Published on July 15th, 2012 | by Amy Edwards0
Inbound Links Vs Social Shares
By Amy @BubbleJobs
The question of whether inbound links are more important than social signals and vice versa is easily one of the most burning issues in SEO at the moment (after which soul-destroying algorithm update Google is planning to unleash next, of course!). Despite the fact that just two weeks ago Matt Cutts confirmed that incoming links are far from dead in the water, it seems we still want to force an either/or situation when it comes to links and social signals.
Yep, unable (or unwilling) to accept that Google places equal(ish) value on social signals and link signals following the Penguin update, a lot of folks in the SEM industry are keen to get a definitive answer on which marketing route they should be spending the majority of their time and effort on – and of course, even more importantly, which one will stand the test of time.
OK, so where do we start with this conundrum? Well, I like social signals but I also like incoming links… there’s only way to settle it…! Hmm, while it might be amusing to see the two fight it out TV Burp style, I don’t think that’s actually going to help us here! Instead, let’s take a look at the evidence to support both theories and go from there – less comical I know, but still, probably the right way to go about it!
First up in the red corner it’s social shares. The newbies to internet marketing, social shares might not have been around for as long as backlinks but they’ve covered a lot of ground in an extremely short amount of time. Social shares are exactly what they sound like – they mark each and every time a piece of content or website has been tweeted, posted or shared on the major social networks. While the majority of backlinks are ‘man-made’, pretty much every social share is 100% natural which is why they’re seen as so important.
Now, although social shares might be a fairly new phenomenon (compared to old-school backlinks), there is evidence to suggest they do matter in today’s SEM. A recent study by Searchmetrics found that there is correlation between the number of times a site is shared on Facebook and Twitter and the popularity and rankings of the site as a whole. Not only that, but we’ve had confirmation from the geeks at Google themselves that they take social signals into consideration when ranking a website – of course, that should come as no surprise given the fact that Google now has its very own social network – Google+.
Although Matt Cutts is claiming that how many Google ‘+1s’ a company has is “not necessarily the best quality signal right now,” there’s no suggestion that social signals are going to become any less important or relevant when it comes to ranking a website. Why? Well, we already know that each incoming link is like a ‘vote of confidence’ for a website (thanks to my old boss for that phrase!) and at the moment, social networks are the easiest way to determine how much buzz there is about a particular website.
So, that’s settled then? Well, not quite! Let’s not forget old-school backlinks which are still very much fighting for their position in the blue corner. If you’re reading this then it’s a pretty good bet you’re familiar with the practice of link building but if not, I’ll give you a quick overview. Link building is the process of building backlinks from other websites to your own website to gain both visibility and increased rankings (remember, it’s all about votes of confidence!).
Like I said earlier, Matt Cutts has made it clear that backlinks are far from dead, but with the Penguin-update, it’s understandable that some SEMs are more than a little nervous when it comes to devising and implementing new link building strategies. Now while I don’t blame them, I do have one thing to say that I think we all seem to have been forgetting - the Penguin update wasn’t brought out to banish link building from the land of SEM forever and ever!
Nope, the Penguin update was actually brought out to try and improve the quality of link building as a whole so if you think about it, there’s no reason why backlinks shouldn’t not be relevant in this post-Penguin era. They have been one of the most important ranking factors for the last decade or so and they still are now – the difference is that the focus is now very much quality over quantity when it comes to your backlinks.
So what’s the answer? Well remember I talked about an either/or situation? Forget it! Yep, just like all the other greats in internet marketing (PPC & SEO and content curation & creation), in order to gain maximum visibility and the best rankings possible, you need to focus on both building backlinks and gaining social shares.
Like Brent Chaters says in this great blog, in time (or even at present) both will help to support each other and in turn will help to strengthen the content of a page. If you think about it, it could be a two-step process; building backlinks to a page/site can initially help it to climb the rankings and gain more exposure – at which social shares/signals can kick in to strengthen the page/site even more and push it to the top of the rankings. Pretty plausible, right?!
So there you have it; to really shine in the rankings you need to maximise the potential of backlinks and social shares when it comes to SEM. OK, now we’ve got that cleared up, who else thinks we should get the two to fight with Harry Hill as the umpire, just for kicks?!