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Will Social Signals Replace Traditional Links? The Experts Weigh In.

Writing by Shawna Wright in Link Building

A few weeks ago Google updated the Webmaster Guidelines to say that links in online press releases need to be A) nofollow and B)not use any keyword-rich anchor text. While not specifically outlined in the Guidelines, Google’s John Mueller recommended that links in guest blog posts also be nofollow as those links are not editorial and “natural.” And now Matt Cutts has come out to say that widgets and infographics should also be nofollow. It’s starting to look like any content you produce offsite should include only nofollow links and natural anchor text. And if that’s the case that means it’s going to be harder and harder to earn follow links because, as Greg Finn pointed out, “Expecting that everyone can (and will) write a post, include a link, properly format the link and link to the right location is insane…”

In my opinion traditional links are still very important, but social signals, author authority and other factors are growing in importance when it comes to organic SEO success. After all, Google wouldn’t create Google+ and NOT leverage the data in some way, shape, or form to influence the SERPs. But what do other experts have to say about social signals? Will they replace traditional links?

When it comes to a Tweeted link, Julie Joyce of Link Fish Media said “I don’t see any evidence that suggests that a tweeted link counts as much as an actual text link. 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 do definitely think that more social activity can make up for less link building, absolutely.”

Christoph C. Cemper argued that a Tweeted link “…brings traffic, eyeballs and maybe links. It’s being aggregated to wherever, but it’s not an editorial link as a mention from a blogpost, review or interview like this.”

Elisabeth Osmeloksi said “A social share can be more valuable in the sense that it only has to get in front of the right person, who might be able to bring more tangible value to your business than a link which may not have a direct impact on your bottom line.”

It sounds like these three experts are arguing that while a social signal may not replace a traditional link from an SEO standpoint, social activity can drive really valuable and targeted traffic to your site, which in some cases might be worth more than the link juice from a followed link.

Meanwhile, Erin Everhart wants social signals to become more valuable, but she thinks links will still overshadow social. “My heart of hearts wants to say yes, but it probably won’t. Links are critical. Well, wait, let me rephrase: Quality links are critical. I definitely think Google is moving away from “They have the most links” to “They have damn good links pointing to some equally damn good content.” Links will always matter, but links without social signals could easily be coming under scrutiny.

I highlighted Erin’s last point because I think it’s a fantastic insight. How credible is a link on site that has no social presence? How valuable and authoritative can that site truly be if its content isn’t getting shared, Liked, Tweeted, emailed, posted, and so forth? While social signals may not fully replace traditional links I think it’s safe to say that they are only getting more and more valuable for a site’s overall online presence, and that includes SEO.

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