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Twitter: Incredibly Valuable Or Utterly Useless As A Link Building Tool?
I’ve read so many articles lately about Twitter, from mainstream press to the sports world to the SEO world, that all seem to focus on the “phenomena” aspect of it. After the Twittles (Twitter+Skittles) thing happened, it was like a dam bursting. Everyone wanted to know who was doing what with Twitter, how to use it for this or for that, from buzz building to reputation management to link building. I use Twitter, but not for telling people what I’m about to have for lunch. I use it to keep up with news, events, announcements, links etc. In my demographic I really don’t think anyone cares what song I’m listening to at the moment (Melt With You, Modern English). On the other hand, for the 21 year old using it on a college campus, twittering where you’re headed for beers or what CD you just bought seems logical, natural, obvious.
What’s a bit troubling is when I read people taking positions as to the link building merits of Twitter. Some say Twitter is about traffic, not links, and I agree. Other say Twitter is a link building bonanza, and I don’t agree. Then I stare at the wall pondering it for an hour, and I’m not so sure what I think.
So, I look for evidence. Then I see the actual effect Twitter can have on natural, credible link building, and I get that same warm feeling I had back when I first discovered ICQ. The link builder always, and I mean always is looking at any tool with one eye on how to use it for link building. Sometimes this results in cool new techniques, sometimes it doesn’t.
Back to Twitter. As much as I know you would love to have someone with 870,000 followers mention your URL, even if it happens, that’s not link building. In fact, if the only metric you care about is number of followers, you are missing the point entirely as to Twitter’s potential for link building. Argue with me all day about how some of those 870,000 followers will then link to the site as well, but that’s the same logic that says if you get to the Digg homepage the trickle down links will improve rankings. Well, if your site is about celebs in thongs, maybe. But what if your site is about tree removal? Or copper pipes?
Where I see the real value in Twitter as a link building tool is in recognizing that many people who use Twitter have influence in very specific subject areas. If I’m announcing a niche health related web site, I can do a bit of research and quickly find which Twitter users are regularly tweeting similar health related URLs, and reach out to them, outside of Twitter. I don’t want to draw attention to a specific Twitter user here, so bear with me as I explain. A few weeks ago I announced a new site via URLwire, and whenever I do this I set up several alerts/trackers to see where mentions/links show up. I also set up a Twitter search for that new URL.
I never tweeted the site myself.
As of this article, the new site I announced has been tweeted or re-tweeted by seven people. That’s not many, is it? But look deeper. Looking at the profiles of the those seven people, I discovered all of them were health experts in one form or another. Also, all of them had several hundred followers (one had 780), and a quick check of a few dozen of those showed some overlap (expected) as well as frequent health URL tweets. In other words, I’d found a loose community of several thousand collective Twitterer’s who had shared news about a new web site URL.
One of those re-tweets came from a librarian at a med school web site, who did one more thing with that URL. She added a link to it from the med school web site she’s in charge of editing. What started to her as a tweet ended as a permanent link from her high trust web page.
I wonder how many med school librarians linked to that now-infamous Skittles site?
Twitter’s surface allure is about fame and followers, everything shiny and bright. Twitter’s deeper value, for those of us laboring away to constantly improve our search marketing campaigns, is about resource discovery and new links via a handful of experts behind the scenes, in the corners of the web most people ignore, but engines often love. So, ultimately—which is more important? I’d love to hear your comments below.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.