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If “Likes” Are The New Links, Content Quality Should Increase

Spammers Will Continue to Look for New Ways to Exploit

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It’s become increasingly clear that social interactions with content are in important element in the promotion and visibility of that content. Beyond the simple viral nature of Facebook "likes" and Twitter retweets, they have simply become part of the fabric of the web and discoverability of content, in some cases even more powerful than search. That is why search engines have taken their own interests in these interactions. 

WebProNews recently spoke with search industry vet Bruce Clay, who says, "Likes are the new links." 

"I think that what in general we have seen is that people have gotten so concerned about links as being a way of biasing your search results that in an almost blind way, they’ve been going after quantities of links, and that overtime, the trust score of those links has been dropping, and we’ve been seeing recently top-ranked sites that fall right out of the search results because they have just way too many sites linking to them that are not at all trustworthy," he says. 

"The people that will gladly sell you links on the ‘hi, how many do you want a week?’ basis are just bringing in links to fulfill a contract – not links because they’re the right kind of links," he continues. "Whereas in the social world, the people that like you or share you or review you, they have a tendency to be part of a trusted community, and these are people that you’ve accepted into your community. These are people that you agree are knowledgeable on the things that you share common beliefs, and those kinds of referrals and likes and things like that are far more valuable than somebody in the middle of some city that you’ve never heard of, that you’ve never met that has no idea what you’re doing, linking to you."

Social can be an important indicator of relevancy, and Google knows this, which is why the company recently released its own social-based recommendation engine to tie into local search.

It will be interesting to see if "like buying" becomes a prevalent activity. People will always look for ways to exploit any technology that gets their stuff in front of more people. 

"There’s gonna be new types of spam, like ‘how do I spam likes?’ People are going to start figuring out, ‘ok, I’m going to get a whole bunch of people and we’re going to fight our way into your community," says Clay. "We’re going to work our way in through the holes that are in Facebook, etc. We’re going to start biasing the system that way."

"I think that the PageRank algorithm actually supports testimonial grade links as a vote for you as being worthy," he says. "I think that a more significant signal is when people like you or share or link to you through a social network if they are your community. And I think a community with a matching persona of your user is going to carry a lot more weight in the future. We’re right at the early stage."

It remains to be seen just what Google will be able to do with Facebook data, however, because it just can’t get access to it. Meanwhile Bing has cracked the nut, at least to some extent, through a partnership.

"We’ve all heard how Facebook doesn’t like Google, and how Google’s coming back and talking to Facebook and how Facebook might be talking to Google…well, the thing is, if ‘like’ information (just on a voting system) were somehow integrated into the PageRank algorithm and half of links dropped and was replaced by likes, then I think we’d see that the value of the top sites will no longer be to whoever can buy the most links, but to whoever can earn the most links," says Clay.

"Now, in general, people won’t link to you unless you have quality content," he notes. "That means to me that the on-page SEO is gonna come back…it means that just having somebody write ten thousand articles and publishing them into the network where they’re average quality…isn’t necessarily going to help you, because nobody is particularly going to ‘like’ those kinds of things."

"It really becomes one of doing a few things right and not many things average," he adds. "So we’re going to see a re-focusing of the way search works in the future, and I think that’s a big item."

Clay concludes, "Likes are…one year from now, or six months even…I think that we’re going to see that likes and referrals and recommendations have started to be, if not already are a major, major part of all the ranking algorithms, and there’s going to be a general shift towards improving quality of sites, not improving size of sites."

If “Likes” Are The New Links, Content Quality Should Increase
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  • gratz

    “I think we’d see that the value of the top sites will no longer be to whoever can buy the most links, but to whoever can earn the most links,” says Clay.

    Your prognosis is crap. You already implied that people would be buying likes. The trend is to buy whatever helps you rank. This is a harbinger of things to come in the social space, only its much easier since I have thousands of “fake” friends that will share my content, making it look more special than what it is.

    I have no doubt it will be incorporated into a general search algorithm, but to say it won’t be gamed is silly. Buying fb fans in bulk is much easier than buying quality links. Result: It’s not a good indicator and should be ancillary to a ranking structure based on the most respected and difficult criteria: back links.

  • http://smobot.com jeff

    Currently, search engines already mine user behavior – click through ratio and bounce rate – and they have a better understanding of individual users based upon their search history and page interaction data than a simple FB Like can really provide, as FB Like doesn’t really say anything about relevance with respect to any given key phrase.

  • http://www.bruceclay.com Bruce

    There will always be people looking to game any system. But if a network of fake followers are not also friends with others in your community, then you have created a likefarm (much like a linkfarm)… something easily detected and surely to be ignored by the algorithm. Yes, there are folks that will try to deceive the SE’s, just like with camouflaged junk links.

