SEOs and Social Media – The New World is Not Big Enough

Monday, August 13, 2007
Posted by Jim Hedger @ 9:02 am

Sometimes the world acts in mysterious ways. For most SEOs and their clients, “the world” has traditionally been defined by the Top10 placements found on the front pages of Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask. Sometimes the world is just not big enough.

My last post involved social networks and SEO for social media. While this has been an overly hot topic for the past six months, it only recently reached a tipping point at which working social media became an essential service for well run SEO shops to offer. The tipping point(s) as I see them rest on two specific social media properties and their affect on way people use search and search engines.

The first is Facebook. Though Facebook is a relative newcomer, its rise in popularity has been extraordinary as it rapidly displaced MySpace as the critical place to find or be found. Over the last sixty days, Facebook have seen one of the greatest growth periods of any major online application. In the past two months, Facebook has acquired hundreds of thousands of new individual users and, more importantly, user-generated network groups. These network groups focus on commercial, political, social and personal issues and provide a platform for networking, discussion, mass-communication and ultimately, some form of action.

For example, much of the social organizing for next week’s Search Engine Strategies San Jose conference is taking place in Facebook groups. Similarly, there are several local business events here in Victoria organized via specific Facebook groups. It is an easy and virtually instant way to reach out to dozens or hundreds of people sharing similar interests and because it is so easy, it has become integrally popular. Fortunately, profiles found in Facebook are not spiderable and therefore do not appear in search engine results pages.

The second major social media application that has made an enormous impact on the business of search marketing is the Wikipedia. The wiki based “people’s encyclopedia” is considered one of the originators of the social networking format as well as one of the early definers of the period called Web2.0.

Like Facebook, Wikipedia is immensely popular. This is generally considered a good thing. Known as a fairly decent reference guide, Wikipedia has a self-correcting mechanism made up of thousands of volunteer editors who can spring to action when specific postings are misrepresented, wrong, overtly commercial or in some other way cross the line. Information from Wikipedia is considered accurate enough to make it a citable source for some students.

Unlike Facebook, Wikipedia is spiderable. Naturally Google would want to place a Wikipedia notation against searches for keywords the notation relates to. This is seen as a good thing by many searchers but it presents a number of difficulties for the SEO/SEM industry and, oddly enough, for Wikipedia itself.

There are a number of complaints in the SEO sector about high ranking Wikipedia listings found in the Google SERPs. With one spot virtually guaranteed to Wikipedia, competition for the remaining nine placements is that much more difficult. Earlier today, SEO Black Hat posted a list of the 15 top searches done by New York Times readers in the past 30-days. They compared that list with the placement of a Wikipedia listing in Google search results. Here is what they found: (full list: Google Exposing their Flank to Wikipedia)

“The wikipedia came in

1st: 5 times
2nd: 7 times
3rd: 1 time
4th: 2 times
None: 2 times”

(As Wikipedia sometimes receives two listings in search results, the numbers do not add up to 15.)

There are also allegations that some editors within the Wikipedia system are corruptible, much like the complaints leveled against DMOZ editors two years ago. Last Thursday, published an article by Ross Dunn, “Is Wikipedia Corrupt?“. In it, Ross notes that some see Wikipedia’s editors as dictatorial, mean-spirited and have the power to seriously harm an individual’s reputation. The piece provides links to forum discussions in which others say their reputations have been damaged in Wikipedia. It is beginning to feel like another DMOZ at which a volunteer organization with inordinate power over Google results develops a culture built around such power.

One of the niftiest observations I’ve ever made about computer and Internet users is the way huge masses flock to one application or another just long enough to make a huge buzz before moving to the next one. It is a phenomena that has happened many times before.

Wikipedia is obviously enduring though, like the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) before it, it rests on the good will, strong energy and clear intent of its administrators. The jury is still out on Facebook’s longevity but it has become one of the most popular destination sites on the Internet and is clearly the most popular in commercial social networks.

Both are having enormous effects on how search and Internet users find information but, since such power is increasingly resting on two applications, for search marketers, this new world is simply not big enough.

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