Interesting post over on the LocalSEOGuide blog titled,  Does Anyone Get And/Or Give Links Anymore?

The author expresses the opinion that more and more new links are being shared from social media sites and less so from traditional sites and blogs. A similar observation was made last year by a Google engineer that people online are increasingly sharing links via social media and explained that this is why Google wanted to incorporate those signals into the algorithm. Which led the author to ask the following two questions:

“So does this mean the value of a link from a regular old website is worth more or less? And who are these freaks who are still linking from their websites?”

Unfortunately the uncertainty of the role social media plays in the algorithm leads to overheated claims about Google+ and Facebook Likes. Just yesterday Matt Cutts debunked a claim that Google+ had a direct ranking benefit. This article will try to deflate some of the social media voodoo and show what kinds of links still matter.

Redefinition of traditional links
The value of a link has been diminishing since at least 2003.  That was the year Google released Update Florida and introduced more sophisticated analyses of links, with varying degrees of success.  With increasing scrutiny of links came the depreciation of certain kinds of links. Not depreciation of links. Depreciation of certain kinds of links. Here are examples of situations that triggered a reduction in the value of links:

– Position of links on a page,

– Relevance of the page to the linked page,

– Stop words surrounding a word (sponsored, advertisement)

How far can a link be depreciated before it’s worthless?
The answer to the question of link value is that certain kinds of links, absent of overall signs of manipulation on a page-level, are worth as much as ever, if you’re trying to avoid an unnatural links warning. The introduction of social media signals into the link building equation didn’t precipitate the depreciation of links. As I just demonstrated, the depreciation of links has been ongoing since at least 2003.

More to the point, the link signal has been steadily refined. The word Refine means to remove impurities. The impurities are any links whose purpose is to influence the search rankings. Some may disagree and say it’s all FUD. The fact is that the forums, blogs and other social media are rife with thousands of posts about unnatural links warnings and penalties. You can choose to believe the thousands who bear witness or the few who deny it’s happening- your choice. I believe that the link signal is being refined, with the goal of tossing out manipulative links and retaining trusted links that don’t fit that pattern.

Do Google+ & Facebook Likes count?
Social Media is one more refinement. One more signal. But it’s naive to think of a bare Google +1 or a Facebook Like as the social media signal a search engine would use. Which is probably why  Matt Cutts slapped it down. The premise was flawed from the start.

There are at least three kinds of social signals that can potentially play a role in an algorithm:

1. Social signals may include signals that point to authority.

2. Social signals may indicate a citation.

3. For trending topics discovery

Social signals of authority
There are a number of programs and services that focus on building followers. Justin Sanger, a presenter at PubCon New Orleans, in a comment about follower building tools, said it’s all bullshit. I agree. The number of followers or Facebook friends is not a reliable measure of authority precisely because the tools for gaming that metric currently exist. Indirectly more followers or friends can help an account become authoritative. But the actual follower/friend amount is not the signal itself.

What content is shared has importance, but I believe it’s not as important as what content is shared AND how popular that shared content is, which relates to not only how many retweets a tweet receives, but how many shares a link receives and how many clicks that link receives. You start with data, tweets, Google +1, shares, etc. then sift it for the signals. Don’t confuse the data with the signal.

Social is not just a single metric
It is startling how simplistic claims about Google +1 or Facebook likes influencing the algo are. They’re made without a discussion of other factors that play a role in ranking. Read the scientific papers and patents and one thing will stand out: All ranking signals are a collection of data points that work together to determine authority, weed out spam/noise, determine valid citations, determine context/relevance. You can’t just boil the algorithm influence down to a single metric like Google +1, Likes, or Followers.

1. Social signals may include signals that point to authority.

2. Social signals may indicate a citation.

3. For trending topics discovery – Link analysis trove?
This is speculative, but there is science behind this as there are a number of papers and patents that describe methods for identifying authoritative social media accounts., particularly when analyzing data, which is an alternative source of link analysis data. Data mining ( can reveal:

1. What links are trending

2. What links get more clicks

3. What links are shared the most

Are web links worth more or less than social media links? Matt Cutts, at an SMX West 2013 Q&A confirmed that links continued to matter. I think that’s because of the reasons I listed above, specifically that social media data is just that, data to be sifted for purposes of trending topics, authority discovery, and the various forms of link analysis, but not necessarily as a direct signal in itself.

This blog post is a portion of the entire article. The complete article is published in the Advanced Link Building Newsletter. Read the entire blog post plus unpublished advanced strategies for building links. Be on the leading edge of link building, get it here!

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