    Many people accept the recommendations of their friends or a trusted source, and links purchased in bulk from some unseen offshore source just are hurting trust scores left and right. I could always be wrong and “likes” or other recommendations from friends are unimportant in any decision making process… so who do you trust if not your friends and like-minded community? Time will tell but I think there has to be something better than spam links as a measurement of your value. I do believe we are early but starting the trek towards community acceptance.

  • http://www.thetravelbug.org TheTravelBug

    There are already many companies offering packages of facebook fans i.e. ‘likes’.

  • http://investment-mortgages.com.au/ Matt

    Likes are the new links??????????

    This is way off the mark.

    Likes are very sort term and more a social type fad.

    “I think we’d see that the value of the top sites will no longer be to whoever can buy the most links, but to whoever can earn the most links,” says Clay

    This guy is way off the mark too. Google aint stupid. They know what are decent links and what are not. They take far more into the balance than you give them credit for….

  • http://www.domainate.com Steve

    Once upon a time, a site linked to another site either because the site owner liked that other site or because they were referencing something on that other site (or perhaps merely referencing the site i.e. news). Through gaming, links have become a pretty flawed system at looking at authority.

    X years from now, I will post a comment on a story very similar to this saying “Once upon a time, a person “liked” a site/person either because they actually did like them or because they were referencing something on that site or person’s profile/stream (or perhaps merely referencing the site/person i.e. news). Through gaming, likes have become a pretty flawed system at looking at authority.”

    Different word, same story.

  • Yatin

    This article makes me wonder when was the last time Bruce actually got his OWN hands dirty with link building / FB / twitter marketing?

    The general direction of his thinking is right, but , IMHO, – his 6months to 1 year prediction is bit on optimistic side.

    One can already buy FB likes, FB fans, FB status updates, Twitter Followers, Tweets, ET ALL !

    There are already Likes Exchange networks, you follow me and I follow you back kinda lists available on net. ( The first commentator has summed up nicely. )

    In a perfect world, likes would be the new links – BUT in real world there’s a lot of “manipulation filtering” that the search engines would need to figure out before reliably integrating them as a trusted reputation signal.

    Popularity and “Reputation” are two different things. Ask any Googler!

  • http://blog.webpro.in Bharati Ahuja

    When ever the search engines or the social web will come up with the factors influencing the rankings or reputation they will always have a tendency to be spammed and misused by the black hatters and people who perform illicit practices in the name of business.

    But, as the search and social scenario is maturing the people are also more net and search savvy than ever before now.

    I think if the likes are the new links more than the content quality increasing the content has to become more genuine.

    People those who sell links may start selling likes but it all depends on the search engines and the social media site how well they combat this spam with their anti-spam algos. and let the truth prevail.

    It is in fact an irony that the PageRank concept which was implemented to ensure the quality of the search results because of the keyword spamming which took place in early 2000 has been the main cause of the spammy link industry coming up .

    I think there should be a WWW drive for SAYING NO TO PAID LIKES OR LINKS.

    And I think each and every web developer, web marketer and SEO should take the responsibility to promote this message.

  • http://www.howto-dothis.com Julien

    I don’t like the idea that “likes” could be the new links so much, not everyone (not all websites) use Facebook and the nature of the pages “liked” is too buzzy… not always interesting… viral marketing shouldn’t be the future of seo IMHO.

  • http://www.SaintsforSinners.com robert clemenz

    If “Likes” are becoming the new “Links” and Links were created to offer testimonials that a person or company endorsed a product or web site (or both) then it seems that true testimonials, which are writen stories that offer compliments about a product or service, are going to be out-vogued. And that is really a shame. And while “Word of Mouth” advertising is still King, Likes and Links do not come from the mouth, they come from a keyboard with algorithims and spiders doing the bulk of work, not real people!

  • http://www.reputaciondeinternet.com Mark Brady

    Does anyone have any idea? Really you are trying to sound like you have it figured out. each of your arguments sound solid. The only thing I know is the people who have it figured out are not talking. You can look all day on the internet you find the truth.

  • http://www.web-media.co.uk WebMedia Search Optimisation

    Not sure if they will make the impact some may assume for the reasons already highlighted above.

    On the other hand they, no doubt, will be factored in some way or other. It may simply be the way that reviews and other user generated content is weighted in relation to the pages both liked and indexed.

    A page already in the index for a particular kw or phrase with a number of likes pointing to it from relevant posts/content might find an advantage but to what extent will only become clear over time.

