Has Twitter killed the inbound link?

by James Duthie September 21st, 2009 

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?


James Duthie is an online marketing strategist and also writes & manages his own online marketing blog. You can subscribe here.

James Duthie

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.


You May Also Like

25 Responses to “Has Twitter killed the inbound link?”

  1. canol says:

    I use Google Reader every day :) Twitter is just a new way to communicatie and is NOT kill anything

  2. Joey says:

    If it continues, it will be interesting to see how Google treats inbound Twitter links from an SEO perspective – how much importance they'll be given in relation to regular links (and whether links that have been shrunk via services as tinyurl count as inbound links).

  3. That's a good point! Twitter + Facebook + all other nofollowed social boomarking sites = less backlinks

    We're discussing this idea in my french forum: you've won one more backlink AND one more tweet :-)


  4. The other question is… has twitter killed comments? Just take a look where all of the comments on this story are happening.

  5. This works both ways. Without blog posts, there would be no links to share on Twitter (OK, maybe not "no" links). The solution is for Google to determine levels of trust with websites, recognize when they irresponsibly blanket all outbound links with the NoFollow attribute, and simply ignore the NoFollow attribute on those domains (like Twitter and Wikipedia).

    My preference, of course, would be that the search engines completely ignore that abomination that is NoFollow. But I suspect I won't get my wish on that any time soon, so a more surgical solution based on domain trust is required.

  6. […] Has Twitter killed the inbound link?, The SEO Scoop […]

  7. Justin Parks says:

    Im not sure but maybe its more accurate to say that the RT is replacing the inbound link and is balanced by this as they are given much more freely that a "permanent" blog content link but seem to expire as well. Still looking into that.

  8. matt celano says:

    Agreed. I dont use my reader anymore, and if a website isnt tweeting then they in my opinion are not relevant or worth following. You hit the nail on the head.

  9. Very interesting stats.
    I totally discovered your blog because of twitter though, it must bring you some traffic you wouldn't have reached without twitter.
    But I think one link to your blog in a relevant article is way more valuable to judge the quality of your content, than a thousand brainless retweet (since a lot of retweets are automated).

  10. would be great to have google's algothrim consider both forms of traffic – inbound links from organic search as well as sharing on social networking sites like twitter, digg, delicious, etc…

    A lot of links are also shared via facebook (a kind of microblogging in a way) but in a gated environment.

  11. twitter is of no value in link building so link building will continue for search engine visibility

  12. One thing you need to remember is even though Google ignores links FROM Twitter, there are tens of thousands of applications out there that are re-purposing Twitter content. I have seen Google index this information quite often because (a) it's not from Twitter, and (b) quite often the "nofollow" tags are removed from the re-purposed content as well.

    I am glad Google doesn't index all Twitter stuff. It's a mess of information. Even when using Twitter search trying to find useful stuff – even in a trending topic – is just filled with spam and retweets for pages and pages. Hardly useful at all.

    However, I do think as the filters for Twitter content are improved we will get much more useful real-time data from it.

  13. Liz says:

    Because my employer has blocked Twitter at work, I read my Twitter feed via RSS on Google Reader, along with all my other feeds. So no, Twitter will not be the death of RSS. If you're seriously relying on the internet as resource for information relating to your chosen industry, there's no way you're going to rely soley on Twitter. Particularly when Twitter links you to blogs that are pure speculation, without any evidence to back them up…

  14. bmeister says:

    LOL. look at this thread with all 'Twitter comments'. Quite frankly, it's one big retweet mess, seriously crippling the usability of any blog. Who cares reading comments if a blog like this is flooded with this nonsense. I bet your average 'time on site' is DROPPING FAST compared to the pre-Twitter era.

    So, how come others didn't drop 300% in Technorati ranking? Because your blog is promoting the (abuse) of Twitter, destabalizing your entire link profile?

  15. Kimber Cook says:

    too funny that the majority of the comments on this post were "originally posted on Twitter". :)

  16. Sergey Rusak says:

    Yep, people became lazy and it is easier for them to tweet than to give a link from their site / blog.

  17. Sergey Rusak says:

    By the way, I am afraid that soon manual link building will become important again. Who knows, maybe free and paid directories will come back as well as new forms of link farms and link exchanges.

  18. Seraphimia says:

    Just one thing, there is always a limit to what you can convey in 140 characters. I personally utilize twitter to point to my blog when I post and vice versa, have twitter updates appear live within my blog. I've tired to unify the two and see twitter as another tool, rather than the death of my blog.

  19. If Google isn't careful, searches in the little publicized, but very powerful and current, search.twitter.com will start to erode the Google dominance.

    I can't wait :)

  20. If people are switching from reading RSS feeds to Twitter, then what was all the screaming about sites that didn't provide a full feed? So a partial feed = bad but just a post title and a link = OK?

    Call me confused.


  21. Megan says:

    Twitter I love the attention it gets lol. But seriously my google reader isn't read as much anymore thanks to twitter. I just think the twitter deal is the new way.

    Hey you have heard Television viewers are down incredibly over the last 2 years. Maybe we can blame that on twitter

  22. […] Has Twitter killed the inbound link? | SEO Scoop Rather than approaching extinction, inbound links have simply been transferred into a more convenient format. They’ve shifted from blogs to Twitter. (tags: twitter links linkbuilding linking) […]

  23. Stephan says:

    I don't know why but this is fact that i think that twitter is not user friendly or kind of slow ..like you don't have much features in it

  24. I agree that Twitter results in fewer (by far) comments on our blogs. Much easier to push a button to retweet than compose an intelligent comment. Does it hurt bloggers though? I guess we shall see…

    YourNetBiz attraction marketing cafe