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|Social Factors - the End of Most Intelligent Content On The Web|
| 8:47 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
I see that Google is now using social signals in their SERPS, and I'm quite stunned, in part as a business and also as a search consumer.
This is the single most evil thing I've seen in terms of its impact, if in fact social signals (in essence a measure of POPULARITY, not quality) play anything but a minor role in SERPS.
As social factors increase in importance, the point of creating original, thought leading, anything OTHER than simple mass content is removed.
The reality is that social media is a popular medium focuses on people (not a bad thing in itself), rather than content. The vast majority of the best and brightest in terms of subject matter experts in many niches, simply are NOT spending time pushing their ideas on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIN. They, in fact, we if I be a bit presumptuous, have better things to do with our time. Nothing wrong with social but if popularity (number of tweeted links/likes) is a deciding factor in ranking, those creating the best content in terms of "thought value" simply won't show up.
Apart from the fact that I've spend 15 years creating original content (I mean original, not some sad recast of what everyone else is saying), in print -- articles and books, and online (free, mind you), and that may now be worthless to me, it means that in my role of "content curation" (ok, finding and linking to the best content) is done.
There is now very little incentive to publish new ideas and thoughts to move fields forward, not only because it's hard to monetize, but because no one will see it because it won't have "buzz".
I work a lot with government, and have long wanted to open up a website on the topic, and have grabbed a few domains I might want to use. Now, there's no point.
If you look at social media, for example, what you will find is loads of stuff including the key word government from upset citizens, the political right, and so on....essentially contentless or worthless if one's interest is helping people understand government.
Finding the best content in niches from true authorities (scientists, academics, book authors that don't get buzz) has become harder and harder, and now the curation role is cooked.
And the kicker is, not only is content not king, replaced by "popularity", but the spamming of the SERPS and the pollution of an already polluted social media environment can begin aforce.
It's a trivial technical exercise to tweet every second on something, to vary the tweets, in order to boost SERPS. I have tools to do that, and they are openly available. I don't use them except to post occasional automated tweets for things I think are valuable and always spaced far apart.
Why shouldn't I just go completely black hat and do that?
If that's what it takes to be found, I won't do it, and not only that but there would not be any point in using the Internet anymore, EXCEPT to socialize.
I'm seriously stunned here. I hope I've got this wrong, but not only has Google crushed businesses like mine that trade in ideas and content, it has the potential to significantly damage the society at large by LIMITING (unintentionally) the spread of the very information that runs the economic engines of this planet.
I'm thinking that of course, social indicators will be only a part of determining SERP's, so the effect hopefully isn't as absolute as it could be.
Finally, perhaps this social factoring explains why my sales have gone to zero, my adsense income has disappeared, and what I worked to build is now almost useless to me, to those in my niches, and to the larger world.
Someone, tell me I've got this all wrong.
| 9:30 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
I shudder to think that you may be more right than wrong.
I've spent 35 years learning my craft and I try to share what I know with novices through my website and, at the same time, trying to make a living applying what I've learned.
At this moment all has gone down the tubes - including 11 years of building the website.
Too bad I can't express myself as eloquently as you. Whenever I talk about the subject all I can say is: "Google, please take me out to dinner first before you do that to me again".
| 9:36 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
I second that emotion. Your experience sounds much like mine: 14 years providing free online supplements to my printed publications in my niche field, and now I'm SERP-sinking beneath the likes of Amazon and the blogspotters. I have succumbed to putting AddThis buttons on my pages so that the pages look current and to facilitate sharing and bookmarking. But that's it -- I don't wish to be "followed," "liked," or "joined," thank you very much. And I refuse to brand myself. I'd comply with your request and tell you I think you've got it all wrong, but I'd be a liar.
| 9:48 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
The simple fact is that one mega search engine simply isn't enough. We need a social search, a big brand search, a mom n'pop search and goodness knows what else. The only way to achieve this is to wean the public off the idea that search means Google but if this doesn't happen I reckon the web will soon be looking like the High Streets here in the UK; once full of individuality, character and variety but now dominated by big anonymous chains.
