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."