Social Media Backlinks: Are They Worth the While for SEO?

Social media backlinks

When marketers talk about SEO, it’s only a matter of time before “backlinks” get mentioned.

Link building is arguably the most crucial gear in the SEO engine. Like exceptional content, building backlinks is a non-negotiable for anyone hoping to elevate their rank on search results. 

As a matter of fact, if you take links out, all SEO efforts may fail entirely. 

There’s just one problem: not all backlinks are equally effective.

The referring domain’s Domain Authority (DA) always comes into play when determining how much impact a backlink could have on your website.

For instance, one backlink from Forbes (DA=94) will do wonders to your backlink profile than ten others from kind-of-decent sites with measly DAs. 

Since billions of people use social media, it’s only natural for these sites to occupy the upper echelon of the DA rankings. But, going after the DA logic, does that also mean social media backlinks also offer the purest sap of the luscious link juice? Or are social media backlinks not even worth the effort?

Let’s find out here.

What Are Social Media Backlinks?

Social media backlinks are links you find on social media platforms that point back to your domain. As opposed to traditional backlinking where you get links from other websites, social backlinking comes from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, etc.

The social link to your website may appear in various places, like:

  • Social media posts: The link back to your site may be found in the body of the post itself, caption for images and videos, or even pinned posts on social media profiles.
  • Comments: Users might leave comments containing links back to your website in discussions relevant to your website content. 
  • Bios and profiles: Social media platforms normally enable users to set their bios and build their profiles, and this can sometimes include adding a URL in their profile description or bio section.
  • Social shares: Avid readers may post links and share your content on their personal platforms or user profiles.

Technically speaking, social backlinks do fall under the backlink umbrella. After all, a click on your links does drive traffic and send users back to your site.

However, the SEO impact and influence differ when you build links using social media versus traditional websites. And you’ll find out why…

Do Social Media Backlinks Pass PageRank?

In the game of link building, PageRank determines the SEO value of a backlink for a website. Backlinks from high-quality websites pass more PageRank or link juice than backlinks from low DR/DA sites. 

Social media backlinks are usually nofollow links, meaning the links contain rel=’nofollow’ attributes in their HTML. This instructs search crawlers not to enter the indicated link, thereby passing zero PageRank from the source site to the linked site. In other words, social backlinks have no SEO value as far as link juice is concerned. 

Take a look at this example. As of writing, Semrush recently posted on Facebook promoting their new guide on SEO potential. On Facebook, users can clearly see the shortened naked link on their post.

However, when we try to examine the page source, we will find the link to be qualified with a rel=”nofollow noreferrer” tag.

Semrush’s post is not an isolated case. This is true for every social media backlink on every social media platform.

Since no PageRank is passed, backlinks from social media sites don’t directly influence ranking on search engine results pages.

So, is there even any SEO relevance to what social media backlinks offer? Keep reading.

Are Social Media Backlinks Entirely Useless for SEO?

Describing social media backlinks as pointless is one of the biggest misconceptions among SEOs and marketers. Sure, utilizing social media solely for link-building poses very limited benefits to your search engine ranking, but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that social media can boost SEO, albeit indirectly.

Social media sites dominate global traffic. They are platforms where users may connect with loved ones and companies may also use the site to share content, facilitate professional discussions, and build strong brand reputations. All of which may bolster your SEO efforts.

For instance, when a user clicks through your link and lands on your website, that already counts as a page view. The responsibility now falls on your content to keep audiences glued to your page or persuade users to take your desired action. Another example is when your target audience shares your post or likes your content. 

The above examples send signals to Google that you may be a reputable content creator.  

These signals are called “social signals.”

Social Signals and SEO

According to Google’s search quality guidelines, there are raters scattered across the globe who are trained to evaluate sites and assess how well they meet users’ needs on every given query. The guidelines tell us that a content creator’s reputation is one parameter used to determine the search quality of a website.

Naturally, websites that pass Google’s search quality guidelines are also forerunners in the SEO race. It’s given that professional influencers will have a cult following that balloons their reputation. 

But Google was kind enough to recognize even non-professional content creators too and how manual raters can evaluate their reputation.

The guide says:

For non-professional content creators, including ordinary people who post on social media or forums, you may find informal reputation information on the page itself, such as comments by other people about the creators.  For example, you may find comments or posts from other users helpful to see what other people think about a particular content creator.” 

Before we dive in further, what are social signals again?

Social Signals, Defined!

Social signals are essentially cues or indicators that search engines use to gauge the popularity, relevance, and trustworthiness of a piece of content or website. These signals come from user engagement on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

Social signals may be triggered via various sources:

  • Engagement Metrics: Likes, shares, comments, retweets, pins, and other forms of social media interaction are all considered engagement metrics. A high volume of positive engagement suggests that users find the content valuable, interesting, or informative.
  • Content Amplification: When content is shared across social media, it reaches a wider audience. This can lead to increased website traffic, which search engines track. The more people share and discuss your content, the stronger the social signal it sends.
  • Authority and Credibility: Social shares and discussions can build trust and authority for your content. If reputable sources or influencers share your content, it suggests it’s valuable and trustworthy. This can positively impact how search engines view your website.
  • Content Click-throughs: Clicks on social media backlinks do not exactly fall under the social signal umbrella. However, they do count as valuable analytics metrics in SEO— page views. When users click through a link and have a substantial session with the content, this signals to Google that the content is engaging.