Could Google split into different divisions to meet this need I wonder? Would they want to?
| 9:55 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
>> Someone, tell me I've got this all wrong.
I wish I could, but I'd be lying if I did. I'm still hoping, though perhaps foolishly, that Google might make some kind of turn around from Panda, but I don't see much happening in the way of improvement sadly.
I know everybody on this forum is crying "me, me, me", but what else can we do? I for one have been working frantically trying to find some kind of relief from this Panda (for me, 2.0) disaster and have only been concentrating on my own areas. I have no time to really research other topics right now and my entire niche has become polluted with absolute scraper-type rubbish. The odd Google search in my free time (of which little exists) proves both Google and Bing Search to be a huge let down. I'm really only finding what I need with Google Indonesia (I saw in another thread it was pre-panda for English searches).
Seriously, do we really want to have the net as a research tool to find a site which is popular because it has flashy graphics and a Twitter button? Didn't the old, though not perfect old way of finding quality content do its job at least a little bit well? Google still commands a huge amount of the search market worldwide. They didn't have to do this and IMHO, it's a big mistake.
Should we rate the usefulness of a particular piece of software because it managed to gain popularity by keyword stuffing on a site that shows up for almost every type of software-related search?
I'm seriously having my doubts on what the future of the Internet may look like in a couple of years if this continues. How can search reward the likes of eHow for scraping and then producing absolutely incomplete and incorrect garbage? How is it in anybody's interest to rank, let alone index obvious blackhat, spun/rewritten gibberish which may even still include links to the original source? I suppose I could get 10,000 twitter followers in a matter of a week using underhanded techniques and make a page or site look popular. How does that benefit anybody?
I'm sorry to say it out loud, but the PhD's at Google are not social bugs. They are not the right type of people to even try to guage what is popular or not. How can Google engineers even have the qualifications to know whether something is really popular or not? 500k 'likes' is a nice number.. but are these from people that play with virtual farm animals all day who don't know a PC from a Mac when they "like" a graphics programs? I *don't want* to have my unsaavy cousin to be able to influence search results on topics they know nothing about. Just because some idiot thinks an eHow page is useful for documenting a certain php function, doesn't mean they should dictate what Google deems useful.
The pure fact that Google is using signals from companies like Facebook (with their horrible record on privacy) or Twitter obviously looks bad after Google themselves failed at creating competing services. But these signals are to me, a huge step in the wrong direction. One third or more of the facebook 'likes' or notifications I can measure on any given day have to do with farm animals or malware exploits... Not the direction I want to see the rest of the Internet take.
| 10:01 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
I don't think you've got it "all wrong" but there is some element that is exaggerated beyond truth. If what any site offers is of value, then that value will naturally be reflected in social signals of some kind. And with regard to "branding", everyone and everything is a "brand" in some way.
There's a great branding book called "United We Brand" by Mike Moser - he's the branding power behind Dell, Reebok, Apple and Hyundai - but also Jerome's Barbecue in Petaluma as well as a local high school. The book makes it clear that successful branding is done in addition to a core of quality, not instead of it.
A brand is always part of any communication - a name is branding, a manner of dress is branding. The human mind uses a "brand" to move information from short term memory into long-term memory. We can either help others in that exercise through intentional branding, or we obstruct it by being vague.
If a website offers excellence, then helping visitors to remember the site, long term, is building a brand.
| 10:07 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|once full of individuality, character and variety but now dominated by big anonymous chains. |
Could Google split into different divisions to meet this need I wonder?
A modest proposal to the DOJ: break up Google into two companies: Goo and GLE (Great Little Engine) -- the former catering to big brands and the consumers who love them, the latter for the rest of us. Oh, and a third company for curing cancer, reversing global warming, and harvesting water from the moon.
