Hey, Keep your Hands Off my Search. Why “Social Search” is Bad for SEO.

link to like farms

I keep reading about “social search.” Major search engines are beginning to use social media to determine relevancy for users. This means that your personal network of people could potentially influence your future search results. Bing is making an audacious move with even more “likes” being added to search results pages. The “likes” involved in search results come exclusively from Facebook data. Microsoft’s blog says there are three pieces of criteria Bing is basing the search change on; trusted friends, collective IQ and enabling conversations. Yikes. Let’s be honest. Do you really know and trust all of your Facebook friends? Should you?

link to like farms

From link farms to like farms?!

Someone said to me once that A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s.

In this analogy Google’s algorithm is the “A” and “B” represents the influence of the people you may or may not know and trust.

I don’t particularly trust all of my Facebook friends. I’m not saying I dislike them, I just don’t know some that well. Many of my FB friends are mutual acquaintances, old high school friends I haven’t seen in many years, business contacts and there are some competitors in the mix too.  As a web marketer I know full well that my social results could be skewed. I do  believe my FB friends are all GOOD people. However, do I entrust the people of my FB with helping to determine my search results? No. Do I trust Facebook’s ability to collect data, convey it accurately and respect privacy? Double no.

Trust is relative. There are many others out there who will put anyone in their Facebook friends list, especially late adopters. Many add people to networks in hopes of increasing his/her numbers. Gaming of the system means a lack of authenticity, which is why my friends at Path (shout out Apple alums) went a different way with their social networking platform.

Once you get past the trusted friends issue, there is collective IQ. Microsoft defines it as the wisdom of the crowd, going so far as to refer to it as a “brain trust of the web.” DOUBLE Yikes! Take the poorly formed concept of social trust harvesting and add a ton of marketing data to it, but the Government could put these plans on the rocks… My fear is that we will see a black market for “like” farms instead of “link” farms. I can just picture the amount of friend spamming this could cause for social networks. A Microsoft / Facebook alliance might cheese Google off, tee hee, but I don’t see how this makes life easier for end-users.

The final benefit of social search according to Bing was enabling conversations. Bing will expand your Facebook profile search capability with a lengthier bio result. The information will include friends’ locations, jobs, education. I believe that the goal is to hunt down respective experts on any given topic. Wait a minute! Isn’t this what LinkedIn already does and has been doing for years? The difference is that I look to LinkedIn for this as needed, because I have the choice.

Let’s get to the Google…

Enough about Microsoft! Here enters Google, plus one to the guest list…. Remember Google made a recent algorithmic change where they penalized content farms, which is awesome. However, I remember seeing in Amit Singhal’s blog that the algorithm change did not have anything to do with the personal blocklist data in Chrome.

Singhal went so far as to say “we did compare the Blocklist data we gathered with the sites identified by our algorithm, and we were very pleased that the preferences our users expressed by using the extension are well represented.”

Wowa. Will we go from independent verification by Chrome users to dependent verification? This didn’t resonate with me back then, but does this signal the sea change of Google +1? Are they going to throw their hats in the ring with more than Buzz? Was the algorithm change so successful that they decided to just go whole hog? I am all for competition and Facebook needs more of it. However, will the roll out of +1 do the same thing that Bing’s change could do? If so, this could mean that search engine page influence will belong to a smaller group of people because they are “more” trusted.

Be careful who you let in your social network, they could determine more about your future than you ever, ever thought! Call me old fashioned, but some things should be left to the bots. I take comfort in the anonymity of search the way it is now.

P.S. My other title for this blog was “Get out of my search and into my car,” but our marketing staff here nixed it. I am not sure that many folks would have appreciated it (Billy Ocean included).