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We’ve written a lot about how social media data is colliding with keyword search data, and why it’s more important as ever to have a strong social media presence. But a lot of people (even some social media “gurus”) don’t know the nuts and bolts of how social media and search engines interplay through meta tags, link attributes, and bots — and why some some social media post links are much more valuable than others.

If you’re not into the technical stuff, no worries. This is going to be a quick layman’s primer on what exactly happens when you post a link to your Facebook or Google+ page, and what search engines typically do with those links.

NoFollow Links

If you’re active on social media, have a lot of followers, and post a lot of links to your website or content you’ve generated, you may be surprised to learn that in most every case, any link you post is given the tag “rel=nofollow” by the social media platform. This basically tells search engines not to follow or index the link. Why would social media websites make the link you posted a “nofollow” link? The answer can be summed up in one word: spam.

Social media makes putting links on the web so easy a child could do it (and millions do every day). So for the sake of not sending web crawlers through a minefield of Instagram selfies mixed with web marketing funnels, social media platforms add the “nofollow” attribute to user-generated links.

If you find this disturbing, since you thought you helped out your SEO by posting links to your website, you have to realize that this knowledge now gives you a slight advantage. Nothing should ever change your goal of bringing the best-quality content possible to the web. However, once you consider that the pressure is off somewhat in appealing to web crawlers when you make a post on Facebook to promote your cause or business, you can concentrate on what social media is truly supposed to be about: people.

The Rise of Semantic Search

The guts of Internet search are changing — and fast. User-generated “semantic” data from social media is beginning to find its way into search. This is why Bing encourages you to sign in with Facebook and why Google pushes Google+ so much (and why they want you to stay logged in at all times). But this user-generated data from social media doesn’t qualify as “links;” they’re “likes.” All those likes, favorites, and shares build a network of associations that show both relationships and rank. Mixed with traditional keyword-based indexing, this is the future of search.

The next time you post a link to your website on Facebook or Google+, keep in mind that your goal, in terms of SEO, is to make those connections with people who are genuinely interested in what you are posting. If it’s a link to a blog post on your website, make sure that article has some “like” buttons at the bottom and a link to your Facebook page, Twitter account, and any other social media platforms you use. You may not get any direct SEO value from the original link you posted, but the potential of what you stand to gain in terms of semantic search from actual human beings making a connection to your post, your article, and your Facebook or Google+ page will more than make up for it.

The truly beautiful thing about SEO is that when done right, you goals are simpatico with both those of the search engine and your potential website visitors. So keep your social media posts “social;” and when it comes to your website text and blog posts, make sure your content is clear, focused, and most importantly, valuable to your audience.

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