Social Media Kills Search Engine Relevance


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A recent post from Forresters senior analyst Augie Ray made me think there is something wrong going on in the social media field that really threatens search engine performance and web information discovery in general.

Ok, here is the story. On Oct 13, Bing announced that it has added the Facebook likes in the search results formula. Good news. At first glance it seems this feature does extend the result relevance. Naturally, the more people who liked the website, the better it matches the user expectations. However, whats in a like? Do people cast their vote because they really recommend the website? Or is there something that makes them press the obtrusive button?

Certainly there is. And Bing is, again, a good example. The company was seen offering the FarmVille players free units for friending it in Facebook, resulting in 400,000 new fans (sic!) in a single day. I doubt they really use Bing for searching purposes. A certain part of them just wanted to get their units and Google for other freebies to trade their likes for. Too late. The search relevance landscape is distorted as Bing itself delivers incorrect results against their competitors.

The search industry is at the threshold of tightly merging with social media. There is no chance of escaping the necessity to include a likes-like advisory. At the same time, likes are much devalued and in such a raw form cannot be considered to be contributing more relevance to the search results. There is no clear connection between the quantity and quality of likes a user casts and the users rating. Rephrasing George Orwells Animal Farm, presently all likes are equal and it should switch to some likes are more equal than others to make social media a true contributor to the search engines.

Will Google, Yahoo and Ask follow Bings initiative? I am pretty sure they will. But not in that clumsy manner that encourages questionable social-media SEO strategies. No search engine is interested in impairing result relevance, as this is something that differentiates them from competitors and leads to user engagement. In fact, the same thing happened at the dawn of the modern web, when buying external links to increase website ranking was declared illegal. Shall search engines ban likes rewarding? Both hands up for it. At the same time, search engines shall also develop certain techniques for like assessment and user analysis to avoid distortion of the relevance landscape.

Lets leave aside the relevance issue. Ok, a company invested some money in social media likes, got an army of followers and increased its search engine ranking. Very good. Will this contribute productively to business development? In a short-term it will certainly drive more traffic to the website. But in my opinion, this shortsighted strategy will inevitably lead to reputation damage and significant negativity simply because the company is delivering the wrong message to the wrong audience and fueling unmet expectations and disappointment among users. When proceeding to a top-ranked website, users expect the highest relevance, not a ‘like’-pumped rating reflecting social media investments. It is much better to have a small but solid group of convinced followers than a bunch of freebie hunters devaluating the companys image. Generally in marketing, the end justifies the means, but in this case such companies operate with shortsighted ends and questionable means.

No doubt time shall pass till people understand the real value of their likes and start respecting their own recommendations. Search engines must be in the forefront of this process of educating users. The Bing-style careless inclusion of social media advisories may spoil the whole thing and damage the web communitys confidence in search result relevance. It can at least be called a setback. However, I am pretty sure in the nearest future we will see new technologies that address this challenge.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Denis Zenkin
Denis Zenkin has 15+ years' experience in high-tech marketing. He currently leads global marketing at Bitrix, Inc. – a multi-national developer of Enterprise 2. and website management solutions with a special focus on SMB. Denis is a frequent speaker at industry-specific events covering social-enabled intranet technologies, and regularly publishes articles on E2. adoption practices.


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