I wonder if Lindsay Lohan posted bail. I'll have to Goo it.
| 10:17 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|If what any site offers is of value, then that value will naturally be reflected in social signals of some kind. |
No... If I put up the most helpful, informational, authoritative site on a topic today it will have no social signals, yet still be the best. A lot of the outburst about panda is google shifting from apparently trying to rank sites based on the quality of the site itself, to external factors such as "social signals" "user engagement quality metrics" and the like.
|If a website offers excellence, then helping visitors to remember the site, long term, is building a brand. |
Ok, but there are a huge number of sites on a wide range of topics that people have no interest in remembering or returning to. The site can still be extremely high quality and relevant for search phrases.
| 10:35 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|I'm really only finding what I need with Google Indonesia (I saw in another thread it was pre-panda for English searches). |
I wish you hadn't said that. I did some searches, found my site in the #1 to #5 spots, and now I'm physically ill.
Tedster, I've been struggling with social media for probably a year, trying to figure out how to brand my site on FB and Twitter. I find almost no other sites from my niche on these networking sites, probably because we simply don't fit demographically or, very often, politically. We're politically incorrect.
If I search for the term "widget" as it is applied to my niche, there's all sorts of gangstah talk, or jokes about using a widget on somebody, or something like that, but almost nothing about real widgets or their use.
For the most part, I think widget users stick to their own communities of forums and blogs, and don't mix their widget interests in broader public arenas.
Just my .02.
| 11:08 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|If a website offers excellence, then helping visitors to remember the site, long term, is building a brand. |
Google might have put the nail in the small biz coffin by asking questions like "do you feel comfortable here...would you trust this site..." by definition big brands rank much much higher than mystore.com or mysite.com. Depending how much weight Google gives to brand power we could be in a world of hurt. April was a big brand boost and content downgrade as far as I can tell and most small businesses cannot afford to start to build what Google wants all of the sudden to even give them a chance. So they will fire everyone and go down.
If they are 20 'brand' tech blogs doesn't mean that my better iPod review shouldn't have a chance based on content. Yet, depending on how google values their SITE I may have to get an unlikely higher number of 'likes,' 'tweets' or whatever to surface where this review may belong.
As a bonus for the eco$ystem that Google frequently mentions, online brands almost have to advertise on a Google advertising system.
This was promised to 'them' by Eric Schmidt in 2008 when he called the internet a 'cesspool' and since Google can't analyze content, we'll just promote you, the brands. It was a meeting with mainstream publishers.
|I'm sorry to say it out loud, but the PhD's at Google are not social bugs. They are not the right type of people to even try to guage what is popular or not. How can Google engineers even have the qualifications to know whether something is really popular or not? |
You see them hanging on Stackoverflow, Quora and HackerNews so they assume that all good sites must be like that or no clicks for you. This update was done to guess the instinct of an engineer, they admitted this much and then confirmed they are right...by checking what techies had banned on Chrome.
| 11:44 pm on May 23, 2011 (gmt 0)|
Thanks, all for your comment. Of course, I'm affected personally, but I can likely make a living in other ways, one of which may just be to write a book on this. I have a working title already, and I'm both mad and fearful.
For me, it's the potential to lose "my internet" which, at least for me, was somewhere I could go for intellectual stimulation, to even communicate with some of the people, rare that they are, who are creating, inventing, thinking, etc. MY internet is now a place where I can easily find out who's eating a chicken sandwich, and where to go for the best haircut.
It's not a place for intelligent thought, or at least finding those nuggets has become so difficult, I might as well go back to libraries. Present company excepted.
Tedster, you are probably right that the effects will be much less than I'm FEELING they COULD be. I've lost one way to make a living, and I feel like no longer will I be able to find that "great" content, I'm always looking for.
The social ramification of what is the "great dumbing down" of the Internet, and the replacing of authority (uh, right google), education, experience, wisdom and most of the good things I got from it, with SERPS determined by what is retweeted and `liked` are huge (that's a run-on sentence.)
I feel like I'm back in high school...Like me Like me.
I'm remaining upset but focused.
Again, thanks, and if any of you have any positives about this slow progression to the mediocre on the Internet, add em on.
| 12:19 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
coach, if they do what Bing is doing I doubt you'll lose much. I have a few hundred likes by asking family to spam their friends :) and traffic has not changed a bit after Bing introduced that. At least not that I can notice.
