Can Likes, Pluses & Tweets Cleanse The Link Graph?

It’s an extremely challenging time to be a link builder. Whether you see yourself as white hat, black hat, or as most are, gray, there has never been a time in my nearly two decades of being a content publicist / link builder when it was more challenging to keep up with the variety and changing landscape of links.

Ironically, the main reason things are harder now, is that it’s easier to exchange URLs without having to know one bit of HTML.

If you wanted to give someone a link in 1995, that meant you wanted to put their link on your web page, which 99% of us edited by hand, meaning you had to take the time to open up the file, hand edit the <a href>tag, and then more than likely FTP that file back up to your web server.

You had to really want to link to something back then because it meant taking several minutes of time to find the file, edit the file upload the file check the file, and be done with it. I can see why the earliest versions of link graph algorithms could be so much more trusting than today.

Guestbooks were the first place you could link spam without knowing HTML. Then we had Geocities and it was a breeze for the link spammers. Next came blogs (which you may not realize was just a tricked out guestbook  app).

Then came bookmarking apps, digging, stumbling, Sharing this and Adding that, Likes, Plus Ones; we now find ourselves at a point where it is possible for anyone of any age or any motive to try to impact the overall link graph with nothing more than a mouse click.

It’s enough to make old school link builders weep.

Don’t. These new methods for sharing and voting are exactly what the web needs to help cleanse the link graph.

People in mass and of all ages are now on the web, which wasn’t the case in 1994. My mother, now 81, didn’t “discover” the web till I forced her to get on via AOL. Now, it’s unusual if you’re not on the web in some form or fashion. People of all ages and interests have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts. At the same time, people are creatures of habit. And web sites are supposed to serve a purpose.

I can completely understand why a social link graph could and should impact whether or not a certain demographic finds the latest news or gossip about Lady Gaga. I get it.

The social link graph is tailor made for such things. Breaking news, shocking events, sensational behavior. Would we give a darn about Charlie Sheen if there was no such thing as social media? How many of those Twitter followers will bail once he’s either sober or dead?

But I digress. Here’s the takeaway. Although much has changed, the the only thing that changes about the link graph is where the engines feel they need to look for signals in order to improve the search experience for each individual searcher.

A 54 year old purchasing agent in Ohio looking for industrial ball bearings for his factory equipment is not likely to benefit from the same algorithmic signal set as an 16 year old boy in Seattle looking for a used skateboard.

That’s where the strategic thinking link builder will shine. The game now is understanding and recognizing which types of link graphs are trustworthy enough to help any given client with both organic search traffic and direct click traffic.

In that sense, things haven’t changed at all. The medium remains the message, but the demographics dictate the tactics.

Game On. +1

Stock image from Shutterstock, used under license.


Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

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  • Ian Howells

    I’m totally with you on the shift in link graph and the movement of the overall act link creation from being very manual and meaningful to just a few quick clicks. When I started in 1999, updating a menu took forever. Finding out about using includes with .shtml files was, for about two days, the best thing that ever happened to me. However, I don’t think these new signals are going to clean the graph up at all.

    All of these new signals are as easy to game as guestbook spamming.

    Want 10,000 Twitter followers? You can get them for $97

    Want 1,000 twitter accounts with background images, email verification, and profile images that you can auto-tweet to? $150 and you can have them.

    Want 5,000 Facebook fans? Throw down $400 and they’re yours.

    Within 90 days of the +1 widget for websites rolling out, there will be a paid service to game it.

    While these won’t be “authority” accounts, mass link spamming never got you “authority” links either, and we can all plainly see how much that mattered.

    Every new signal is going to get gamed. Rankings are worth way too much money for it not to play out that way.

    The graph will always, always be dirty – there’s no going back.

    The only fix is Google upping their game until they can not only tell the difference between the signal and noise, but actually act on it.

  • Ralph

    Ian, I agree with you to an extent i.e. that the link graph will always be “gameable” and that there will always be paid services to do so, but i think Eric is right… at least I hope he is because I hate the fact it is all so easy if you spend a few bucks and that the bigger your link building budget, the better chance you have of getting to the top of the pile.

    In my opinion, social media gives us links with personalities. So you can game it all you want, but if none of your 500 fans, followers, likers have any fans, followers, likers themselves, then we can safely assume their opinion is not worth as much as someone with 200k followers who in turn have hundreds of followers themselves an so on.

    The “link neighborhood” has taken on a new meaning in that there are actually people living in the neighborhood as opposed to empty office blocks with tumbleweed blowing through the streets.
    The link neighborhood has conversations happening on every corner and linkers sipping link juice at the content cafe on the corner etc.

  • Ian Howells

    We had that though already, didn’t we?

    “if none of your 500 fans, followers, likers have any fans, followers, likers themselves, then we can safely assume their opinion is not worth as much as someone with…”

    Is the same thing as…

    “If none of your backlinks have backlinks themselves, we can safely assume their links are not worth as much as one with…”

    So, absolutely, a tweet or whatever from an “authority” in your niche should and presumably will be worth way more than an “empty” tweet/like/whatever. But that’s where we are right now with links.

    A link from NYT is worth way more than a forum profile… so people use Xrumer to make 30,000 forum profiles at a time, and the volume makes up for the low quality. I’m predicting the same exact thing will (and is already) happening with social signals for as long as Google allows mass volume of low quality signals to match and exceed what you get from a lower number of high quality signals.

  • Shari Thurow

    Hi all-

    Eric’s perspective always makes me think. I agree that it is a good thing to differentiate searchers and their goals, needs, and behaviors. Yet I still believe that link development, including social signals, is fundamentally flawed.

    Citations from scholars are completely different from citations from SEOs. I don’t think the folks at Google thought this through. I understand the principle.

    Personally, I’ve seen social signals gamed far, far too much for me to believe strongly in them. It’s still too easy to get positive social signals, and it’s also easy to provide negative social signals. And, to be perfectly honest, many of my clients just don’t care…and they shouldn’t care. Their clients do not use social media. So it’s not important to them, and they shouldn’t be forced to use it because of some competitor gaming the system.

    My 2 cents.

  • David Carrillo

    Why would someone continue to follow Charlie Sheen on Twitter if he were dead?


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