Liking as the new linking – What does it mean for online marketing?
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One of search engine giant Google’s priorities is to improve user satisfaction by quickly delivering the desired result for every search term entered – for every user, every time.
As part of that it is constantly looking at ways to index the entire internet. At the moment though there is one barrier to Google achieving that goal: Facebook.
Facebook presents a real challenge to Google as the majority of activity by Facebook’s 500 million users stays on the social network’s servers and cannot be indexed. This has the search giant seriously worried, as status updates alone are estimated to amount to more than ten times the number of words written on blogs worldwide (thanks to AllFacebook for this and other excellent reporting on this topic).
The ‘Like’ is released
Google’s concern over this issue runs in parallel to Facebook’s recent launch of the Open Graph Protocol, which extends the ‘Like’ function outside of the network. It allows webmasters to install Like buttons on their sites and lets users share their ‘Like’ (or vote of approval) for content outside of Facebook on the popular network.
Despite Google’s concern about Facebook’s ‘hidden’ data this all seems reasonably inconspicuous. That would be unless external content wasn’t showing up in Facebook search…which it is.
These results pop-up as ‘Pages’ in Facebook search but are not pages on the network. Instead clicking on the link takes you through to the TripAdvisor listing.
This is fascinating stuff and makes Facebook’s future plans a really compelling mystery. In one move it has effectively produced a brilliant way of indexing content. And if they can keep spamming under control this could well become the people’s search engine.
Facebook is clunky and so is its search function
While the potential for this is enormous there is a real danger that Facebook is trying to run before it can walk in the search game.
Its current internal search function is truly appalling, with pages regularly disappearing out of search altogether.
More fundamentally, Facebook has to figure out how to describe the search results generated through the Open Graph if it is ever going to meet Google’s ability to satisfy users. What are these results? Are they a product of the people’s search engine I described above? Or simply a popularity contest that is therefore both unreliable and biased?
Links are just one measurement that Google uses to rank content in search results, Facebook needs to identify other ranking factors that will balance out the ‘Like’ and make this form of search credible.
Battle lines are drawn
These questions do need to be answered. But in the meantime we can be in no doubt that Facebook is squaring up to Google and wants ‘Like’ to become the new link.
Another big question is how Facebook will move out into the wider internet over time. It is still largely a closed system. To compete in the search world data from the Open Graph will have to be available and searchable outside of the network.
Alternatively, Facebook may become the homepage of choice (some would argue this is already happening) and form a portal or conduit to the rest of the internet, with the ‘Like’ search engine an integral element of that.
So what should you do?
There is really only one thing to do right now, and it plays perfectly into Facebook’s hands. Any webmaster with a busy site would be stupid not to implement the company’s Open Graph Protocol and to see how things play out.
If you haven’t already, then also definitely create a Facebook page for your organisation or company, as it is likely they will also form part of the ‘Like’ search engine in the future.
Other than that, just pull up a chair and watch as two of the internet’s titans go head-to-head in a battle that will shape the way we use the internet.
Photo credit: richkidsunite