It can change of course, only time will tell.
But then there's a certain aggregator site that ranks #1 for essentially every breaking news story. Huff Huff
| 12:26 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
Social media is probably everything you've described, but it ain't all bad. I can't think of anything that's ever been easier to game.
| 1:17 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|This is the single most evil thing I've seen in terms of its impact, if in fact social signals (in essence a measure of POPULARITY, not quality) play anything but a minor role in SERPS. |
I don't recall anywhere in the history of the Internet where a company stated that it would never change or adjust its business model to appease the populace. Whether it's based on money, emerging trends, or something totally different, Google and Bing are simply making adjustments to see just how popular social SERPs can be.
Think about it: In the past, there were only a few ways to recommend an article, a page, a piece of content, or a website. You had to link to it, and that was typically done through other websites which built popularity and authority. Now with social media, individuals, not just websites, can play the suggest/recommend/I-like-this game by helping Google and Bing build popularity profiles.
Some might even argue that if a website's content is truly great, thousands of folks will Like it, Tweet it, Stumble Upon it or Mixx it. So instead of authority being the main signal for SERP dominance, Google and Bing are considering popularity as a stronger SERP signal.
| 2:06 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
celgins, I get that. So popularity wins over intelligent content? You can argue whatever you want about good content being popular, but here's something to think about.
When you need to know something more complex than whether it's raining outside, and you search and find the "popular" stuff, good luck to you, and pray your life doesn't depend on what you find.
I've actually been doing some search engine testing in areas in which I have some expertise, and right now, there is ZERO truly expert content pages from experts in the niches on the first pages of results.
The winners will be the social marketers, spam artists, black hat social manipulators, and if you ever need high level content on more complex subjects, forget about it.
I can't find it even today.
Why? There aren't a lot of [fill in topic] experts in the world who are creating new ideas. I'll tell you flat out they are NOT tweeting, facebooking to get their messages out, or linking.
In THIS world Einstein would have remained an unknown if he had to rely on the Internet of today.
| 2:31 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|There aren't a lot of [fill in topic] experts in the world who are creating new ideas. I'll tell you flat out they are NOT tweeting, facebooking to get their messages out, or linking. |
I'm with coachm on this:
popularity (like + follow) = authority and excellence ... NOT!
To the extent that the SERPs will increasingly reflect popularity as opposed to authority, real experts will be loathe to contribute their time and talent -- i.e, a chilling effect on quality.
| 2:33 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
I think it is foolish to equate good SEO to mean the most relevant site. It has always been an equation and will remain one while SERPs are created mathematically. If people want to believe that the site that is first is the most relevant - when I am first I will not disagree with them when I am not I may.
It was, is, and will continue to be like the politics of Lilliput in Gulliver's Travels ... the site that does the rope dance the best will win. Now the rope dance includes social signals ... not better or worse than link popularity merely different.
| 2:35 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
The Internet is a very big place with literally billions of pages. I'm not yet willing to paint the thing with as big a brush as some here are. I simply don't have near enough data to make such a conclusion as to what is good or bad for search (Google does).
[edited by: Play_Bach at 2:42 am (utc) on May 24, 2011]
| 2:41 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|So popularity wins over intelligent content? |
That's something that happens a lot in this world we live in - in all popular media. Einstein did not publish his papers in the popular press of his day, he published them in a professional journal.
If anyone feels their content is on the level of Einstein's contribution, a website and a search engine would be, at best a secondary adjunct to making it available to humanity.
