February 27th, 2008 | 9 MIN READ

Social Media With a Side of SEO - Hold the Spam

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Social Media for SEOPublic relations guru and author of Micro Persuasion, Steve Rubel, has taken a lot of heat this past week over his post SEO Shenanigans Pose a Clear and Present Danger to Social Media.

Rubel's PR firm Edelman dipped into the dark-gray/black area of social media marketing (SMM) a while back - and the blogosphere hasn't forgotten. Other intelligent comments on Rubel's post come from SEO professionals defending their industry's honor.

I don't want to add to the debate here, but I will say that I agree with Steve that if you are "launching social media marketing programs solely for the purpose of influencing search engines, rather than with the intent of fostering collaboration and genuine communication" you fit the description of an unethical marketer.

But that doesn't mean expecting an SEO benefit from social media marketing campaigns is evil. I don't think that's what Rubel was implying anyway (remember it's the word solely that was empasized). But I wanted to throw in my 2 cents and clarify which social media marketing activities I believe really help SEO, which have minimal value and which are simply spam.

Social Media Marketing as a Link Building Strategy

The primary way social media or any other site can help your SEO is through attracting links. Social media can drive traffic that may convert, but search engines won't factor that into their algorithms. So any dabbling in social networks for SEO purposes is essentially link building.

These links can be acquired directly or indirectly. This is what I mean:

Directly Aquiring a Link

  • Commenting on a blog or forum
  • Submitting an article to a social network with a link in your bio
  • Submitting a link to Digg or a Digg clone
  • Editing a wiki and inserting your link
  • Adding your link to a social shopping or social bookmarking site
  • Creating a profile and including your link
  • Linking to your site from your own blog, whether run by yourself or submitted within a social network that allows member blogging and article submission
  • Purchasing a site review from a blogger (paid links)

These are all links you can add yourself. They may or may not live long (moderation, deletion etc) or they may not pass "link juice" (nofollow or redirected link). Even if they survive, they may pass very little or no link value (search engine "discounts" the links, the web page with the link never gets indexed by search engines or the link is so irrelevant to your site it passes minimal link juice).

Indirectly Acquiring a Link

  • Blogger finds your content through another blog, forum, video or news sharing site and links to you
  • You guest blog for someone and they accept your submission, linking to you through an author bio

These are "editorial" links (the kind Google likes you to have), and can be very valuable to you - even more valuable if the link uses keyword-rich anchor text pointing to your site.

Now let's look at each tactic in more detail.

Blog and Forum Comments

Most blogs and forums use the "nofollow" attribute. This means your forum signatures and your comment name will not be followed by search engines - it will be ignored. This helps preserve link juice for the webmaster, and makes spamming these sites for SEO value a waste of time.

There may be some blogging platforms like Drupal that don't use nofollow unless you add it. Other bloggers choose to reward their loyal commenters by adding a "dofollow" plug-in that undoes the nofollow default. Andy Beard has a nice list of resources for this.

Sure, you could do a search for "Dofollow blogs" or "the D-List" and find a host of bloggers that will share the link love. But before you try to spam them, keep in mind comments are usually moderated by the blogger and it's easy to see through. When "Discount Car Parts" says "Nice post," it's pretty obvious. And even when blogs do follow your links, it's possible that search engines still don't consider these links very important and have adjusted their algorithms accordingly. Plus, Page Rank will be divided between all comments on the post - so unless your one of only a few comments, you're not getting much value.

Verdict? Don't expect SEO value from blog and forum comments. If you comment to genuinely contribute to the conversation and the link happens to get followed by a search engine, bonus. But please don't send anyone on a comment assignment.

Submitting Articles to Websites

Some niche social networks allow you to create an account and post your own content - blog posts or article reprints. You can add "reposted with permission from {your site} for the back link. These are not necessarily valuable links, but if they're on relevant sites these little links all add up.

Verdict? Only post content that is a good fit for the social network, otherwise it's spam. And make sure blog posts don't nofollow links by right clicking your submission, click "View Source," Ctrl+F to open the "Find" searchbox and type in your link URL. Look for nofollow attribute in the HTML attached to your link. Otherwise you will get no SEO benefit.

Submitting to Digg or a Digg Clone

Submitting stories to Digg or other article sharing sites typically won't provide a direct link to your site. Instead, it goes through a redirect which won't count in search engines. I say typically because there are some social networks that give direct links. But like blog comments, it's quite possible search engines don't give much weight to these links. They're too easy to get. Plus they exist on pages without much content - example:

Dzine Screenshot

Search engines don't bother indexing thousands of entries like this every day. It's not worth the bandwidth.

