SERPs Based on Facebook Likes & Such – No Thanks!

Shareability is a big term being thrown around lately as one of the more important factors or signals for search engine visibility. Not only do you need to be creating great content all the time, you must also make sure that your content is uniquely shareable in order to gain or maintain positive search engine results position (SERP). On its face, this doesn’t seem so bad – why wouldn’t search engines want to show us content that others have liked or found useful?

Upon further reflection though, I am really not sure if this is actually going to be a good thing, for several reasons:

It is pretty easy to manipulate this kind of system.

The bar for a like or share is even lower than that of getting a link. And look what happened in the link space. It got so spammy that it is not even much of a factor in determining page ranking any more, which is a shame because without the abusers of this tactic, it was actually a decent indicator of at least a baseline of quality. There are so many ways to create something that is shareable, but not terribly useful. Hopefully, search engines will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to shared content – time will tell.

It doesn’t necessarily reward quality.

That which is most popular does not mean it is of the best quality. Next time you’re on a news web site, take a look at the most popular stories. I guarantee you will see at least one Kardashian-type gossipy story in the top 5 most read stories on any given day. Take a look at the top rated TV shows – indicative of the best quality on TV? Hardly. New York Times bestseller list have the most well written books on it? Nope, just the most popular.

Do you really want the results you’re shown to be heavily influenced by social factors?

Spend 5 minutes in Facebook and tell me with a straight face that you want these people to impact what is considered relevant for you. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I enjoy Facebook at much as the next person, but I seriously do not want my results skewed by people who post every thought that passes through their heads no matter how inane or who spend way too much time playing online games during what I know are working hours, or share those stupid “Name an animal that doesn’t have an E in it” posts, the list goes on and on… Not everyone on Facebook is in this category, but you know you have quite a few in your friends list who are!

It really favors big companies over everyone else.

I hit on a similar point in my post about content marketing, but this too favors the large over the small. It is all about resources and the plain fact is that larger organizations have more resources. Period. That is not to say that smaller businesses might not see success at all, I believe some certainly will. But the playing field is certainly not level in this arena. The sheer cost – whether in dollars or hours or some combination thereof – will make it harder and harder for many businesses to compete. It is already happening and that makes me kind of sad.

So where does that leave us?

I certainly don’t envy search engines – our expectations for consistently great results put a tremendous amount of pressure on them to deliver. Being able to return quality results also directly impacts their bottom lines and investors have little patience for product development or refinement cycles.

I am hopeful that the next evolution of search really is better and does not turn out to be pay-to-play or a glorified popularity contest where only the rich or super cool kids can even compete. I love the promise of the web as a space where size doesn’t matter, here’s hoping those days aren’t completely behind us!

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