Do “Like” Buttons Influence Search Engines?
With the rise of social media marketing, the notion of collaboration, integration and disseminating information with a click of a button has become an evident norm. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and recently Google have all found multiple innovative ways to make it easier for their users to collaborate with other users around the world and share information. Perhaps at a certain point in time, the ability to comprehend how a simple “like” button on Facebook could bring so much value to its users was not possible. However this is no longer the case. Similarly, other social media tools have either taken this concept or already had this concept integrated with their sites in all sorts of forms ranging from re-tweeting, digging and now even giving websites a +1.
In the world of search engine optimization however, understanding how these apparently trivial buttons can improve search engine rankings within search results has been a hot topic. We will look through a few well-known buttons and try to understand the effect of their usage on websites and search engine rankings at large – if any effect at all.
The Facebook Like Button
To give a quick rundown on what exactly the Facebook “Like” button does; it’s an icon that can essentially be installed on any web page. Once a user clicks on the icon, his or her friends on Facebook will be able to see your “story” or “web page” or whatever else for that matter on their newsfeed with a link to the page that they liked. Furthermore, as more people like any given page, that number is aggregated and displayed on the page itself.
So what is the big deal one may ask? Well for any ordinary user, it is just a tool to communicate with all the Facebook friends, but for a company, it’s a great way to market. How? Well picture this: Pretend you have a company called “ABC”. If you have a “Like” button on your site and someone clicks on it and that person has on average between 150 – 300 friends, that page will get syndicated on the newsfeed within that social network of each individual friend. This implies that your website has now been – if not directly clicked and viewed – at the very least exposed to the vast amount of friends. If any of those friends decide to like your page, the effect will continue to grow like a water ripple.
Using the button as a marketing tool is pretty self explanatory; however using it to boost your site’s search engine rankings is something debated. The people at SEOMoz have done tests to see if the theory works. It seems that it does to an extent and Google recently indicated that “social signals” are considered as a ranking factor. However, Google has yet to officially say that “Liking” a page effects rankings directly. In fact, there were even recent doubts casted over whether Google is not considering it as a factor at all when an employee posted the following on a Google Webmaster Central Help forum: “Including the Facebook like button on your page will not influence your ranking”. How much of this statement holds true is not clear; whether there was a hidden message behind it and perhaps if it was meant in a context that was not made apparent. When further inquired to clarify the statement, the employee simply states: “No comment on what signals we actually use for ranking or any secondary effects you may get from using social features to promote your site”. Nevertheless, with the competitive nature of both Facebook and Google going head to head, we may have to wait a tad bit longer for any kind of explicit admission in regards to the Facebook Like button directly effecting search engine rankings. Furthermore, now with the recent Facebook “Send” feature rolled out, a plethora of discussion topics on how that feature affects organic search engine rankings have already started to spark.
On the contrary, when we look at Bing, there is much more evidence of the search engine strongly considering Facebook “Likes” into their ranking algorithm; not only as a social search feature that it has integrated already, but even as a factor to rank sites naturally. This should also not come as a surprise particularly with the close knit ties and the expansion of the search agreement between Facebook and Microsoft that were made early last year.
Unlike the Facebook Like button, it has now been fairly established that Tweeting or Re-Tweeting does get taken into consideration when ranking sites organically. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that a mere tweet that will get your site ranked higher. There are various other conditions that search engine algorithms look at when taking in the value of a re-tweet. In an interview conducted by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, he asks Google & Bing the following question:
Do you try to calculate the authority of someone who tweets that might be assigned to their Twitter page? Do you try to “know,” if you will, who they are?
Yes. We do calculate the authority of someone who tweets. For known public figures or publishers, we do associate them with who they are.
Yes we do compute and use author quality. We don’t know who anyone is in real life.
Using Twitter is a great way to increase your search engine rankings and is a factor that has been proven to directly affect your rankings. Of course the more variety of users that tweet the same link, the better it is just as in the case of traditional link building.
The Google +1 service, a recently rolled out initiative, has already been explicitly indicated by Google themselves to be taken into consideration to evaluate rankings. This was confirmed roughly 2 months ago on the AdWords blog as follow, “+1s will be one of many signals we use to calculate organic search ranking”. The feature has not been rolled out on all of Google’s domains yet and is only available on the English Google.com platform. Despite that, there has been some debate on the success of the +1 tool after the demise of the over-hyped Google Wave and over estimated Google Buzz services. Furthermore, there has also been a lot of discussion on whether search algorithms at large will start to shift focus more on social interaction, ratings and reviews rather than on mere links pointing towards any given page on the net.
Another like button that has perhaps not gotten so much news attention is the LinkedIn Share button. Has anyone had any experiences with how that or any other like, share or send buttons from other sites or the three discussed in this post have affected any of your site rankings?
From our own experience, we assume that more often than not, the more niche social networking sites are the ones prone to gaining a higher value out of these like and share buttons. This is simply because the content on these sites is a lot more targeted for relevant search terms and get in the eyes of related associations, rather than for a site that covers a wide variety of subjects.
With the continued uncovering of the different search engines ranking factors, the potential for abuse is a reality. Today is not a difficult task to manipulate search engine results in a short period of time. As the search engines combated abuse and advance their algorithms to supersede the competition, indicators similar to Like buttons will need to have some contribution, either directly or indirectly.