Is Social Media Sharing Replacing Link Building As the New SEO Strategy?

In light of several social media correlation studies and increased scrutiny on link building many marketing professionals are wondering if their efforts should be shifted more towards social media and less towards link building. Recent research has indicated that Google+ shares are correlated with higher rankings and have showcased that generating significant social sharing on sites likes Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest also have higher search engine ranking correlation.

While many in the online world may feel that social media is the answer to their SEO campaign recent evidence – from Google itself – suggests otherwise. Google’s head of spam Matt Cutts released a video that addressed what would happen if Google excluded backlinks in its ranking algorithm. You can watch the video for the full commentary but the key takeaway from Cutts’ piece is that “backlink relevance still really helps in terms of making sure [Google] turn the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.”

Cutts also mentioned that Google has run tests internally that negated backlinks as a ranking factor and said that they did not like the results. With this evidence in mind regarding the importance of backlinks and the recent correlations studies that highlight social media sharing as highly significant many are wondering where their marketing efforts should be focused.

We address these concerns and the questions many are asking regarding link building and social media as a SEO strategy.

Link Building as an SEO Strategy

Link building has been on the radar of long time SEOs as a search engine optimization strategy because they know that Google uses links to “crawl” the web and has talked openly about this in the How Search Works section on their site. The short of link building for SEO is that getting relevant backlinks to your site from reputable, relevant sites across the web is good for ranking. However, many website owners have taken an unethical approach to link building and hired an SEO company or guest blogger to simply get links from as many sites as possible regardless of quality or relevancy. This approach to link building is regarded as an effort to game the system and Google’s recent algorithms (Penguin) have been skillfully crafted to demote the ranking abilities of such sites that use these unscrupulous tactics.

Despite the large amount of websites that have been shunned for unethical link building practices the Cutts video mentioned above still indicates the importance links play in Google’s search engine ranking criteria. In a blog we recently published on the best types of links we discuss the difference between inorganic links and organic links. We are strong advocates of organic link building practices or link building that happens as a result of your brand creating amazing web pages, blogs, pictures, podcasts, videos, infographics, etc. that other bloggers and website owners feel compelled to link to on their own.

Organic link building can be difficult to initiate as getting people to find your content also presents a challenge. This is where social media can be your friend and why we feel it goes hand-in-hand with a link building strategy.

Social Media as a SEO Strategy

We alluded to the fact that the creation of content on your own website is what can spur organic links. Considering the fact that social media can be used as an outreach effort it makes sense that the content you create also be shared through all of your social media outlets as well. In comparison to link building, it is nearly impossible to try and game the search engines by way of social media. With the knowledge that there is a correlation between rankings and social media sharing it serves brands well to try and get as much social media engagement as possible. However, high engagement generally only comes from great content that your audience feels compelled to “like,” share, retweet, comment or repin.

Content Marketing as Your SEO Strategy

It seems that there is a link (pun intended) between content marketing for backlinks as well as social media sharing. The brands that create the best content will build an audience who over time who will naturally spur organic links as well as social media sharing. The reality of getting links and social shares is that people will only interact with content that they really care about or that identifies with them. If you can accomplish these things the rest will fall into place naturally.