A cornerstone of Google’s algorithm is its reliance on links between websites. Google uses these links to mainly discover new websites and web pages as well as figure out whether your website is a trustworthy source of information by analyzing who links to you and how many websites have linked to your web pages
However, this link-based part of Google’s algorithm may be affected by some pretty monumental changes in the social networking world over the past couple of years.


Facebook has reached 200 million active users, many of whom share links within the walls of this social network. These links are inaccessible to search engines; without access to those links, Google can’t gauge the true popularity and relevance of a website.


Twitter has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. According to comStore, in March 2009, worldwide visits to the site increased by 95%, from 9.8 million visits to 19.1 million visits. Some bloggers have noted that Twitter could be the reason bloggers are posting fewer articles and fewer visitors are commenting on posts. This has been coined as the ‘Twitter effect’. Whatever it is, fewer blog posts translate into fewer links being shared.

URL Shortening Services

With the rise of Twitter has come an increase in use of URL shortening tools such as tinyurl.com, bit.ly, is.gd, etc. Some URL shortening tools aren’t using 301 HTTP redirects and they definitely don’t use anchor text, both of which are signals that Google has used in its algorithm.

Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield issued a report in March this year about the MySpace/Google ad deal concluding that “Google doesn’t care about social networking.” Sound harsh? According to Greenfield, “The reason the company [Google] doesn’t care, is that the basic functionality of social platforms like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter is diminishing the importance of search.” He points to users’ growing inclination to search for specific information by tapping into friends’ and colleague’s knowledge through platforms like Twitter’s own search product, as well Facebook’s status update tool.

What is Google doing to address this?

So what has Google done to compensate for this change in user behavior? So far, there haven’t been any major shifts to signal that Google is using social networking behavior in its ranking algorithm. But then again, Google doesn’t normally shout out its next move. With first blogging and now micro-blogging making such a huge impact in the Internet world, it might only be a matter of time before Google, builds its own meta search engine for Twitter and other blogging/micro-blogging sites.

The question right now, is whether this is really needed? After all, for the past year, Google has said that they are not doing social search simply because it “does not show much promise”. Do they have a point? While there are still going to be searches on social networks that do yield paid clicks for Google, the question is in general, even if you’re already on Twitter or MySpace, why use their search product to conduct these searches? After all, it’s not that hard to hop over from your social site to Google proper to type in your query.

So do searches on social networks simply not make as much money? At this point of time: probably. Is this Google’s fault? Once again, the answer is probably, simply because if they hadn’t gone and created such a powerful brand, people would probably be content to use search anywhere for anything.

What Social Media can bring to Search

Monitoring social bookmarking services like Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Ma.gnolia can help search engines in multiple ways by:

  • Indexing Sites Faster : Humans bookmark sites launched by their friends or colleagues before a search engine bot can find them.
  • Deeper Indexing : Many pages bookmarked are deep into sites and sometimes not as easily linked to by others, found via bad or nonexistent site navigation or linked to from external pages.
  • Defining Quality : If someone takes the time to bookmark a site, it usually has some quality to it.
  • Measuring Quality : Essentially if more users bookmark a page, the more quality and relevance that site has. A site with multiple bookmarks across multiple bookmarking services by multiple users is much more of an authority than a site with only several bookmarks by the same user.
  • External Meta Data : Users who bookmark sites tag them with keywords and descriptions which add an honest and unbiased definition which is created by the public and not the owner of the site.
  • Co Citation : Social bookmarking sites tend to categorize sites and pages based upon the tags used by humans to describe the site; therefore search algorithms can classify these sites with their peers.

In addition, by indexing the social measurement variables such as commenting and votes at Digg, Reddit, Netscape and various niche oriented (all of those Pligg powered hubs), search engine algorithms can also benefit from social news sharing sites by:

  • Number of Votes : Similar to the number of bookmarks, the more votes a page receives on Digg or Reddit, the more useful that information usually is. If the same page receives multiple votes across multiple social news voting sites, the higher quality the site.
  • Categorization : Like Co Citation, categorization can help define the subject of a site, therefore better helping the engine address searcher intent.
  • Commenting : The number of comments can be compared to the number of votes, the higher the comment to voting ratio, the more relevant the news story or site was to the user; therefore, more relevant to the searcher.
  • Relevant Sites : Techmeme and Netscape (and hopefully soon Digg) suggest relevant pages and sites to the stories which make their ‘popular’ categorical pages via intra-linking or blog index monitoring. Engines can learn from these projects to help users find alternative or relevant selections in their search results.

What we do know is that social media and social networking is a bigger part of the Internet’s ecosystem today than it was a few years ago. With so many users flocking to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, Google and company will have to consider changing its formula to adjust to this new reality. Maybe the company’s launch of its new social bar in February this year is one small but major step in this direction.

By Shanti Anne Morais