Consider social media to be part of your link building strategy – it’s one strategy, one discipline, not two.

At PubCon last November, everyone was repeating (and retweeting), “likes are the new links.”  It’s catchy, but are social media mentions really so important that links are going the way of the dinosaur?

In SEOMoz’ 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors, “Page Level Social Metrics” were given a 7% share in ranking importance, with all participants expecting this importance to stay the same or increase in the future.  At the same time, a large chunk of participants predicted a decrease in both the importance of link anchor text and the effectiveness of paid links.

Quality link building is hard and really time-consuming.  So is social media.  In light of this recent evidence, is it time for us to stop focusing on links and just go full steam ahead into social?  I would argue that it’s not an either-or situation.  Instead, start considering social media to be part of your link building strategy – it’s one strategy, one discipline, not two.

Likes ARE the New Links, but Links are Still Links

There’s a reason we say Likes are the new links; from a search engine’s perspective, they achieve very similar goals.  It all springs from one simple question: do other people think your site is as great as you say it is?  Links are, and always have been, a social signal. Now, people don’t have to have their own websites or blogs in order to publish content on the web, but a social mention is just as much a “vote” for your site as a link ever was.  To be successful you need to consider the social media potential of every piece of content you put out there, the same way you think about the inbound link potential now.

Recent tests have also shown that getting a link retweeted a bunch of times is both faster and more effective in achieving page-one ranking for that URL than building a lot of inbound links.  However, that effect (like a tweet itself) is ephemeral; it’s good for triggering a “fresh” content signal but hard to sustain for long-term ranking effect.  Plus, a social mention is unlikely to be seen much after a day or two, tops.  A link, on the other hand, continues to be seen (and maybe clicked on) on a page for as long as that page has new visitors.  It’s got staying power, and that means it’s unlikely that links will ever be totally discounted by search engines in favor of social mentions.  For both short- and long-term success, you need to get your social media chocolate in your link building peanut butter.

The Good News

When you view social media as part of your overall link building strategy, you can use tactics from one to help the other and everyone wins!  Especially you.

Social media makes link building easier. The best links build themselves.  Creating quality “link bait” type content and making it easy to share is both more enjoyable and more effective than Stone Age methods like directory submission and blog commenting (if you’re still doing stuff like that then yes, you should take time away from that to do social media).  The beauty of social media is it makes it easier and faster to get your quality content out there.  Social media shares will result in a trickle-down effect of inbound links as people find and link to your content.

Link building techniques work great for social media, too. A lot of the tactics we use in link building are just as applicable to a solid social media strategy.  Finding influencers, getting on their radar, building relationships – whether you knew it or not, you’ve been engaging in social media best practices for years.  The ultimate goal with social media for link building is to build and interact with a whole community of influencers, in addition to cultivating those one-on-one relationships with influencers as you have in the past.

This is probably going to take you more time than your previous link building efforts by themselves, which means it’s time to jettison low-yield, spammy link practices like directory submission.  However, it will take you less time than treating social media and link building as entirely separate efforts, and will ultimately be more effective – a DOUBLE win.  That’s two wins for the price of about one and a half!