Will social media mentions replace links?

With the recent Panda and Penguin updates it’s evident that Google is perfecting the all-mighty algorithm against the heavy influx of ever-changing SEO tactics that are being executed by brands all over the globe.

These changes aim to make the algorithm more efficient in detecting organic links as opposed to those created solely for the purpose of search rankings, but more importantly it is yet another sign that the way Google orders the digital landscape of the World Wide Web may be up for some significant alterations.

In the eyes of Google a link from one site to another is like a vote of confidence, in the sense that the site that does the linking is claiming, check out this content it’s worthwhile stuff. The more relevant the anchor text of the link to the general content of the site it’s connecting to, the better that site will rank for the keywords involved.

However, because most companies are aware of this there has been a surge of link building in the last few years and even as Google becomes better at wheedling out the natural links from the purpose built ones, the search engine marketers’ tactics just become more elaborate.

We’ve also had the meteoric rise of social media with sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube which furnish the platforms on which so many web users communicate, participate and disseminate information and content. Again, brands and businesses have been quick to realise that their customers and potential customers are conversing on these sites. As social media becomes one of the strongest tools in customer relations the amount of web metric software increases, allowing these organisations to find out who is saying what about their products and services.

These mentions are now more organic, honest and therefore provide better insight into brand recognition than links. Hence why there’s been much talk at search marketing and social media conferences about mentions evolving into the new links. As Facebook moves towards 900 billion users, Twitter boasts 10 million in the UK alone, what people are saying is more prevalent than what people are linking to.

Google has expertly understood how people interact with each other and companies online, and now there are a lot more people talking about content than there are linking to content.

Although links will always be an integral element of the internet’s infrastructure they are not as relevant as they once were and so in order to future proof their websites brands need to build an online presence via social media platforms and they need to engage with their customers. There is no quick win in this scenario, it simply requires day-to-day dedication, measuring feedback, replying to queries promptly and generally interacting with your user base online. In the not too distant future it may very well be position mentions rather than links, which move your site up the search engine results pages.

Barry Cooke is a freelance writer who’s worked in search marketing and social media for five years across a range of sectors from online dating and film distribution to health and fitness. 

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