The convergence of search and social is all the rage, over the last few weeks, since the announced deal for Google and Bing to show Tweets in their search results. I thought it would be appropriate for us to at least put a stake in the ground regarding our current opinion on the evolution of this topic.
As we all know, Google single-handedly took over the Internet search market through their unique ranking system called “PageRank,” which heavily relied on inbound links from other websites. Simply put, “PageRank” scoured the Internet finding links to other websites and tallied these links as a quasi voting system for relevant content. Through the years, SEO experts kept constant tabs on the slight changes to Google’s ranking algorithm and began to manipulate the system by trading/buying/selling inbound links to their websites.
Now what does this have to do with social media? The concept is quite simple… as the Internet has evolved and SEOs have pushed the envelope of link trading/buying/selling, the major search engines are looking to directly tap into social network data to rank pages according to their “social clout.” For example, putting an algorithm(s) in place to determine how many times an article on “LEDTVs ” is Tweeted, ReTweet, Dugg, Stumbledupon, Facebook fans of the homepage etc. The thinking here is that the most trusted sources regarding content is the users themselves, not whomever has the most budget for SEO.
My fear with the weight of “social clout” in search rankings is quite simple, SPAM. We all know Twitter, MySpace etc is full of SPAM already… imagine if these sites heavily impacted search results in Google? Instead of webmasters having 1 or 2 alias’ on Twitter, they could potentially have hundreds or thousands in effort to ReTweet their own content in the hopes of moving up the search ladder.
How can Google fight back against “Social SPAM”? My thought is listen to the “social connectors” (ie the Friendfeed’s and Ping.fm’s of the world) and establish a “SocialRank” system based on the relevant “clout” of their social graph. Anyone can easily create a Twitter alias, but my logic is if someone has multiple, verified social accounts,links them together, and builds relevant “clout” the likelihood of that user being a robot decreases dramatically.
In the not-too-distant future, your brand’s “clout” will not only be vital for your social presence, but also for your search rankings. The analogy could be drawn between the early stages of the “PageRank” algorithm and the future “SocialRank” algorithm. The early days of SEO was cluttered with SPAM, Blackhat practices, and link buying/trading/selling. Over the years, the constant tuning of “Pagerank” has dramatically decreased the weight of inbound links and is looking to major social networks as the next generation of Web 2.0 voting systems.