they already know. Looking forward to the book!

  6. It very important for website. Thanks for sharing,

  7. Avatar cerrolinacole says

    Great information here for the readers. I found very good contend of the “socisl media links”. We are thankful to your article. The details your given at here is so useful to us and many other people. Keep sharing your in future.

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  8. Avatar Sylvina Galvin says

    Excellent post, I never seen this type of post. I think advances in social media along through search engine optimization combination have got regarding a change from probable impact link search to merely based on content, which submits inflection on the reality that supported content can attract societies straight. Due to the initiation of encouraged content, social links have become a very significant intention. And social links very useful to get the necessary
    objective. It is a beautiful limited idea that social links are help out for good search visibility. With the use of proper and also very valuable content in social shares, best and good level of knowledge can be increase, along with further advantages. Thanks for posting.

  9. The challenge, as always, is the catch-22 between how do you get authentic sharing from real people until you build up an audience, and how do you build up an audience without search/social visibility.

    While I’m a big believer in shifting the focus to more organic strategies long-term, I’m also a firm believer that a certain amount of intelligent automation is necessary for most small businesses to get above the threshold to even start generating any meaningful level of social interaction.

    Also, everyone always says, “Create great content” — what if you can’t create great content? What if you can only create pretty good, and fairly relevant, content? You suck and shouldn’t be in business?? Some people are going to need a little help… a little social Viagra to help them get it up. 🙂

    • Let me add to this that I also see this frequently with clients — they’ve got a great steady stream of social content, and they’re getting views, but little to no SEO value. Add some social linking, and voila — results within a couple of weeks.

    • It’s an enduring challenge: Companies want it all and they want it now. But they don’t want to or won’t invest in being the best to get there.

      Automation has a time a place, but there are a lot of small or new businesses that get caught up in the illusion of exposure (mechanical vs. meaningful) and think that new business will come from 1,000 new Twitter and Facebook fans purchased from a broker vs. earning those connections.

      The “great” in “great content” is a subjective thing and the only judge of “great” that matters is the buyer. Not the business, not their agency or consultant. There’s a ton of low production value videos and blog posts out there that have inspired new business because the topics were relevant to buyers. The content was great because of its usefulness. If a company can’t produce useful information, then there are some serious problems in my book.

  10. Avatar Rajdeep Srivastav says

    Good to know. Social media signals are helpful to increase your visibility for limited period. SEO is the only way to keep on top forever. But both are very very useful to increase your business

  11. Social Media is one of the easiest way to getting familiar with the website. It is the process which refers the gaining traffic to your website and attention through social media sites.

  12. I see why this post made your Top 10 for 2012 ♦ Good info and timely Q4 2012

  13. Avatar Ketu Software says

    Interesting info. It’s really good information about how social media links help in SEO.