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Social Search's Algorithm

  |  March 3, 2010   |  Comments

Can Twitter - with an assist from Google - start to deliver higher quality search results?

In May 2009, I wrote a column about the talk at the time that Twitter could be a "Google killer." Fast forward a few months (OK, almost a year) and now we have Google partnered with Twitter.

At the time of my initial writing, I mentioned that until Twitter cleaned up the potential for spam, I didn't see that Twitter could possibly be a Google killer. I spoke about the fact that Google rose in popularity, years ago, because it had figured out how to deliver higher quality search results (certainly not entirely "spam free," but much better than we had seen before).

On January 13, 2010, Technology Review interviewed Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow, who led development of real-time search. In this article, Amit shares how Google ranks tweets.

Here's what he said:

One user following another in social media is analogous to one page linking to another on the Web. Both are a form of recommendation...As high-quality pages link to another page on the Web, the quality of the linked-to page goes up. Likewise, in social media, as established users follow another user, the quality of the followed user goes up as well.

So, am I to understand that gaining followers is pretty much the same as what we understand about good link building?

He also said:

You earn reputation, and then you give reputation. If lots of people follow you, and then you follow someone - then even though this [new person] does not have lots of followers [his tweet is deemed valuable because his followers are themselves followed widely]. [It is] definitely, definitely [more than a popularity contest].

OK...I've heard something like this before...you earn PageRank and then you give PageRank. Right?

Here's my issue with this:

Gaining followers is about the easiest thing to spam, ever. There are a number of tools that you can put to work that will follow people based upon a given keyword. And, more often than not, if you follow someone, they will reciprocate (hmm...reciprocal linking?) You could put one of these tools to work, get a ton of followers and then use a tool such as ManageTwitter to dispose of those you don't want to follow anymore. There, now I have tons of people following me and I only follow a select few. And, all of this took hardly any time at all. Beautiful. The only thing better would be to get a profile name that contains my keyword, and create a bunch of other social media profiles that also contain my keyword. This stuff is easy!

Perhaps there is an algorithm coming up that will do to reciprocal Twitter following what Google has already done with reciprocal link building? There are a lot of smart people at Google (much, much smarter than me), so I don't doubt for a moment that they'll figure something out.

I digress.

At this very moment, this stuff is easy to spam. And, perhaps an ever larger issue here is what the big picture of social search is to become. That is, incorporating social search into your Web search. You've heard many people say, "Wouldn't you trust the opinion of your friends, more than you would the Google algorithm?" In theory, perhaps that's true. In actual practice, perhaps it's not.

I have friends, and then I have Twitter and LinkedIn "friends." I know that I'm not alone here. There are people that I have followed on Twitter because they may have posted one thing that I thought was clever or smart, but I don't really know them.

Case in point:

Don't ask me how (I don't know what this person might have shared that made me follow her), but she's on my Follow list. Yes, I am very embarrassed to share this, but sometimes you can learn from others' mistakes.

Do I trust this person's opinion? It depends on what I was seeking information on. I'm sure that there are things that she's very, very educated on. But, chances are, I'm not going to ask her to decipher changes in a search engine's algorithm. I could be wrong.

My point is, choose your friends wisely.

If social search is to become anything worthy, there must be a stronger algorithm in play than merely "number and quality of friends." This is still too easily spammed.

If you don't think there's spam in Twitter, perhaps you should look again.

Perhaps Dylan Casey, Google's product manager for real-time search, said it best: "In general, real-time search is evolving." I'll take that. Google's algorithm certainly has evolved over the years. So, while today this may be easily spammed, I will give Google the benefit of the doubt that it can resolve some of the issues that we are currently seeing with real-time search.

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Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson is the president and CEO of Vizion Interactive, Inc., a leading SEO company headquartered in Dallas, TX, with offices in Overland Park, KS and Clearwater Beach, FL. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000 in business development with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front, Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.

Vizion Interactive was founded on the premise that honesty, integrity, and transparency forge the pillars that strong partnerships should be based upon. Vizion Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency, specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing/PPC management, social media marketing, SEO friendly Web design/development, analytics installations/analysis, and other leading edge interactive marketing services, including being one of the first 50 beta testers of Google TV.

Mark is a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM), the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) and is a regular speaker at the Search Engine Strategies and Pubcon conferences.

Mark received a B.A. in journalism/advertising from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1993 and spent several years in traditional marketing (radio, television, and print) prior to venturing into all things "Web."

Follow Mark on Vizion Interactive at @vizionweb. For more information, visit Vizion's SEO Blog.

His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

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