I think this is more of a protest about the state of the human race. The web is only a reflection of that.
| 3:28 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|When you need to know something more complex than whether it's raining outside, and you search and find the "popular" stuff, good luck to you, and pray your life doesn't depend on what you find. |
Well, if your life is depends on it, you probably shouldn't be relying on a web search to begin with. :)
|I've actually been doing some search engine testing in areas in which I have some expertise, and right now, there is ZERO truly expert content pages from experts in the niches on the first pages of results. |
I agree that both Google and Bing need to do something to retain quality. But I think quality and popularity can coexist.
|Why? There aren't a lot of [fill in topic] experts in the world who are creating new ideas. I'll tell you flat out they are NOT tweeting, facebooking to get their messages out, or linking. |
Maybe they should start. As web developers, most of us don't like jumping onto bandwagons, or scrambling to adjust site design and code. We don't like chasing the latest fads, many of which we just want to disappear. There is a certain comfort in reminiscing about the old days, and celebrating "what used to be."
But things change. The recording industry is dealing with change and they're suffering because of it. So is the movie industry, print media, newspapers, retailers, and telephone companies. Even vehicle manufacturers are making adjustments by including more technology in their vehicles. Who would have ever thought USB ports would come standard in a vehicle? Whatever happened to good 'ol cassette players?
Things change, and whether social SERPS is a fad or here to stay, Google and Bing would be nuts not to play the popularity game.
| 3:37 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|It was, is, and will continue to be like the politics of Lilliput in Gulliver's Travels ... the site that does the rope dance the best will win. Now the rope dance includes social signals ... not better or worse than link popularity merely different. |
One thing I love about this forum is that it's one of the few places I stumble upon where people ARE thinking. Anyway...
You are right, of course. Whether it's link pop, or Likes, it comes to the same thing, but at least I knew that if my site got linked to by the New York Times (all things being equal which they never are), I'd likely earn brownie points for that.
I'd be willing to put aside my crazy mood and thinking right now IF I could actually find things in the new SERPS that are of value to me and if I can find the people who ARE generating new thinking about stuff. I can't.
I'd be ok with things, even if my sites didn't rank with the best and brightest in respective fields.
I don't see how people who know LESS than I do about the subjects I deal with are in any position to determine the value of what I produce, and more importantly, whether people will even ever FIND me. That's a little weird.
Or flip it over. Am I happy with the idea that people who know less than those creating ideas, products, services, etc, should be in a position to influence what people see on the Internet.
I don't believe there IS a solution. I don't expect one.
| 3:44 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
Play_Bach (I think I just got the wordplay in your name).
It's the trend that concerns me, I think, rather than the specifics of today. I'm sure I'll have a brighter and more accurate take on this in a few days.
It still comes down to whether we are continuing to encourage mediocrity, what that means, and whether the increased "social" emphasis (which is hardly social in any real sense) is encouraging quality content creation.
When Google started Adsense, it clearly stated its vision to encourage the creation of good quality content, a noble undertaking that they did, in fact, contribute to. For a while.
Then they screwed it up by removing all barriers to attain the money pot, thus encouraging millions of completely useless websites. Add Blogger as another example.
We will see what happens. Of course we won't know about why things happen due to the Google and Bing black box. That's yet another issue, making business into an Internet crapshoot.
| 3:53 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|I agree that both Google and Bing need to do something to retain quality. But I think quality and popularity can coexist |
That's the key question. I think they should be kept separate. Related, I've always felt that blogged content, which I've always found to be inferior (on average) to "website" content should never be included in SERPS, and that it should have its own "space", so people who want to read blogs can do that, and people who don't can filter them out.
|Maybe they should start. As web developers, most of us don't like jumping onto bandwagons, or scrambling to adjust site design and code. We don't like chasing the latest fads, many of which we just want to disappear. There is a certain comfort in reminiscing about the old days, and celebrating "what used to be." |
First, about the "maybe they should". Let me ask you something. Do you want elite medical staff to be tweeting, or would you prefer they be doing research and saving lives?
Do you want the leading producers of knowledge about business, social sciences and the sciences HAVING to tweet and be Liked to have their ideas "go viral"?
Do you want Jarrod Lanier to write his next book or perhaps you'd like him to spend his days tweeting?
As for the "good old days", I'll tell you that I partially built my business based on faxing newsletters to readers, and I sure as hell don't pine for the good old days.
I AM using social media, but it's a fairly mind numbing experience (which is why I'm HERE because its NOT).