Are Social Signals A Ranking Factor?

When asked if social signals have an impact on organic rankings on Google, John Mueller replied, “Not directly. No.” 

Indeed, since social media backlinks have nofollow attributes, they do not directly impact SEO because of the lack of PageRank passed.

Still, while not a confirmed ranking factor on its own, social signals may indirectly impact SEO. Search engines like Google may acknowledge social signals as potential indicators of high-quality content per their search quality guidelines. 

In addition, John also said social content can sometimes appear on SERPs, depending on the query. This means that aside from social signals, social media optimization can also help social content appear on search results, benefitting your site.  

Social Media Backlinks & Social Signals: How Can Both Benefit SEO?

Individually, social media backlinks and social signals pose a few advantages for SEO. But together, their combination amplifies the SEO benefits you can extract from social media.

Below, we’ll take a look at the benefits of using social media backlinks and positive social signals on your website’s search performance.

#1 Drive Referral Traffic

Let’s say you post a blog article with a captivating headline on your profile, sparking a wave of interest. Users then click your post and land on your website. This influx of visitors via your social media backlink is called referral traffic.

Social media platforms are notoriously known for being powerful drivers of referral traffic. Why?

First, social media is probably the place where your users already are. 

Secondly, social media pages have their respective following, helping you skip the cutthroat competition as with SERPs. 

Third, virality is a thing, which means shares and traffic may be correlated.

When posting content on social media, it’s important to include links back to the article. Click-bait headlines may also add some intrigue or incite curiosity that increases link CTR. Just make sure the content follows through to prevent your bounce rate from ballooning and hurting your SEO instead.

Leveraging social media backlinks can drive referral traffic, indirectly improving your SERP ranking and visibility on search results. 

#2 Increase Brand Visibility

Speaking of shares and virality, social media excels in boosting a company’s brand visibility. Users can easily share content on social media without repercussions, especially if the post isn’t polarizing. 

One viral post and you will likely observe a surge of traffic on your main site. Of course, relying on the hope of virality isn’t a sound marketing goal as the chances of one are often slim. Plus, consistency always beats virality.

When posting content and inserting social media backlinks, focus more on targeting the right keywords and speaking your audience’s language.

Given the vastness of social media platforms, you may be able to connect with potential customers who haven’t even discovered your brand yet. With social backlinking paired with exceptional content, you can expect a bump in share count, further amplifying your reach and visibility.

#3 Improve Topical Authority

Shares are not only indicators of exceptional content, they can also signify a site’s topical authority on a subject. With more shares and engagement coming in, social signals may classify you as an authority on the matter, adding points to your search quality score.

Another wonderful thing about social media is how it fosters two-way communication. Pages can respond to comments, answer questions, and participate in relevant conversations where you can demonstrate your people-orientedness. 

This interactive approach builds trust and strengthens relationships with your audience, making your brand more memorable, recognizable, and authoritative.

Social media also encourages community-building and connecting people with the same interests. A good example of this is Quora and Reddit.

By engaging in discussions and answering questions, you position yourself as a reliable source of knowledge within your niche. Aside from building trust with your audience, you also attract others who actively seek out your expertise.

You may then leverage social media backlinks to reel users to your website’s vast collection of knowledge.

As your social media presence grows and your expertise shines through, attracting mentions or collaborations from other established figures is within the realm of possibilities. All these connections further solidify your social proof and topical authority, which may lead to backlinks, ultimately strengthening your SEO.

Are Social Media Backlinks Worthwhile for SEO?

Social media link building for the sake of links? No.

Social media backlinks provide no SEO value as far as PageRank is concerned. But that doesn’t mean social media cannot be configured to support your SEO efforts.

Remember: The value of social media backlinks to your SEO is only as strong as your social signals. Therefore, spamming backlinks onto your profile will get you nowhere. 

It’s important to accompany social backlinking with decent social media marketing for the best results.

Now let’s reiterate the question: are social media backlinks worthwhile for SEO if you have exceptional social signals?

YES. Social media backlinks are worthwhile for SEO, but there’s a caveat. While the benefits are worthwhile, social signals take time to build and so is the ROI of social backlinks.

Putting all your chips on social media backlinks is not advisable if you need immediate PageRank from high DA sites. You will have better odds with conventional link-building best practices than social media.

That said, while social media backlinks are worthwhile, it all boils down to this: how much is your budget and how patient are you in waiting for the lucrative benefits of social media backlinks?


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