Open Graph Brings SEO Opportunities to Facebook

So Facebook’s push for Open Graph integration, where the “Like Button” replaces the direct link, creates new opportunities for businesses to focus on Facebook’s search mechanism.  Some initial tests indicated that it is possible to now optimize for Facebook search, i.e. bringing SEO to Facebook.

Facebook Open Graph allows one to connect their site to Facebook without full integration, simply using new Facebook Meta Tags and the Like Button (a snipped of Javascript code).  Facebook is tracking these likes and building a “graph” of the Internet based upon the recommendations of your social network, and now they are including relevant results when you search Facebook for something.

This creates an opportunity for companies that are bringing their brand to Facebook to get additional exposure through Open Graph, which creates an incentive to use the technology.  This is exciting, as the move to the “walled garden” of social media threatened to disrupt the open world of search.  In the past, users could recommend a page on their blog, creating a “link graph” for the search engines to use, but now it’s easier to just click “share” and send the link out to your friends that way.  Without this part of the link graph, the search engines are missing out on the recommendations that they build their systems upon.

Open Graph brings out the ability to restore this, even if Facebook is the only company taking advantage of it for now.

Few Monopolies Bridge two Eras, Google’s Cockiness Unwarranted

The only constant of the computer industry is the utter failure of one company to seemingly dominate two generations of computer technology.  IBM’s dominance in the Mainframe era was replaced by Digital’s Minicomputer Dominance.  The PC/Workstation era was categorized by a variety of Unix vendors on the workstation side while Microsoft dominated the PC side.  That era of multiple poles, including Apple as a significant player seemed to end as Windows 95 brought Microsoft to a monopoly status, and Office 95’s integration with Windows 95 simply displaced Wordperfect and Lotus 1-2-3 as the dominant desktop applications, with a combination of bundling, technical malfeasance, and marketing muscle.

Despite the drama of the Netscape vs. Microsoft “Browser Wars,” Microsoft was never able to extend their dominance of the desktop environment onto the Web.  The Free Linux operating system with the Free Apache web server simply out-muscled Microsoft for the server space (in part because FreeBSD had a high performance server platform that Apache grew up on while Microsoft tried to maneuver a server designed for fighting NetWare as a file & print server into a web server), Adobe dominated the development tools, and free standards, despite attempts at manipulation by Microsoft, largely owns the Internet space.  The period of time in which people were willing to develop an IE-only web was relatively short lived, and the Netscape Plugin vs. IE ActiveX controls seems like a blip in the eye compared to the modern era of dynamic, standards compliant (or relatively open Flash) environment.

The post-Web Internet, where the application replaced the web site as the area of interest has been dominated by Google in a way not seen since Microsoft’s early monopoly.  Just as the DOJ complaint against IBM left an opening for Microsoft to monopolize the desktop, the investigation and suit against Microsoft created enough breathing room for the industry to open up the market to new players.  In the last years of the past decade, Google’s industry dominance has resulted in every website honoring their search guidelines, applications supporting their APIs, and their embrace of the AJAX tool set legitimized it despite the technology being effectively created by a Microsoft extension years earlier.

With their new dominance, we’re seeing a newly humbled Microsoft battling an increasingly arrogant Google, creating a new dominant “evil empire” for companies to compete with.  Email marketers trying to work within the guidelines at Microsoft can get a detailed report of their email system, while Google’s Gmail has a handful of vague help pages.  Microsoft’s street address of “One Microsoft Way” was often mocked not as an address, but a mindset, but increasingly Microsoft is willing to work and cooperate with other companies, while Google makes changes in secret that affect the livelihood of millions.

Dominant players of one era happily live on as profitable organizations in the next one, if their management makes the right changes and is able to take their customer base to a new environment.  IBM migrated to a servers company and Microsoft offers solutions in a multi-vendor world.  On the other hand, AOL is a shell of the company it was when it dominated both the dial-up and instant message environment, (see my article about how AIM should be where Twitter is, but somehow didn’t extend to dominate the communication landscape), but may still find a way to bring their existing users and customers to a new market position, Wordperfect and Digital got swallowed up by other companies, and other formerly major players are no more.

Facebook currently controls a rich application environment with tremendous reach, and Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad ecosystem is an interesting niche, but whether either can challenge Google’s dominant position over the Internet remains to be seen.

Social Search – Critical for Time Sensitive Programs

Bing and Google announced deals with Twitter to access and utilize their data, and Search Insider is discussing the first impacts of this.  What’s most interesting is that this might be the first major change since “FreshBot” was added to Google (and later became the primary crawler).  Old hand SEOs remember the crazy update schedules of the early engines, but Google’s monthly “Google Dance” as their crawler finished and about a week later the PageRank was computed and the new index went up across their data centers.  Google started crawling and updating with “fresh” data (tagged with the data) with a guestimated PageRank for placement, and as they got faster at computing changes across the Internet, these Fresh results were no longer being inserted, they were the results.

Twitter has a disproportionate presence in media circles and other influential areas.  Twitter data, including trends, what people are talking about, etc., provides a view into what is new and what is going on.  While news feeds capture the mainstream coverage, Twitter will know what is news to the Internet.  This powerful medium helps determine if you are dealing with a “Google Bomb” or a bona fide story.  While Google originally assumed if people linked to you, like a citation in Academia, that made you authoritative, but only a select subset of the population had websites.  Blogs were more common than a full site, but Twitter is even more available to anyone.  Link and information trading on Twitter happens faster than someone writing a blog post, let along researching a news story, so Twitter gives a view into what is happening now.

This is an exciting time in search.  Twitter data will make it even more exciting.

