LinkingWhen it comes to online marketing, social media is dominating the conversation. Specifically Facebook, but also Twitter, LinkedIn, and a handful of other social sites are becoming a much greater force in search engine optimization (SEO).

These sites have hundreds of millions of visitors, and that amounts to raw power in external linking and traffic building.

How big?

Here’s a rundown of the most recent estimates of these sites’ sizes:

  • Facebook: more than 600 million users
  • Twitter: more than 400 million users
  • LinkedIn: more than 100 million users

Earlier this year, major search engines Google and Bing stated that social media links from Facebook and Twitter do indeed have a direct impact on a website’s SEO rankings. That was a shift from prior conventional wisdom, which held that social media links were “no follow”, contributing not at all to a website’s PageRank. (Some SEO experts, though, never bought that line in the first place.)

The result is a big shake-up of to accepted SEO practice.

Social Media’s growing SEO power

In 2010, when it looked like no other site could possibly compete with Google for search marketing impact, Facebook started to surprise some people.

In mid-year, the social media juggernaut became the first website that could challenge Google’s numbers. In November 2010, Facebook traffic was reported to have risen some 60 percent, and Facebook visits accounted for “almost one-fourth of page views and 10 percent of Internet visits,” per Information Week.

“Today, Facebook provides accountholders with more content than YouTube; in fact, the social media site delivered 24.27 percent of page views compared with YouTube’s 6.39%,” the Information Week article continues.

“In addition, Facebook delivers far more content than Google, which provided 4.13 percent of page views and Yahoo, which gave a mere 0.54 percent of page views.”

Facebook isn’t a search engine, of course, so it doesn’t—can’t—offer what Google does. SEO will still focus on what Google indexes. But this news means that Facebook is a means to market SEO via Google, and smart online marketers are already adapting their SEO and online advertising plans to this new announcement.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the biggest social media sites can help your SEO.

The dominant social networking sites

At this point, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the Internet’s three biggest social media sites. And that isn’t likely to change in the near future, as the numbers above show.

So, how can you make use of these sites’ huge membership base to increase your SEO reach?

It helps to think of social media as separate from SEO. Work all of these sites and create profiles for yourself and/or your site — especially Facebook. But don’t try to use standard marketing there; different rules apply.

Think and interact conversationally. Social media is called social media because it’s social—it’s not business oriented. The original purpose of these sites was to connect people and create networks, and that’s still primarily what people visit them for. If you stray from that path, and start pushing your business, people are going to be turned off, and you’ll hurt your site more than you help it.

So, be casual in your tone. Make friends, hook up with business colleagues past and present, and network. Those are the marketing options social media offers. It’s a soft sell, but it’s very powerful.

On Facebook, Like and Share your friends’ links. On Twitter, re-tweet links from your followers, and they’ll be more likely to do the same for you.

There are paid advertising options on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s still primarily a social venue. So, the best way to take advantage of these sites’ SEO power is to build a presence on them, which you’ve presumably already begun.

And, now that we know that Google and Bing do index social media content, you’re building external links each time you work on your social media profiles and share links.

The bottom line is this: What works in standard search marketing and SEO doesn’t necessarily work in social networking. Stay tuned to the Blog for more updates on social networking and what it can do for your website and marketing efforts.