Social Media and SEO: Does Social Media Really Make an Impact?

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Jan 5, 2009
More Articles by Janet


If nothing else, 2008 was the year that social media began to grow without bounds. Between social networking, social bookmarking, and blogging as well as other tactics, social media saw an explosion in participation and interest in 2008. Facebook alone boasted a 116% increase in traffic over 2007.

But the question still remains — how does social media affect SEO, and futhermore, which tactics are best for SEO? This past summer, Search Mojo ran a test to find out exactly which tactics might improve rankings.

Methodology

While it is difficult to create a purely scientific study involving social media and SEO (there are too many varying factors that we cannot control, such as algorithm changes), we did attempt to make our study as scientific as possible. We created two identical websites about a topic, but one applied SEO best practices such as high keyword density in content and building inbound links and the other site ONLY used social media tactics. The goal was to measure how social media tactics stack up to traditional SEO tactics when optimizing a website.

Findings

While we found that social media tactics can be helpful to SEO, certain tactics were certainly more helpful than others. Here’s a synopsis of our findings…


Social Networks
Social networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and others proved ineffective for SEO, primarily because the links in many of the social networks are marked “nofollow”. While social networks may be a great way to get the word out about your website to others, social networks did not impact search engine rankings.

Blog Comments
Blog comments mostly proved ineffective for SEO for the same reason as social networks — too many blog owners seem to mark comments as “nofollow”. Also, it appears that blog comments that are “dofollow” may have less impact than links from blogs contained within the blog post content itself.

Links from Blog Post Content
Links contained within blog post content tended to have a greater degree of importance than those contained within the comments section of a post. We consider links from blog post content semi-effective.

Why semi-effective? While the links contained within blog posts themselves had some value over the links contained within the comments section, we did not that links in blog posts had greater value than generic links built in directories or other locations. In other words, a link on a directory versus a link in a blog post with the same PageRank seems to yield just as an effective SEO result. When concentrating efforts on link building for SEO, getting a link in a blog post may drive more traffic, but it will take much longer to build enough quantity of blog post links than to build links in directories and the like.

In our estimation, links from blog posts should be a goal more for the PR function in a company than the SEO team for this reason.

Links from Squidoo and HubPages
Overall, we found that links from a Squidoo Lens or HubPage drove traffic, but we found that they were ineffective for purely SEO purposes. The main problem when creating a Squidoo Lens or HubPage for link purposes is that these newly created pages and their associated links can only be found once the search engine bots can find them. And since Squidoo and HubPages do not have links to each page per se (unless you are a very popular page), then you also have to go through the effort of building at least one link pointing in to your Lens or HubPage so the bots can find it!

Creating Your Own Blog
Blogs provide a constant flow of new content on a website, increasing a site’s opportunities for viral linking. We found that having a blog on your domain is highly effective for SEO purposes and also can drive more traffic overall to your website. Blog posts can also be repurposed as other digital assets, such as articles for online article marketing — another highly effective SEO tactic.

In Synopsis

So should you spend time participating in social media tactics? Social media still has its place in your overall marketing program. HOWEVER, we cannot prove that the benefits to purely search rankings outweigh the investment in social media (in manhours, cost, etc.). If SEO is your goal, many social media tactics will not be helpful. But because most companies are performing SEO with the end goal of driving more website traffic, social media tactics can achieve the same result — through different means.

We know that search marketing often provides high conversion and ROI, but how effective is social media? The case for conversion and ROI for social media remains to be seen and the debates on it rage on.

We’ll be posting our whitepaper soon with more detail into all of our findings. Stay tuned…

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  • CarriBugbee

    Can you provide links to the sites you set up for testing? Also links to the social profiles you created? I’m interested in knowing how robust those are since it does take a few weeks or months to really build out a social profile.

    BTW, it was a real pain in the ass to REGISTER to make a comment on your site. I certainly wouldn’t do it again. WAY too time-consuming just to go through the sign-up process, and then I had to wait 10 minutes to get my approval email. I had completely forgotten about you by then and moved on to other things. You’d get more comments if you weren’t discouraging people from doing so.
    @CarriBugbee

  • http://www.search-mojo.com Janet Driscoll Miller

    CarriBugbee,

    Thanks for the comments. We’ll be releasing the whitepaper with further details about the study in the next few days.

    What we’re basically saying here is that social media takes more time to develop and nuture as opposed to traditional SEO tactics. For instance, to become a member of a community and get a mention in a blog post can take MONTHS. That one link may be helpful, but is it more helpful that taking that same effort and applying it to building a greater quantity of links? We find that it may not be. Yes, it is helpful for PR, driving website traffic, etc., but from a pure effort standpoint, the effort does not appear to provide higher rankings for equal effort.

    As for registration for commenting, I believe it’s necessary. Most websites about SEO that I comment on do require registration, so I find it to be the norm. Once you’re registered, you never have to do so again. Those that comment regularly here have no issue with it. I do appreciate the feedback though — we use WordPress for the registration, so it’s good to know if it’s slow and such.

    Thanks!