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.

Thanks again to AllFacebook, who reported this was happening earlier in the week for certain TripAdvisor listings:

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

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  1. Joel Turner said on June 25th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    This is a great post Joel. It will be interesting to see how the two giants figure out each of their shortfalls and where they can one up each other. Thanks for the interesting read.
    Joel Turner´s last blog ..Sharing Your Blog Posts to Get More TrafficMy ComLuv Profile

  2. Joel said on June 25th, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Hi Joel – very strange saying that!

    Thanks for the comment and nice monitoring of your name. Neat time i’m snowboarding in Colorado i’ll be sure to look you up, you live in a truly beautiful part of the world.

  3. Shaeeb Tanwir said on July 16th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Great post – I did look at the open graph protocol and how that would shape the way pages interact with each other in the future for my dissertation but I didn’t consider the implications for Google.. I guess in my opinion the ‘like’ button is not comparable to a complex algorithm you might get from the big search engines, and perhaps Facebook is spreading itself too thin with all the security concerns regarding its user profiles?

  4. Joel Turner said on July 19th, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Hi Shaeeb,

    I’d agree that the ‘like’ on its own is crude way of ranking sites and could be open to abuse. But if Facebook adds other ranking factors into the mix it could be a very interesting new form of search.

    Much like Google, Facebook tends to develop new ideas and throw them at the wall to see what will stick, it’s hard to know whether this will stick or not. But if it does and they decide to develop it further, it would represent an interesting challenge Google’s search hegemony.

  5. Shaeeb Tanwir said on July 21st, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Hi Joel thanks for your reply.

    I agree that if other factors were used by Facebook in addition to the ‘like’ feature it could prove quite useful as a search engine, especially if factors such as how many of your friends, and how many people in general clicking ‘like’ could be looked at critically during search; most people see Facebook as an extension of their peers; people generally trust peers more so the initial advantage at least will be akin to years of online brand building, it will then just depend on how Facebook leverages the situation.

  6. Joel Turner said on July 22nd, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Interesting take on other ranking factory Shaeeb. I think looking beyond ranking factors FB would have to work hard to develop a search algorithm that actually works. The current search function on Facebook is dismal.

    As a result I guess this is all a little way off…

  7. Shaeeb Tanwir said on July 22nd, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Interestingly many SEM enthusiasts often speculate on the algorithm of Google, and some other search engines and although the exact details are closely guarded it’s often broken down – there are often new search engines popping up with similar page ranking algorithms, it may not be totally unfeasible to use many similar factors and simply ‘slot in’ the like function. Oh well, we will just have to wait and see I suppose.

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Hello! We are Karyn Fleeting and Joel Turner . We are both directors at Tinderbox Media: a digital PR agency specialising in business blogs, which is based in North Yorkshire, UK. On Corporate Blogger we write about our observations, experiences and ideas drawn from working with our corporate clients on various web-based projects.

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