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E-Marketing Performance Blog

Marketing Q&A: What’s the difference between link building and social media?

Web marketing questions about SEO, PPC, link building, social media, content marketing

If social media is the darling Cinderella of the current marketing world, then link building might be the u___ (unrecognized?) stepsister. When I describe link building and its important role in creating a company’s Web presence (see SEOmoz’s What is Link Building? for a definition/details), most people furrow their brows and say, “Sounds like you’re talking about social media.” (Cinderella gets all the glory!)

So, we’d like to end, once and for all, this unnecessary cause of forehead wrinkles by tackling the FAQ: What’s the difference between link building and social media?
Stoney (@StoneyD): Link building and social media have a lot in common and, in many cases, share similar goals. I would say that pure link building is a sub-set of SEO. The goal is to get keyword rich links on external sites pointing to your keyword-optimized pages. There are a lot of link-building methods, several of which cross over into social media: building relationships, creating great, linkable content and broadcasting it to bring eyes (and links) to that content.

Social media is an outlet for link building, but it also has its own goals, one of which can be getting valuable links. But social media has concerns far greater than just getting links, and any social strategy that doesn’t look beyond links is bound to fail.

You can have a link strategy that uses social media, as well as a social strategy that has a goal of links. But to maintain that narrow of a focus on either is ultimately not using each one to your greatest advantage.
Annalisa (@ahilliardm): Social media should be an important part of a business’s link-building strategy. It’s a way to engage an audience. In a sense, it’s relationship building. If you share information that is relevant and unique to your niche, you’ll be able to build relationships, and those relationships can lead to natural links.

Links are an outcome of a well-established social media presence. Here is an analogy to explain the difference between social media and link building. An athlete must train in order to compete. The goal of training is to be able to win the competition. Social media is the training and preparation. Link building is the reward or pay off. Now, don’t get me wrong, links are not the only purpose of social media. It’s important to create relationships in online marketing for many reasons. And, through those relationships, you can get links.
Jen (@martijen): Before I started with Pole Position Marketing, I had never even heard of link building. And, I suspect there are many in the marketing industry (particularly the “traditional” side) who are just as clueless as I was.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a few things about link building, including its primary Web marketing goal – to improve the rankings, visibility and credibility of your organization’s website. The more quality links to your Web content, the better your online presence looks to search engines, as well as readers. Think of them as love and hugs pointing in your direction.

But, it’s difficult to get that kind of attention without going where your potential “linkers” (and customers) are. Social media sites are vehicles for making connections and sending out your message. Think of them as online places where you give out love and hugs (with some specific goals in mind).

Social media can support your link-building strategy in two primary ways:

  • Helping you identify and engage industry influencers who may want to collaborate with your business or promote it by publishing content or advertising. In either case, you have the opportunity to negotiate a link!
  • Serving as a broadcast medium for your quality content that influencers may want to share and link to.

When you blend social media and link building together, they form the foundation for great online PR. Unlike the traditional discipline, online PR actually focuses on the public, not just a small group of media gatekeepers. Your news releases (with links) are for every online reader! For publicity, reputation management, coverage and more links, you can turn to not only social media, but also news outlets, bloggers, directories, partner websites, industry associations and even to yourself. (You, too, can become a publisher!)

So, while link building and social media have distinct functions and “directions,” they work better in tandem as a part of an overall online PR strategy.


Look for our Q&A posts about online marketing each month. Or, if you have a question you’d like to ask our team, just send it to [email protected]. We’ll be glad to answer via our blog.

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