You've probably heard that search engines judge the value and relevance of web pages by the number and quality of their incoming links. While links still matter a great deal, the rise of social networking brought with it a new rating system, the “like” or “+1.” And search engines are taking notice.
First, let me give you a little history. We'll go back to 1998, when Google started using links to websites to give weight to their search algorithm. They knew that behind every link to a web page was, in effect, a person saying that the page was relevant to a particular topic (often revealed by the link's anchor text). So they treated links like votes – and very quickly, their algorithm proved to be more effective at helping users find what they really wanted online than the other options available at the time.
Then the spammers showed up. Google made no particular secret of the links equal votes aspect of their algorithm, so these unscrupulous marketers built link farms and bought and sold links in order to increase their own rankings. With one's rank in the search engines becoming a matter of profit or bankruptcy for many businesses, there was a lot of money to be made.
Google and the other search engines caught on, and have been fighting back by adding various other factors to their algorithms. Now they've added something that might be less easy to manipulate. As Mike Moran explains in Search Engine Guide, “A few months ago, Bing began incorporating Facebook Like buttons, among other factors, into its search rankings...Google has followed suit, with the +1 button, that does essentially the same thing.” Now all of the searchers who are looking for information online can, in effect, tell Google and Bing directly about the quality of their results.
This means it's going to take more than lots of links to make an impression and get that high ranking. What do you think will happen if Bing or Google find a site with lots of links, but very few “likes” or the equivalent? They won't trust the links as much as they would if both links and “likes” match up.
To spammers, this will be another factor to simulate. But to the rest of us, it's a wake-up call. It's time to make sure your content is likeable; that it's engaging, informative, well-written, and in general the kind of thing that visitors want to read. Creating high-quality content is a sure way to gain “likes” naturally. If you're tempted to do otherwise, you need to keep in mind that this is an arms race, and, as Moran observes, the search engines have more weapons. So “don't be surprised if the search engines add five more factors that makes the one thing you did ineffective,” Moran notes. But producing great content that people actually want to read is one “trick” to gaining traffic and rankings that will never go out of style. Good luck!
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