Is Social Signaling The End Of Expert Content?

May 24, 2011 • 8:47 am | comments (11) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Social Search Engines & Optimization

Google Bing Social Search & ContentThere is an outstanding thread developing at WebmasterWorld on the topic of social search ranking factors versus content ranking factors. The discussion is fairly thought provoking, which is why forums still rock.

One webmaster is on the verge of complaining that Google and Bing are trumping their social search ranking features and downplaying the importance of quality and authoritative content. He said out of frustration:

As social factors increase in importance, the point of creating original, thought leading, anything OTHER than simple mass content is removed.

I'm seriously stunned here. I hope I've got this wrong, but not only has Google crushed businesses like mine that trade in ideas and content, it has the potential to significantly damage the society at large by LIMITING (unintentionally) the spread of the very information that runs the economic engines of this planet.

Some pretty strong words but is this really Google or Bing's goal? Are social factors going to take over the ranking game or just add some weight here and there?

There is no doubt in my mind that Google and Bing want the most authoritative content to rank the highest but when there are two pages that are close on the same level of expert content, which should they rank higher?

Also, think about social factors and what Google and Bing use to determine what is authoritative. Links, at least originally, were a form of social liking. If someone linked to your content, it meant they liked it and thus it ranked higher. Social liking or +1ing is a form of that.

Do you not think that if you have awesome content that it wouldn't be shared through social channels? Even if it wasn't - people would reference it, link to it, and hopefully it will trace back to that source at the end.

Personally, I am not worried. There are many cases of the original source not ranking higher than a site covering it later - but is that the goal of Google or Bing? The answer to that is the answer to if you should be worried or not.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

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05/24/2011 01:17 pm

I'd definitely agree with you, Barry, regarding the position of "I'm not Worried". As Social signals gain importance what it should mean is that searchers will be presented with quality content that is ALSO liked by their friends - if the search input contained information relevant to that information.  Relevancy to the query is always the over-riding goal for any search engine so quality content will still be presented to most searches, assuming that there is not a glut of similar but less quality content that is well liked by the searcher's circle of friends - enough of a glut that it would suppress the true quality content from reaching page 1 of the SERPs. That said I'm not sure I like the idea of particular searchers having the results of their search potentially limited by their group of friends. Cliques among teens and young adults might give them a sense of identity but socially speaking they limit open mindedness and create barriers and conflict with other cliques. Anything that widens the gap between cliques increases this possibility of conflict so "social search" should really be implemented in such a way that Google can retain a "Social Conscience" and actually avoid making social divides worse. however, I'm still not that worried as you have to log in to your google account, and have linked your social network accounts to your google account... thats a heck of a lot of effort and I'd be interested to see the proportion of searches conducted through logged in Google accounts and those that are not not logged in. I suspect that there are still far more searches conducted through un-registered sessions.


05/24/2011 01:18 pm

Well, that exact same issue exists today with links. Why would anyone write content that  doesnt attract links etc. Have you had a look at the content in a newspaper lately?


05/24/2011 01:39 pm

I think the next big evolution after social and search integration is content curation. As on the social media platform also curation is one of the activities which passes the link juice of the social signals but it has other aspects like engaging, conversing, etc also. On content curation sites the focus will be only on quality links   Content curation infact gives good quality inbound links to the content pages that have been curated. I say good quality links as the curator has found these links to be useful and informative and hence they have been listed by the curator for that topic or relevant search. Hence, in a way these sites help the search industry as a whole the searchers and the search engines. You never know content curator site signals could be incorporated the ranking factors of the search engines for quality and relevance just as social media signals are incorporated for popularity and WOM.

Nick Stamoulis

05/24/2011 02:40 pm

I would like to think that the search engines aren't going to favor shoddy content over great content just cause your Facebook friends Liked it. Otherwise, the entire Panda update was pointless. Richard has a good point; conent that is both great AND Liked is going to get more attention.


05/24/2011 06:18 pm

The fact that John Mueller shared this article on Google Buzz says a lot to me. Just for fun, I'll put words in his mouth (repeat: I'm pretending to know what John is saying when he shares this). "Correct, Barry, the goal of Google is not to care who the original source is...the goal is simply to present relevant information that users will like".  (Repeat: john didn't really say that, I'm pretending that's what he thinks). Did I repeat that often enough? Anyway, boys and girls, better dang well find ways to get people to like your site - one way or another - if you want to compete in the future.


05/24/2011 08:02 pm

JohnMu is pretty down the food chain on Google I think so it may mean nothing

Web Design Cheshire

05/24/2011 08:14 pm

I really don't think so either, the search major engines will carry on serving up valuable and interesting content which surely spans the entire web and not just Social Media etc


05/24/2011 10:58 pm

Exactly the opposite is going to happen. As search moves towards social, ranking criteria are going to focus ON experts wherever they are, not just because they've got a pretty website which has been well optimised. The more social search becomes, the more accurate it has the potential to be, not less.

Jude Harrison

05/25/2011 01:31 pm

I share his concerns. Just look at social bookmarking sites; every article is “top ten x” or “five ways to achieve Y”. The internet is becoming a massive collection of lists. Such articles, while attractive (they are so much easier to read than actual thought provoking content), are like fast food – unsubstantial and ultimately bad for us. Social search is a really exciting area, but it is dangerous to take it too far and there needs to be some kind of safety valve (in the same way that a Query Breadth Adjuster can lessen the impact of click stream data for sites that are already at the top of SERPs).   It’s also true that a site will lack social endorsements if its content is unpopular or controversial. So for example, in Libya you would see a large number of +1 for Colonel Gaddafi, because that is the safe thing to do. But the general population would also be denied exposure to democratic ideas, or at the very least views that contradicted those of the regime.  


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