Social Sharing and Google: Recent Developments & Speculations

from the Google Analytics blog

You might have read an announcement last week that Google is now allowing you to track Facebook Likes, Facebook Sends, Tweets, and, naturally, its own +1s, via Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Now that it has a social graph product (+1)  that it is anxious to promote, and a social network it would like to build in connection to it (Google+), it’s eager to share meaningful data with site owners. And it would be remiss if it were not to provide similar information for the social network heavyweights, Facebook and Twitter, primarily, through tweaks to the Javascript code that enable rich data access through their APIs.

Might this be a backdoor for Google to understand the relationship between sharing and quality? Or maybe a way to subtly promote +1 to webmasters? Yes, maybe, and possibly even more.

Google’s ranking algorithm is heavily dependent on backlinks, but what happens when people’s content interaction behavior changes over time? How many people used to maintain their own “homepage” or blog (via Blogger or MySpace, for instance) and were heavy linkers, but instead live on Facebook now and just share that way?  I suspect the pool of authentic backlinks is shrinking, while Facebook Like and Tweet counts are growing.

My speculation is that Google might be able to grab Like and Tweet numbers shown on a page using those buttons, but might not yet be ready to incorporate them as a signal in its search algorithm since Google doesn’t have too much insight into what’s behind them. I’m sure Google would like to know if those numbers are evenly distributed among a large number of readers, or among a relatively concentrated, small group of readers (like the author and his/her friends), or the workings of a spammer. It probably knows that 500 Likes or Retweets is better than 5, but it can’t tell by how much. By getting access to richer data via the API, it can probably add some color to these raw numbers. Note, though, that Google consistently says that it does not use Analytics data in its search algorithm, so that’s a loop that might not yet be closed.

Another way Google can recognize the true value of the social sharings of a piece of content is by the +1 button. Through the rel=author/rel=me tags, Google should have a good idea if someone +1ing a piece of content is the author of the article, or friends of the author who do reciprocal +1ing. If Google sees a fair number of +1s that are most authentically sourced, then it might see the social sharing of the page as legitimate; if most the +1s are from the author and his/her friends, then it might not have the same impact. This is the reason that, when we do roll out the +1 button to Hubs, we caution Hubbers to be judicious in their use of it; overzealous +1ing of Hubs and your other content might invalidate them and any other +1s you’ve made.

Google predictably shares very little information publicly about matters related to its search algorithm, but I suspect the +1 buttons and Analytics/Webmaster Tools support for Facebook and Twitter data are just the beginning of what we can expect as Google digests the impact of social sharing on search.

4 thoughts on “Social Sharing and Google: Recent Developments & Speculations

  1. Nowadays Social Media Optimization is booming compare to other marketing tactics, so I think Google also targeting social media activities.

  2. I’m not too sure of what to make of Google’s +1 (if it works like facebook, Facebook like and Tweets. The question the likes and re-tweets really mean that much? In order to achieve a high number, they need to have alot of followers so small websites do not have much chance in getting lots of likes and tweets. Even if they could they would spend too much time online. I feel the likes and tweets are really only relevant with a day or two say on Facebook because alot of it is uptodate news and announcement of new webpages, events etc.

  3. Not sure if the metrics will actually connect to anything more than just surface engagement. I know I use Facebook “likes” very freely, but my personal bookmarking is for the sites I truly value, and I keep that to myself!

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