If you believe the hype, Twitter is the biggest serial killer since Jack the Ripper. Mitch Joel thinks it killed RSS. And there is certainly an element of truth in that. How often do you really check your reader these days? Be honest. For others, Twitter is the death of Facebook. And theres no question Mark Zuckerberg is quaking a little. Centralising the platform around status updates and the recent introduction of the @ reply were both aimed at nullifying Twitters strengths. Some are even brave enough that Twitter could kill Google via real-time search, although surely Google would acquire them before that became a reality. And while Im not often one to sound the death knell, Id like to throw one more into the mix. Because I think Twitter may just be killing the inbound link
A couple of weeks ago Darren Rowse pondered whether links were becoming an endangered species on the web. The post caught my attention as I had indeed noticed a similar trend on my blog. Whereas links poured into my blog as little as 9-12 months ago, the flow stopped to little more than a trickle in more recent times. In fact, my Technorati authority ranking (which is based upon inbound links) fell by almost 300% over the past 3-6 months. Shiza! Conversely, my subscriber rate was growing faster than ever before, so quality didnt seem to be the issue. Something was fishy
Theories on the death of the inbound link
Darren pondered a range of theories as to why inbound links were entering endangered territory, including competitive instincts, sculpting, laziness and ignorance. But for me, the explanation is simple. Its Twitter. Twitter has evolved to become THE channel of choice for content sharing. Consumer behaviour (or perhaps just geek behaviour) has changed rapidly! Whereas a link within a blog post may have been the primary method of recognizing quality work as little as a year ago, a ReTweet has quickly become the preferred way to share/acknowledge great content. While I dont have exact historic data, Id estimate the trend has followed this path:
Causation or correlation?
That is the question. My theory is that rather than approaching extinction, inbound links have simply been transferred into a more convenient format. Theyve shifted from blogs to Twitter. Twitter has provided a lower maintenance method for people to share ideas and content. So when presented with the choice of writing a blog post, or sending a Tweet, most people opt to Tweet. Whereas a blog post often takes hours to craft, thoughts and links can be shared within Twitter in mere seconds.
This shift in behaviour presents an interesting quandary for Google. Inbound links are the currency of the web, and a core signal Google uses to assess the quality of a web site. Yet Google currently ignores all links emanating from Twitter. At the moment thats fine, because Twitter is still just a mere blip on the webs total radar.
But what happens if Twitter continues along its astronomical growth rate? What happens if it truly becomes a mainstream service to rival Facebook in scale and size? Could Google really ignore the signals of 300+ million users? Could they continue to rely on inbound links as a core signal if user behaviour moves away from them? And if they do will it ultimately affect the quality of the algorithm?
What do you think?
I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.