But in the long term, Twitter represents much more than just a way to build links. It's a way to establish yourself as an expert in your field, potentially drive significant traffic, and gain "social media authority," which may one day soon factor into the ranking algorithms of Google and other search engines.
Many people have written about what a great opportunity Twitter represents for publishers, and they're right. But it isn't a free ride, and requires serious effort to pull off.
One of the great things about today's Internet environment is that entrepreneurs launch new types of Web properties all the time. These ventures fail most of the time.
But every once in a while, something new comes along that really begins to take off. Twitter is an example of something that appears to be on that course, although a viable financial model hasn't yet emerged for the site.
Early adopters of these newborn Web properties have a tremendous opportunity. Since they aren't well established, they have a smaller audience, and their long-term viability isn't certain, there's less competition for attention. You can leverage this to establish yourself as a topic-matter expert within this new environment.
Twitter is an environment that's growing in size and scope. New subject-matter experts are already emerging. These people use Twitter to post high-quality content, and are building a large number of followers.
If Twitter develops a stable financial model, which it needs for long-term viability, these people will be handsomely rewarded for the investment of time they've put into Twitter.
The founders of these companies made an investment in blogging before it became mainstream. If they had instead attempted to make a similar investment in launching a new TV network or filming a new movie, their chances of success would've been much smaller. In short, the opportunity is to become a star, or a leader if you prefer, in a new medium.
Finding the ROI
New frontiers create new opportunities, but what's the nature of the opportunity? Some argue that you can get lots of traffic from Twitter. For the most part, these articles talk about getting hundreds of visitors per day to your site from Twitter.
For sites that get tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of visitors per day, that just doesn't move the needle. So where is the ROI? Being a recognized subject-matter expert might be good for your ego, but you want it to be good for your income too.
One way to do this is to consciously focus on following major influencers from other media who are on Twitter, developing relationships with them, and getting them interested in following you based on your interactions. If they recognize you as a leader, you are, in fact, a leader.
In terms of short-term gain, this can lead to links from outside of Twitter (links within Twitter are nofollowed). Those links can drive a handsome return on the time you invested.
Links are still the short-term payout. Will there come a time where "social media mentions" are a factor in search engine rankings? Or will Twitter ever be able to send thousands or tens of thousands of visitors per day to Web sites?
Probably, but for most people it isn't here yet. But links are available now.
Focus on building a topic-matter-specific Twitter account, publish quality content, network with influencers, and you'll get links. If you do this well, and have a bit of luck, some of them may be from highly trusted and authoritative sources. In addition, you'll put yourself in a position where your direct Twitter traffic can grow as Twitter moves towards the mainstream.
Publishing this type of quality content in sufficient volume is hard work. You can't dip your toe in the water, you need to dive in, and you need to be patient because the process takes time. Focus your goals on the right objectives and your chances of success go up significantly.
Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center.