Official: Google Ignores Keywords Meta

Not a shocked to anyone that knows anything about search, but it’s nice to see it confirmed by Google, both on the official blog and on Matt Cutt’s blog.  I don’t think I’ve included Meta Keywords on a site in almost 6 years, but from time to time I hear people explain to me that they don’t need an SEO expert, they are doing keywords and descriptions… and I just wish them well.

Google Unveils New Engine, Press Confused

Google has a new engine, Caffine, and the press goes crazy. In non spammed out areas, Google is pretty good.  They want to cover more and expand their coverage, terrific.  They aren’t going to dramatically shift results, and people focused on content oriented sites instead of spamming Google should do fine.

However, the Internet has expanded rapidly, content has moved into walled gardens like Facebook and semi-open Twitter, so Google needs a new engine.  I don’t see a fundamental change to Google’s thought process happening, as they still analyze content and links for relevancy, even as they’ve gotten trickier.

We could see some shake outs, but most likely, Google will still provide relatively relevant results and focus on fighting spam.  But to SEO “experts” < 25, this is probably a huge deal.

Google, Democracy, and Elitism

It’s amazing how the Web has come and quickly.  The original web was based on the idea of interlinking informational resources, the hypertext nature of things.  The original Backrub (AKA Google) research project was based on this notion, with PageRank using a unique combination of academic citations and democracy to evaluate websites.  Unfortunately, the NoFollow attribute was a terrible idea, and it’s use on Twitter and other social network sites has resulted in a horrible perversion of the concept of the interconnected Web.

If you aren’t a professional SEO or linear algebra geek, here is the summary: take the entire web as individual pages, give each page a single vote (in the linear algebra, 1/N votes were N is number of pages, so we’re dealing with fractional probability), then take that vote, and divide it amongst the pages it links to and assign that to the next page.  So if 20 pages link to me and 4 others sites, I get 20 1/5 votes, or 4 in the next round.  Next round, my score of 20 is divided by my links out and assigned to them, rinse, lather, and repeat.  Over the iterations, this ranking, PageRank moves towards the sites with the most incoming links.

This is academic in the idea that a paper cited more often is probably better, likewise an Internet resource linked to more often is probably better.  It’s Democratic in that each page starts with a single vote, whether put out by a powerful corporation or someone with a website dedicated to their dog.

Now there are plenty of mathematical models that you can read out there helping you understand how PageRank works, and how much it matters, but essentially, it let the rankings on the Web be determined by the publishers of content.  Yes you can game PageRank, and it used to really matter a lot, but it was also nice to think of a world where all publishers were considered.

Now, 12 years ago (1997), having a website meant that you were a corporation that could pay someone to do so, a university student that played with a text editor, or a computer geek interested in running a website, animated GIFs were all the rage.  A few years later, when the Backrub project at Stanford was a PhD project, Stanford’s academic use of Hypertext made this ranking of things a perfect way to identify useful content.  As it moved to the general Internet (or critical subsets), it did a good job of identifying the most relevant link.

If you remember the pre-Google search engines, simply turning up the New York Yankees home page for the phrase New York Yankees was quite an accomplishment, many major corporations didn’t have websites, or if they did it was hung on a local ISP’s domain name, not their own.  So in that regard, the links worked wonderfully.  Given a sizable number of pages in the index (Google used to brag about Index size), adding one or more pages wouldn’t give you enough votes, but spamming by the millions would.  Google wrote more and more sophisticated methods for detecting spammers, and while their percentage of searches increased, they became targeted more and more for spammers.

The worst link spamming was the harassment of community forums, posting garbage links in forums looking for PageRank, link popularity, and traffic.  Many semi-abandoned blogs and forums, or the older posts/threads on them, were filled with spam.  Our SEO friendly and ranked TV Show Site, The OC Files, was basically ruined by spammers.  So Google created an attribute to add to links that said “don’t follow this link, I don’t know if its good or now.”

Why would anyone create a link without knowing the value?  The webmaster wouldn’t, but if they have a section for user created content, the users might put it up looking for links.  By adding NoFollow, you stripped the link of its value to the spammer for ranking reasons, helping Google, and hopefully helping yourself reduce spamming.

Now let’s look at Twitter and the other Social Media sites.  The links on Twitter and Facebook are some of the MOST legitimate “votes” on the modern web.  If I read an article of interest, I no longer put it up on my website, I share it on Facebook and maybe Tweet about it, sharing this information with my friends and followers.  That’s a huge vote.

If you treat all Twitter Users like PageRank treated pages, and allocated “votes” based on how many people you were Following, you could probably identify the most valuable Twitter users, and assign accordingly.  A bit of Twitter’s structure hurts that, as internally the links go to those Following you and those you are Following, but regardless, most people share content they like not with a blog, but with this micro-blogging power.

By NoFollowing these links, apparently at the request of Google,  Twitter is discounting the value of this “voting” and reserving the voting for those still maintaining a normal web presence.  As more and more of our online social lives are on these sites, and less and less on blogs and personal home pages, the individual “votes” are getting thrown away.

Perhaps Google shouldn’t think of themselves as a Web Democracy, but more of a Web Republic, where only the “white male property owners of the web” (the people running web sites, i.e. the pros) get to vote, and the “rabble” of common users on the social web get no say.  When Twitter was a haven of coastal users getting spammed out to game Google, the change made sense.  With its growing importance as a finger on the pulse of the Internet, it’s terrible to discount it.

If that isn’t “Doing Evil,” than Google doesn’t know what that is.  Regarding NoFollow, I don’t use it on my sites, don’t use it when doing site management for clients, and generally avoid it accept in the case of Comment Tags and other spam-infested areas… and even then it’s only when I’m using pre-canned software that adds it.  Using it the manage “Google Juice” as recommended by SEOs and to some extent Google is adding non-standard HTML elements solely for the purposes of affecting search rankings, and that’s SEO spam, pure and simple.