Last month, Eric Ward’s “Link Week” column at searchengineland.com introduced some interesting talking points regarding today’s proliferation of online content consumption taking place on mobile devices and what that means from a link building stand point. While I certainly agree with several of Ward’s points, I am unconvinced by a few of his thoughts.

Here I’ll be examining some of Ward’s ideas concerning URL sharing, link value, and what implications exist for search engine marketers. Of course, I’ll also be throwing in my own two cents on the future of mobile versus desktop URL sharing and online content authorship.

How the “Device Effect” is Changing Link Creation and URL Sharing

Is the link created from sharing an article from a smartphone less valuable than one from a desktop share?

The “device effect,” as Ward labels it, is the impact that mobile devices are having on the “link graph” of the search engine marketing industry. More specifically, Ward argues that the explosion of growth in web browsing on mobile devices has fundamentally changed the way links are being created and shared.

Rather than constructing hyperlinks longhand using full URLs as was done in the past, more links today are being created through one-touch social sharing buttons. The reason for this shift away from traditional insertion of links into content using HTML code is that doing so on a mobile device is just plain annoying. As Ward states, “Try writing a blog post via a mobile interface and including a long URL to a cool page or video you found—it’s torture. It would take less time to simply drive to your office, fire up the PC and write it that way.” Ward goes on to mention that “real” link building activities take place on a permanent machine—not a mobile device—and that because these types of links require more effort on the part of the link builder, they are inherently more valuable.

While I share Ward’s disdain for creating URLs longhand on mobile devices (talk about a hair-pulling experience), I find it a little difficult to get on board with his “effort” theory. Arguing that a link has more value simply because it was created using a keyboard and took longer than clicking “Tweet” or “Like” is a bit like saying a mud hut built by hand is a better structure than a skyscraper built with modern machinery because the human effort was greater. Ward asks, “Are links that require more time and effort to insert into content more credible than links shared by a one-second button tap on an iPhone? Put another way, does the ease of URL sharing on mobile devices reduce the credibility of those URLs shared because the share takes place via a button tap and thus may have been impulsive rather than carefully considered?”

If we answer “yes” to these questions, then what are we implying about the value of social media in general? For the past several years, the search engine marketing industry has pushed the idea that social media, and social sharing specifically, are essential to building online recognition and improving search engine rankings. As for mobile device search, and thereby mobile link sharing, most SEM professionals agree that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. If search engines begin to treat mobile URL shares as “weaker” than traditional link shares, what does that say about future progress and innovation when it comes to content sharing on mobile devices?

Google+ and Authorship

Authorship is touched on in Ward’s column as well, and he raises an interesting point. “Ultimately, it seems to me that the URL share will be valued based on the sharer… Links are not what is trusted—it’s the credibility of the person doing the sharing that’s trusted.” Ward mentions the cloudy subject of Google+ Authorship as evidence of this, which has been receiving a lot of attention lately from curious online content creators wondering how it will affect the search engine rankings of their content.

Basically, Google Authorship is meant to reward trusted individual authors for producing high-quality content through improved search engine rankings. One of the ways Google is rewarding these authors, however, is through the amount of sharing their content encourages. According to a post on virante.com, Google is “looking at how often and frequently your content is shared, who shares it, and many other engagement factors. Be an expert and share your content where people can see it.”

In my opinion, this means that while Ward is correct in his idea that search engine trust seems to be shifting from links themselves to the actual link authors, I believe that any type of URL share, mobile or otherwise, will continue to hold value for the rankings of a particular piece of online content.

On a side note, something amusing happened as I scrolled to the bottom of Ward’s article to check out the comments. A pop-up screen appeared, encouraging me to share this post with my friends and social media followers, complete with easy-to-use buttons for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I wonder what Ward thinks of this devaluation of “signal salience” of his own article.

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