A big question that is now put to SEO strategists is the questionable effect of social media and nofollow links on a website’s search engine ranking. Numerous viewpoints seem to exist and somewhere within all those blog posts, forums, and videos, the answer must be lurking.
What can we learn from what Matt Cutts has told us?
We appear to be given a mixed set of ideas here. Matt Cutts has answered questions revolving around social media and nofollow links numerous times yet with ever so slightly different answers, using careful phrasing that never seems to give too much away. Now whether this is because there is simply not much to tell or whether there is much to hide is a question worth bearing in mind.
We can look here at a few points Matt Cutts has made over the last couple of years and hopefully come to some conclusion:
1) We are told that we should use SEO in combination with social media marketing since getting our content out there is important. One of the crucial points Matt Cutts makes here though is that social media only helps because it might eventually result in someone creating a link to your website. There is no mention social media has any direct contribution to search engine rankings.
So from this we can deduce that social media benefits SEO but only indirectly.
2) In another video, we are told that Google now takes things like twitter presence into account (e.g. followers, mentions etc). This makes sense since high twitter presence suggests a trusted and credible website. Matt Cutts also suggests that in 10 years time social media is sure to play a larger role.
Here we learn that popularity on social media such as twitter can directly benefit SEO.
One assumes that popularity on other social sites like Facebook and Google+ is also used as a ranking signal. One thing to bear in mind here is that ratio of followers to people you follow is perhaps important. If you go round following thousands of people yet you have less than a hundred followers yourself, then Google may disapprove.
3) We are told that nofollow links are ignored by Google and even if they are from highly reputable sights such as Wikipedia, they have no benefit to a website’s rankings.
Here we can deduce that nofollow links are only indirectly beneficial to SEO.
However this point is worth thinking about. Often some of the phrasing Matt Cutts uses involves things like ‘Google will generally ignore nofollow links’. These kind of phrases suggest there might actually be some kind of value in nofollow links.
If we consider nofollow links, they are perhaps often some of the most credible links and valuable links for Google to use:
- Spam SEO will naturally try to avoid nofollow links since they apparently have no use for SEO. Therefore are nofollow links often more trustworthy?
- Social media nofollow links can suggest how popular a website is, giving Google an attractive way to determine trust and credibility.
- Links from highly trusted websites which are nofollow have no real reason to be ignored by Google. If those sites are linking to you, then shouldn’t the trust signal for your website be higher?
- A key point is that if Google was using some signal from nofollow links then the last thing they would want is for everyone to know this. So perhaps Google is keeping some things to themselves.
4) Interestingly in another video, we are told that Google does use links from social media such as Facebook and Twitter as ranking signals in the SERPs.
This is particularly interesting since we have confirmation that nofollow links are not necessarily ignored. In addition, this has some contradiction to point 1 where we are told that social media benefits SEO but only indirectly.
So Social Media and Nofollow Links: Do We Want Them?
- Social media is clearly indirectly beneficial to SEO since it enables you to share your content and increases the chance of your website being linked to.
- Social media appears to have some direct benefits to SEO although Matt Cutts has given some somewhat contradictory ideas on this topic. This benefit may be present if you have a high popularity on social media sites, and /or your website is highly linked to on social media sites even though they are nofollow links.
Nofollow links possibly have some direct value to SEO but this is uncertain. We’ve already seen they might be of value on social media sites. What we can say is:
- Nofollow social media links are worthwhile
- Nofollow links may sometimes be used in some way by Google
- It’s important to maintain at least ~5% of your links as nofollow in order to keep your backlink profile looking natural to Google.
In conclusion we can say that social media has potential to indirectly and directly improve the search engine ranking of a website. Nofollow links are more questionable, but remember they can be followed by web crawlers so don’t forget about them altogether.