With the rise of social media in search engine results, will the marketer’s ability to have control over their organic ranking be entirely in the hands of the great unwashed?
Why social makes sense for rankings
Google values word of mouth marketing more and more. Before Facebook and even earlier than Myspace, the best way they could achieve this was through measuring the number of and relative value of links pointing at each website. This and good content written by a skilled blog writer are still the main ways websites get ranked highly. But now there’s the direct and timely recommendation power of social media.
As search starts to use pages like Facebook to determine relevance of a web property, it’s getting much more timely information. Try a search today and among the recommended websites might be some that were put up 5 year ago or more. If social media is brought into the picture, then the opportunity is there for Google to present search results based on timely information and to filter it based on the likes of your friends and peers.
An opportunity for other solutions
Lately I’ve been playing around with Quora and Hunch. The latter one is building something akin to Pandora’s music genome project which learns about you as you listen. In this case, you must continuously answer questions. According to Wikipedia, they reached 1.2 million users by February 2010. Even better, by allowing it access to your Facebook or Twitter accounts, it immediately begins to make predictions about your interests, and then it learns about you as you go.
Quora is question-based, but much the same. It’s built by the community who’s on it.
Still another is called Recorded Future. This one is really interesting. It scrapes real-time data from the Internet and makes predictions about what might happen in the future related to what it’s learned about the company or person in the present. For instance, if I’m searching for a blog writer and it finds that I’ve also placed hiring ads on CraigsList; and on another site it finds a mention that Google wants to buy Ion Leap; then it scrapes something related from my Twitter feed…then it might bring all that information together and make predictions about how Ion Leap is going to be very, very rich. To use the service you have to sign up for a paid plan, so I haven’t jumped in yet, but it certainly looks like a cool solution.
Why social isn’t enough
There are immediate and then long-term problems which will likely affect all of these. The immediate problem is that the early information and recommendations built into them will be from the early adopters, and they represent a certain demographic which will result in skewed information. While not bad or wrong, it will by necessity leave out certain topics and be one-sided on others.
The long-term issues will occur if they are successful. Who judges which experts can control what I see? Certainly not all of my Facebook friends should be recommending what I read or where I vacation. I have a very wide set of friends with extremely differing taste levels and interests. Do I really trust them more than the Google Algorithm?
What will it look like and when?
What will make all this powerful will be to put the controls into the hands of the users. If Google doesn’t buy Quora and Hunch, then maybe some sort of overlord company will come along that will allow me to choose how to filter my search between all the services out there. If I’m looking for a restaurant, then I trust a certain set of friends. If it’s a question about technology, I trust others. But if I’m looking for a vacation spot, I’d like a plain old-fashioned search, driven by the Google search engine, pointing at websites with good blog writer teams on the other end. And, occasionally, I’d like to click on a website written 10 years ago.