“Ask an Expert” is an occasional feature where we ask ecommerce experts questions from online merchants. For this installment, we address a question about the search-engine-optimization value to no-follow links on social bookmarking sites, such as Digg and StumbleUpon. The question comes not from a merchant, but from our own social media director, Paul Chaney.
For the answer, we turn to Jill Kocher, SEO manager with Groupon.com, a deal-of-the day site. Kocher is an SEO expert and a Practical eCommerce contributor.
If you’d like to submit a question, email Kate Monteith, staff writer, at email@example.com and we’ll attempt to address it.
Paul Chaney: “Social bookmarking sites, such as Digg and StumbleUpon, use no-follow links. If I were to ‘Digg’ an ecommerce product, the link back to the ecommerce site would be no-followed. Many people use Digg, of course. Do no-follow links on these bookmarking sites have SEO value to the site that’s been bookmarked?”
Jill Kocher: “The short answer is that social media sites and other sites that no-follow their links provide no measurable, direct link building value. That said, all relevant links to quality content from quality sites have indirect link building value, as well as crawl boosting, traffic-driving and brand recognition value.
“Search engines treat the rel=nofollow attribute applied to the anchor tag as a signal that link popularity should not be passed through that link. It’s essentially a way of not vouching for the quality of the site being linked to, and is heavily used by sites that allow users to insert links into content that isn’t reviewed before being published. If Twitter, for example, didn’t no-follow links that users put into the tweets they posted, Twitter would seem to be vouching for all sorts of low quality or even spammy pages to which users chose to link. So from the social media sites’ points of view, rel=nofollow protects them from vouching for spammy sites. Unfortunately, it also prevents them from vouching for high quality sites.
“On the indirect link-building front, sites can’t link to content that they don’t know exists. Social media sites play a role in indirect link building by promoting content to an ever-widening set of users and their friends. Some fraction of those users will theoretically find that content useful or valuable in some way and link to it from a blog they own. It may also be cited in the media. These links may be able to pass link popularity.
“As to whether it’s valuable to submit individual product pages to social sites, typically the answer is ‘no.’ Unless the product has some sort of mass appeal, loyal fan base, or is accompanied by a contest, question or other form of user engagement, a product page post to a social media site will likely just be ignored. Moreover, over time ‘friend’ levels will deteriorate if only product pages are submitted.”