When a newbie asks how to build web traffic, one of the first pieces of advice they’ll hear is to submit their URL to StumbleUpon, Digg, Del.ici.ous, and other social media sites.
I got the same advice. I bought into it. But does social media/social networking really benefit SEO (search engine optimization)?
Hey, let me be social and ask you, the readers!
Now, let me give you my answer…
Answer: Tagfoot, as far as I can tell, is one of the few social media sites that benefits SEO.
It’s time for me to remind you of that social media links and SEO rant by Michael Martinez of SEO-Theory (you should really read the whole post to understand the context):
“Social media link building is a complete waste of time from a search engine optimization point of view. Even if you know of social media sites that haven’t yet implemented nofollow you don’t know how long that gravy will continue to taste good. Google is chasing your sorry social media linking profile and you need a better plan than that.” —“Real Advice from Bad SEOs”
How do we know he’s right? How do we know which social networking links still pass the “backlink gravy”?
We need more than just a NoDoFollow Firefox plugin, although that’s a start.
That tells us that links on StumbleUpon, Del.ici.ous, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook are set NoFollow.
NoFollow means that search engines won’t follow or index those links. So for SEO purposes, those links are invisible! Links on those sites won’t boost your webpage’s position in search engine results one jot.
LinkedIn? It depends. The “Website” listed in your profile is Follow, the “Additional Information” section, including “My Websites”, is NoFollow. So, one link from a not-particularly-relevant website with no pagerank. Whoopie.
Reddit? Another “It depends.” Submitted URLs start out Nofollow and may be promoted to Follow if enough people up-vote them. But Reddit members react like antibodies when they sense self-promotion– they will BURY you.
Digg? Ah yes, the holy grail of linkspam. Nevermind that you can get your account suspended for self-promotion on Digg. Links on Digg are Follow, right? Linkbuild me, baby! I can always open a new account!
Except now Digg has implemented an ingenious way of redirecting all the SEO benefit to itself for links submitted to Digg. See The Truth about Digg’s Diggbar, The Digg Toolbar Exposed or 5 Reasons Diggbar Sucks for more information. (In light of their findings, I’ve added a Frame Free WordPress plug-in to block Diggbar from this blog. Nice PR disaster, Digg.)
Tagfoot is the only social networking I’ve found whose bookmarks are set Follow, whose robots.txt file doesn’t block spiders, and which doesn’t ban users for self-promotion. But before you all run out to spam Tagfoot, remember that Tagfoot members will block you or flag you as a spammer if you abuse the system. [[UPDATE June 9, 2009: Tagfoot has set its links to NoFollow for ordinary users, DoFollow for special members. See this post for more info.]]
So, am I saying you should give up on using social networking to promote your (quality!) webpages?
No. My point is that social media sites are lousy for search engine optimization– getting search engines to send you traffic. So don’t bother with SEO tactics on social media sites. When participating in social networking, optimize for humans!
Post a viral video on YouTube or a good photograph on Flickr with a link back to your website, and members of those sites may click on the link, even if search engine spiders ignore it.
Likewise, if you participate in a social media community, recommend good websites, and earn a following, your followers will follow your links even if search engines don’t.
That means investing time in meaningful participation on social networking sites. Interact with people. React to people. Carry on conversations. Read and rate what others are linking to. Retweet. Etc. You can’t cheat with social networking — you have to be social.
You may find that you’d prefer to sink more effort into passive forms of traffic generation — e.g. keyword optimization — which continue to work when you’re busy doing other stuff. With blogs, forums, and social networking, as soon as you stop participating, most of the traffic dies away.
Which brings me back to the point I keep making about building web traffic with social media: join social networking communities if you enjoy being active in online communities! Getting visitor traffic from followers is a secondary return on your (time) investment. Your primary ROI for social networking sites is the enjoyment and satisfaction of social networking.