The real value of making the front page of one of these sites is you may get a lot of bloggers linking to you - valuable, editorial links. Plus, you may get a ton of del.icio.us bookmarks which will help other bloggers discover your site down the road, and they may link to you.

But as anyone who's attempted link bait campaigns knows, they take a lot of effort, you need to have an established network of friends within the social news site to seed the submission and gain traction, and your content has to be very remarkable. We have a whole hour's worth of webinar on this social media marketing for ecommerce with link bait guru Neil Patel for more details on this.

Verdict? This strategy can have a huge payoff, but don't expect to just find a network, create an account, submit a story and watch the links flood in. And don't use a shotgun method of submitting every blog post to every niche network and expect it to benefit your SEO.

Wiki Links

Most of us are aware that Wikipedia nofollows all its outgoing links, plus you need street cred to edit a page without scrutiny from the community of editors. You may find other wiki sites to drop your links, but please only do so if it adds value to the community - and don't expect a followed link.

Verdict? Low value tactic for SEO, but can send fabulous traffic if your link adds value to the site.

Social Shopping / Social Bookmarking

There are plenty of social shopping sites, I don't see any harm in submitting your own products to - it only broadens the pool of available items for the site's users. Social bookmarking sites either follow or nofollow links, but again, I don't think you get good link value from either.

Verdict? Probably not worth your time to actively pursue.

Creating Profiles and Linking From Them

There are some sites that, if you're really active in the community, can pass some link juice from your profile. For example, after 100 MozPoints, SEOmoz removed the nofollow tag from my profile page. So I am rewarded for participating in the site with a nice PR4 link. Make sure you fill your profile page with content including keywords related to your site. This will give a bit of relevance boost to your link if you can't choose your own anchor text.

You may want to get involved in niche sites related to the products you sell - I like Mashable for researching these - type in your main keywords in the search box to find reviews of niche social networks. For example: parenting, books, travel, fashion, pets etc. Mashable's Social Networking God list is also a great place to find relevant communities.

Verdict? Simply creating profiles for a million sites to drop your link is spam. So use this technique ethically and only in communities where you participate regularly. Run a "View Source"/nofollow check on your profile page to see if the page even passes link love, and if it does, put a little time into writing a detailed profile.

Linking From Blogs You Control

Any blog that you control, whether your own blog or a blog within a social network (for example, the parenting site Minti allows members to post their own blogs including links) is an easy way to link to yourself. Plus, you control the anchor text and these links look natural to search engines. However, in social networks, the site owners can edit your posts or kick you out if you abuse this.

Verdict? If you're doing this within other social networks (not your own stand-alone blog), realize this is a bit of a gray area. Don't be over-promotional in your blog posts - that's spam. Don't submit irrelevant stuff. But in my opinion, giving yourself attribution in an author bio for the content you submit is totally ethical as long as it doesn't violate a site's user policies.

Buying Reviews From Blogs

This has been covered extensively elsewhere. Search engines hate it. Search engines laid the smackdown on blogs accepting payment for reviews and links not long ago. Some blogs lost their Page Rank and ability to pass Page Rank. Risky strategy, won't help your SEO - most bloggers will take your money and add nofollow to your links.

Verdict? Don't do it.

Guest Blogging

If you can network with bloggers in your niche, offer them great content with a link from your author bio as "payment," I don't see a problem with this at all.

Verdict? I like it.

Social Media for Long-Tail SEO

Links are not the only SEO benefit of social media marketing. You can also rank for long tail terms when you accept user generated content on your site. Hosting your own blog or forum like Circuit City or BodyBuilding.com can help you rank for longer, more complex but less frequently searched keywords. Your site users create this content for you, all you have to do is moderate and maintain the site.

More common for ecommerce sites is product ratings and reviews. This user-generated content rich with synonyms, misspellings and conversational language can drive a ton of long-tail traffic and build the trust that converts a customer.

When hosting and moderating your own social networks, you may find yourself on the receiving end of spam -- which will give you a new appreciation for not spamming other sites!


If social media marketing is a subject that interests you, we have a number of posts tagged social media, and Dosh Dosh's social media category is quality.

Share on


Thanks for signing up!

You'll receive a welcome email shortly.

By submitting this you agree with our privacy policy.