SMO: Facebook Backlinks, Do These Matter?

Recently my coworkers and I attempted something sacrilegious to most social media “gurus”: We proposed killing our organization’s Facebook page. No one representing our company had posted on the page in months, and despite many events and photo opportunities, only one neglected album held tiny images from a year past. “Embarassing”, “waste of time” and “dead already” were some of the internal comments regarding our not-oft-visited site. It looked like we were moving forward, on a train driving Facebook out of our town. Then our PR agency threw a wrench in wheels, “You’ll lose your backlinks!”, they said. Our what?

Backlinks in SEO are hyperlinks from other websites which lead to your site. Backlinks are like votes. The more links you have, the higher your Google search score is. The more highly ranked the sites leading to you, the more the backlinks are weighted into you score. Not only is Facebook the highest ranked website in the world, over even Google.com, but at the beginning of the year Google admitted to factoring social media links into its algorithms.

Social media backlinking was rarely discussed when I interned in SEO, nor was it mentioned in my social media positions and even social media optimization (SMO) discussions. SMO is the practice of using social media to drive traffic your site, the “All Roads Lead to Rome” idea. SMO traditionally focuses on actual clicks. Content is optimized to increase clickthrus using tactics such as link-baiting, content creation, images and keyword tagging. SMO came into mainstream last year as a weapon in the search engine wars, (which Google no doubt won with the help of mobile).

My organization already had top two SEO ranking and a never-ending supply of niche research publications to continually feed to our SEO rankings, so our rankings really weren’t affected by backlinks. From an SMO standpoint, however, the Facebook page was relevant for sharing content and bringing in referral traffic. (Direct traffic comes straight to your site; Referral traffic clicks a link on another site. Usually SEO analytics tools break down what referral traffic is coming from search engines and what is from “all other sites”.)

Although LinkedIn offered great referral traffic by percent clickthru per link, referral traffic from Facebook was negligible. This was consistent with our hypotheses regarding how our membership and target audiences used the web. Despite having Facebook buttons on our website, every email we sent out and printed material, as well as membership and subscribers numbers in the tens of thousands, we were at only 150 likes. (This compared to thousands of group members on LinkedIn). Clearly, Facebook was not where our audience was finding us. The argument was made and Facebook was sentenced.

The question for you is, do Facebook backlinks help my site? It is true for a relatively unknown or low-SEO-ranking site Facebook backlinks can be beneficial to increasing SEO. For maximum SEO ROI, you want to focus on a few “call-to-action” pages, such as a contact page, a company overview, your main page or a submission form, (Examples: proposal submission or membership sign-ups). For maximum SMO, you want to focus on content and “call-to-action” pages which may be generated by the type of social media content.

Articles hosted on your site shared on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is the most common SMO backlink, but video and picture content are beginning to dominate the web as networking bandwidth allows larger file hosting. While keyword tagging pictures and video content has been a part of SEO since before SMO was a discipline, linking back to your site wasn’t as prevalent as today. Increased blogging and sites like Instagram, Twitter, via Yfrog and Pinterest have made image linking more relevant.

Some examples of SMO backlinking:

Shortened Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn links which are retweeted or shared by several people
Blogposts or highly trafficked blogs which reference your website
Lists (not as common since search), such as Angie’s List, which recommend your company or website
Yelp, Yahoo, Hotels.com or other rating sites which evaluate and link back to your company site
Proprietary content images used on other sites, such as a blog, which hyperlink to your site
Pinterest pictures which lead to a point-of-purchase on a commerce site or services, (example: Home renovation company)
Embedded video content on other sites which is hosted on your site or Youtube channels

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