Skip to Main Content

Nov 15, 2011 | 4 minute read

Social Link Building: The Latest Fashion in SEO

written by Linda Bustos

Back links have always been an important part of SEO, but the type of links that influence search engine rankings have changed over the years.

Links from topically relevant and authoritative sites serve as signals of quality for the content they point to. The authority of a web page, or “Page Rank” in Google lingo, flows from one web page to another through (most) links, making link building a staple SEO strategy, but also one that has been abused by spammers. Thus, the “rules” around what makes a valuable link changes frequently, from an importance on reciprocal links and directories (abused through link farms), to keyword-rich anchor text (abused by paid links), to deep-links, and to today’s vogue – social links.

Search engines have confirmed that social signals do factor in their ranking algorithms, and that Facebook and Twitter links are considered, provided 301 redirects are used by URL shortening services. Social networks like Twitter may automatically add the rel=nofollow attribute, but links can be found by search engines through other data feeds.

Though we don’t know exactly which types of links are counted and which ignored, it’s reasonable that factors such as the authority of the social profiles that share and re-share links and their semantic relevance (the keywords surrounding the link) are important. Social linking strategies should keep this in mind.

Let's explore 5 strategies:

Like, Share, Plus One Buttons

Simply having Twitter, Facbook and Google Plus buttons on your product pages and email campaigns is a link building strategy in itself. These "chicklets" enable passive word of mouth -- free link building provided by your own site visitors, customers and fans. You may not get thousands of thumbs up on most of your products, but the long tail of sharing a few times over thousands of products can add up to a lot of exposure for very little effort.

There’s no harm in adding social buttons to product pages, email campaigns, home pages and microsites, other than the potential drag on your page load speed (like analytics code, they should be loaded after the core page content).

35 million Facebookers (1 in 4 account holders) have shared a product with their network, and 35% are more willing to buy a Liked product, so this is a no-brainer.

Your own accounts

Of course, you can leverage your own social media profiles to share new products, sale events and other content. But just submitting your own links likely doesn’t cut it. Search engines can figure out when links are shared by an account associated with a website (do you link to your site from your profile, hmmmm?) They want to see volume of shares or authoritative accounts sharing your links. Working on building up a strong fan base is essential, as is keeping them interested and making your content “share worthy” – complete with headlines that pique interest. Easier said than done, but a good challenge for your campaign strategists.

Hint: Surround your shared links with relevant keywords or hashtags, and try to include keywords in your site pages that you intend to share. Even if they are shrunk with link shorteners, search engines will follow the redirects and account for these keywords.

Hint, hint: Choose your URL shortener wisely. Though most use 301 redirects, some don’t. You’ll be safe with,, and For more info, check out this article on which url shortening service you should use.

Paid tweets

If you want Kim Kardashian to gush about how much she hearts your handbags, you can pay your way into her feed through a service called – you got it – (the same folks that invented the PayPerPost service in 2006).

But note that sponsored tweets are, like paid posts and any other paid links, ethically to be disclosed with the hashtag #ad. Treat paid tweets as advertising, not link building.

The #ad hashtag may be a signal that search engines use to discount such links.


Not Page Rank, but the other-other PR, public relations. You’ve used PR to reach out to bloggers and journalists, and these folk often have Twitter accounts as well. In fact, you’re more likely to get a tweet than a full blog post when you pitch, as they take far less time to craft.

Because tweets sent through influencers are suspected to have more clout with search engines, even one or two tweets of this sort can pay off. If you are reaching out with PR, suggest keywords be included in the tweet, like #hashtags.

Customer campaigns

Share-with-your-network calls-to-action in email and social network channels are an underused tactic. Social links are common, but they’re usually of the “Follow Us” variety, comfortably tucked away in header menus.

Or, footer menus.

I suggest being aggressive, and placing the calls-to-action in the content space of your email. Kohl's is specific that the call-to-action is to forward the email message, rather than simply Like or Tweet the brand.

(Kohl's example via Retail Email Blog)

Social linking is important – but it hasn’t replaced traditional backlinks. Stay tuned, next post we’ll revisit some of the tried-and-true strategies that can help keep your link profile growing and well-rounded.

Looking for help with your ecommerce strategy and site optimization? The Elastic Path research and consulting division is available to enterprises selling digital goods and services. For more information, visit us at or contact us at