Perhaps you don't care whether searchers like your content. I mean, what you really care about is whether the search engines like your content, right? Or whether a searcher will choose your search result because it is relevant. Or whether they will buy from you. Your content doesn't really need to be likable, does it? If you can somehow get yourself into the rankings and sell it, it doesn't matter how you do it. At least that is what we always thought. But the game is changing.Suddenly, your content needs to be voted Miss Congeniality.
We've talked before about the way to determine whether you are doing the right thing in search engine optimization. When you are following practices that benefit you (the search marketers), the searcher, and the search engine, then you are probably safe. But when you are doing things that benefit less than all three of those parties to a search transaction, you are probably on thin ice someday. The search engines won't stop until they make your practice ineffective.
What does this have to do with likable content? Everything.
You see, the last few years, some search marketers have been attacking the search engines' ability to judge the quality pf pages through link analysis. Since 1998, pioneered by Google, search engines have paid attention to which pages are linked to by which other pages, treating each link as a vote for quality. In recent years, search spammers have built up link farms and started a marketplace for paid links, subverting the carefully crafted link ecosphere and calling into question the use of links alone to determine quality.
I heard a lot of people say, especially when it comes to buying links, that they didn't care about what Google's rules were, that all's fair in love and war--and this was war. They freely bought links, knowing it would be nearly impossible to catch them.
And they were right. It was extremely difficult to catch paid links. But they were right about something else, too. It was war. And Google and Bing have more weapons.
Introducing "likable" content. A few months ago, Bing began incorporating Facebook Like buttons, among other factors, into its search rankings. Now, Google has followed suit, with the +1 button, that does essentially the same thing. Both search engines have been aggressively including social activity, now including "likability" into their ranking factors as one more way to discern high quality content from the normal dreck.
So, if Google finds a site with loads of high quality links, but almost no +1 presses, or Bing finds the same situation with Facebook likes, they will distrust the link information a bit more than if both measures were in concert. Now spammers will need to simulate that activity as well as the paid links, as the arms race in this war continues.
But, if all along you've been creating high quality content, you've naturally accrued the links and you are naturally collecting the "likes" without doing anything else. And if you think that Google and Bing are stopping here, you're wrong. They will continue to find more and more different ways of assessing content quality, making the job of spamming harder each day.
You are likely not a spammer. (If you are, I'm surprised you'd be reading tips from me.) But you might get advice from well-meaning people who "know" what the search engines want. If their advice sounds like a trick that is good for you but not-so-good for Google or for searchers, it's probably doesn't work or won't work sometime soon. If you put your effort into good content, you won't be disappointed. On the other hand, if you read this article and decided to contact everyone you know to "like" your content, don't be surprised if the search engines add five more factors that makes the one thing you did ineffective. Should you put a Facebook Like button on your page? Sure. But if you have great content, enough people will "like" it without you doing much more.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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