Social Media Sucks for Link Building – Most of The Time

Building links to your content increases its authority with the search engines and starts a flywheel effect that builds traffic by building visibility, which in turn increases clicks and traffic. But how do you get more links from high quality sites to your content through social media? The short answer is: You don’t. But the nuanced answer is: Very carefully.

What is link building?

Link building is the practice of asking other sites of equal or higher authority to link to your site in order to gain a higher ranking on a search engine results page. Link building as a ranking strategy has been hotly contested in the SEO world for a long time, mostly because we just can’t have nice things when it comes to the Google algorithm.

Long long ago, Google mentioned in a patent that backlinking was a ranking factor: the more high authority sites that link to your site, the “better” the Google algorithms considered your site to be. Spammy link building, link building schemes, and paid link strategies were the eventual result. Google responded by threatening (and carrying out) manual actions against all of these inorganic link building tactics.

Today, link building in bulk is still frowned upon, because it’s almost impossible to quickly build a quality link profile. But a more-organic link building strategy, partially fueled by social media, is possible, and it can help marketers raise the authority of their sites. 

What should you expect from a link building campaign?

A good link building campaign will reach out directly to contacts at high-value publications to suggest that they link to your content. You should not expect a very high return on cold outreach to publications. I receive hundreds of these requests a week, and I send most of these emails to my trash folder — because most of these requests are trash. 

However, when I receive a link to a genuinely good article, suggested by a reputable vendor or publication, paired with a request to be included in an article with an audience that’s similar? I will at least read their article. 

And if I’m feeling particularly nice that day, I’ll give them the link. 

How can you increase your odds of getting a link?

But barring a perfectly written cold email, there are a couple of things that a link builder can do to get me to link to their content:

They can form a relationship with me

When a fellow marketer reaches out to me directly on LinkedIn with a vague request to “connect” because we’re both marketers, I decline. Thanks, but no thanks. But my Twitter account isn’t private. Another marketer who likes my tweets, replies to a post, or even follows me is going to get noticed. 

They can show genuine interest in the subjects I’m publishing

When sales and marketing pros talk about “adding value” in those cold emails, it doesn’t mean that you offer a backlink in return or some vague promise of exposure to your audience. We know how to get those things, and there’s no guarantee that your audience is helpful to us. But when you add to the conversations we’ve started online or share your thoughts on a subject, then you’ve added value.

They can understand the market I’m targeting

This is hugely important in sending the aforementioned ill-fated cold email, but before you contact me with your vitamin supplement link or iPhone repair article, maybe read an article or two on my site? I write about B2B technology almost exclusively. Do your research before you reach out.

How can you use social media for link building?

Social media is great for building relationships, it’s not great for direct link building. So to answer this, we have to first talk about what’s wrong with using social media for link building.

The hard truth about social media links

First of all, putting your site URL on your social media posts won’t build links. Those links are nofollowed or ignored. Even if a group of influencers finds your product, all the links in their bio or LinkTree don’t actually count in the eyes of the algorithm. Sorry. 

At best, social media is an indirect tactic to gain traffic, brand awareness, or show expertise. It’s great for increasing the traffic to an individual post through shares and click-throughs. But it’s not going to directly impact your linking numbers. 

Sharing is not the same as linking. 

How can you successfully use social media for link building?

We’ll say it again: use social media to build relationships with other companies, individual marketers, and your audience. Be a good citizen of social media, share your content and the content of others, and build relationships with others in your audience.

Consider that with social media, you’re trying to build a relationship with individuals, but you’re also trying to get some of your most important, interesting, or highest value content out there in front of readers. If you’re writing really good content, someone’s going to want to use it.

Some quick tips:

  • Share research and news items, especially if you’ve got a unique stat or perspective. These are going to be good for link building.
  • Use your relationships with your social contacts to promote your work, sometimes even sending a direct message to those who might be interested in your work.
  • Don’t just assume that by spamming your audience with your own work that you’ll get links. 

Social media should be part of a well-rounded set of marketing channels that you use to gain awareness, build audiences, attract customers, and sell products. Most of all, you should use it to be a part of the conversation and start new discussions. 

Tamara Scott
Tamara Scott
Tamara Scott is Managing Editor at TechnologyAdvice and, where she guides content strategy, writes vendor and buyer content, and maintains high editorial standards among content creators across several properties.

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