Do you want me, and those that are way smarter than I in business, management, finance to contribute their ideas, or to spend their days trying to get their ideas "buzzed"?
| 4:03 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|I think this is more of a protest about the state of the human race. The web is only a reflection of that. |
That sounds about right. Except that technology and media influence the human race, in addition to reflecting it, and that's the sneaky part about this.
Having read you for a number of years here, I have some sense about what you have to contribute, and you, along with a number of others here, strike me as people I can learn from (well, actually I have).
So here's another question. If you found that you HAD to tweet, be liked, followed and whatever, and that you had to spend a significant amount of your time pursuing that, instead of doing what you love, and doing things linked to your unique expertise, what would you do?
Because if (and yes, it's a big if) social indicators become more important, that's what many of my colleagues are facing. And me. Perhaps it's already happened, who knows.
I had better things to do with my time than trying to get links in to my sites (I get several link requests every day).
I have better things to do than pretend I'm having conversations in social media just so I'll get Liked. I don't have enough years left on my clock, and it's a tickin.
But finally, this isn't about me. I'll manage.
| 4:38 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|I simply don't have near enough data to make such a conclusion as to what is good or bad for search (Google does). |
I would dare to make a conclusion that Google does what is good for Google. With what I know I would conclude that human ran directories would / could produce quality results ... but they are inherently in competition with google, and directories don't seem to get enough traffic to grow. This situation is unlikely to change unless or until Google has a real competitor who will empower vertical directories.
If you found that you HAD to tweet, be liked, followed and whatever, and that you had to spend a significant amount of your time pursuing that, instead of doing what you love, and doing things linked to your unique expertise, what would you do?
In a perfect world find a likable somebody who makes coffee to do the tweeting, who people like to follow
| 4:52 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|For me, it's the potential to lose "my internet" which, at least for me, was somewhere I could go for intellectual stimulation |
...i never before had so much intelectual stimulation than i have right now, thanks to social media,
it is so crazy easy to get into touch with philosophers, artists, directors, painters via twitter and facebook, while before you wrote an email (if that person had a website) today you just tweet or befriend them and 9 out of 10 times if you have half a brain you can start a conversation, i have now a network of published authors, award winning artists i would not have dreamed about a few years ago...
...and many of those "intelectuals" are writing exclusive stuff for me on my website, now i dont know if i just have a gift to get them engaged on my site, but in the end of the day for me social media was a complete game changer to the positive site...
| 5:36 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
I always feel bad after reading posts by viggen and wheel because I am always reminded how much smarter than I they both are...
| 5:47 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
|I don't see how people who know LESS than I do about the subjects I deal with are in any position to determine the value of what I produce |
Yes. Where's the concept of PEER review in all of this?
| 6:04 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
I also think it's important to realize that social factors extend FAR beyond Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Social media listening tools exist that monitor over 10 million domains - I know this number quite well because I've helped to develop these tools and use them in my professional work.
Every blog and news article that allows comments is a social medium. Every forum is a social medium. YouTube pages are a kind of social media. There are many formats out there if Twitter isn't your particular cup of tea.
It is very hard to publish something of value on teh web and avoid all social mention - although it can be done if you go into old school mode, if you never really got The Cluetrain Manifesto message. To me, using social factors as part of the ranking algorithm makes a TON of sense. After all, if search engines don't actually reflect the public interest, they'll go out of business.
I also appreciate viggen's observations very much. Social media are a great leveler. Even the "grsat" are socially available as never before. I recently made contact with a world class particle physicist via Twitter.
There is an entire human race, and a significant portion of it is being social online. It can be a great pleasure to get involved. It can benefit your own web publishing to get the feedback that comes naturally to those who are socially engaged.
| 7:48 am on May 24, 2011 (gmt 0)|
People do not always support the best content. This is a fact.
How many of Oscar's Best Pictures are also the highest grossing movies of the year at the box office? Almost none.
Yet we respect the Oscars as a sign of quality, and the People's Choice awards are a joke.
By using social signals to determine search engine rankings you are turning Google into the People's Choice Awards.
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