  • http://www.makeasizzlingwebsite.com Mark Demers

    We may never know what Google will do with FB likes. My view is that they will just incorporate it into their algorithms. Linking from relative sites will always be the #1 criteria of course and the FB likes of a site will work for your pagerank about as much as your bookmarking of it.(Favorites list on your computer).
    To me it seems that they would be the same because a bookmarks (favorites) list are just another way of liking a site.
    Although , FB does have a high pagerank and that may in itself may give a websites likes a little boost as compared to a bookmark(favorite).But it really can`t be too much .

    That`s my view.

  • Kalemanzi

    I think quality of content has always been the main thing with a website. No doubt, content is king. Likes, reviews and whatever can be misleading. If you search for a good webhost, or spyware removal software or whatever, then you find all these review websites with a bunch of reviews and rankings etc. pointing you to different products. If you look closer, you will see all the links they point to point to clickbank which means they just place the top affiliate paying company

  • http://www.garcemac.com/ garce

    When the day comes that Facebook “Likes” influence the Goog in any way, that will be the day when its time to shut off the internet and start over. Actually, that day may have already come and gone…

    99.9% of the Facebook (which I recently quit, thank you very much) “Likes” I’ve encountered link to inane babble already disproved by Snopes.

  • http://www.howtomakemoneyonlines.com Tony – Make Money Online

    I can validate Bruce’s statements and it appears to be happening right now. I had a site with good content, doing well with traffic and rankings and I “added” a link building package of what appeared to be relevant, authority sites, manually entered link building. My site got clobbered by Google. There are no shortcuts that last is the lesson learned here.

  • http://www.cpasitesolutions.com CPA Sites

    It seems to me it would be easy to spam facebook likes. An automated pro was could easily create as many cake followers as you want.

  • http://Www.referencemoi.ca Steve@SMO SEO Montreal

    I think the shifts in search highlight the importance for companies to establish solid web presence through a well optimized, good content site that is properly structured and linked to, and an interactive, interesting social media presence. Firms that focused ony on their site and buying links a scrambling right now whereas those who did it right are sitting pretty and waiting for the social impact on ranking.

  • http://www.incensestick.biz Incense Sticks

    Thanks for writing in such an encouraging post. I had a glimpse of it and couldn

  • Grandprix

    If I was to show you some of the so-called “predictions” that Bruce Clay made over the past 10 years – you’d stop paying so much attention to what he thinks.

    He has no more of an idea than anyone else out there and all of the real experts at Google, Bing, Facebook and others know this.

    I totally agree with what Yatin said: “This article makes me wonder when was the last time Bruce actually got his OWN hands dirty with link building / FB / twitter marketing?”

    He makes these pronouncements and many people act like he’s the Oracle of All Internet Marketing Optimization. Clay was one of the “leading experts” who couldn’t say enough about building links when it was in vogue – almost any links. Then he modified that to quality, relevant ones and so on and so on.

    Just wait to see what happens for yourself.

  • Chris

    Too much trickery already being used in the like department.
    You want the video, click the like button. You want a better deal, add our like. Like what you’ve seen and want more……..just add us to your likes.

    Sorry, I will stick with social for listening and search for looking & finding.

  • http://www.BacklinkBooster.com TWP924

    I completely disagree with this article and agree with Gratz’ comment above. “Likes” will be much easier to spam than links, which opens up Pandora’s box with respect to manipulating search results.

    Overall, I think adding social networking feedback into the search results algorithm will be “1 of more than 200 criteria” (as Google likes to say) and it’s importance will still be way below that of backlinks.

  • http://www.armanihair.com salon

    Do you think that google is going to incorporate this into the algorithim for seo status?

  • http://www.bikeeurope.org/ bike europe

    It seems to me that Google is losing the battle with real SEO masters.

    From the other side I am noticing a lot of irrelevant articles in the media for some expression, on the first place on the search results and web site with a high quality content dedicated to the same phrase on the 4-5 page?!

  • http://www.autoreverseweb.com Souleye Cisse

    I don’t believe for a minute that ‘likes’ are gonna be a game changer because the same people who could ‘buy’ links will be able to ‘buy’ ‘likes’. even if they don’t game the system per se but because they have deep pockets, they can offer incentives that the little guy can’t. but the whole system of facebook is mindless and skewed. you receive email from a ‘friend’ saying they ‘liked’ a page and suggest that you do too. that’s ‘like’ brokering. often you like the page as a courtesy rather than a sincere act of liking. on facebook, someone who knows a lot of people will invariably get a lot of ‘likes’ even if they have crappy to no content. while the one who is less popular will get the cold shoulder no matter how relevant. I will not pretend this is a general rule but it’s been my experience.