If you work in search marketing, then chances are good that you’ve read the great journalistic effort from Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land “Social Signals Google and Bing Really Count?” Since the story is now 13 days old in linear, real-time (translating to roughly 6 months old in Search Marketing time), you might be wondering why I’m choosing to talk about this now?
There’s been plenty of talk about the details of how Bing and Google credit profiles and what they key off of to assess that profile’s authority. But, what I haven’t heard from anyone, is the quintessential problem this reporting of this data brings with it: do you build a profile for quality or a profile for ranking purposes.
This post is solely going to focus on Twitter profiles. While Facebook does have relevance to the conversation, it’s not being used by more than one of the major search engines in full (via Search Engine Land’s Article) and even at that it appears Bing is back-referring to Twitter to surmise authority. Ultimately, this is going to more introspective about how I’ve used Twitter in last two years, than empirical facts.
It All Starts With Quality
We all start building our profiles with the aim of quality in mind, because, after all, our first profiles are usually personal. We follow influential people in our business spaces, friends, or people who provide amusing or great information. As your time in a given space grows, your own influence builds. Whether it takes months or years, every active profile arrives at this point where they must choose the direction of the profile.
Follower counts grow, following counts grow. The opportunities to spread your meme farther and farther is alluring. At some point you stop focusing on the quality of followers and focus on the number. Bigger is better. And Google and Bing seem to agree with that logic. What Danny was calling the SocialRank and as Bing articulated:
We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results
Nowhere in that statement does it mention quality. And, you might feel free to apply that to this statement, but I’d be careful about that. It seems to be focused on straight quantity. Followers to Following. The measurement, it would seem to Bing, is to see a well-defined gap between Followers and Following.
It Ends With Rank
I’ll be the first to admit, being on twitter for almost 2 years now, that I’m as interested in attaining rank, being as “influential” in the space as possible. At some point Twitter transformed itself for me into being a tool for getting messages out, highlighting great content, building relationships (i.e. Superstar mentality) and less about the quality of followers.
For the first year on Twitter, I didn’t care about counts in the least. I built a profile fashioned out the industry’s best, whether they followed back or not, because they brought great information and conversation to the table. I was of the mindset that I would rather have a succinct core of idea and information exchange, than be a Jim Morrison wanna-be. I subscribed, and still do subscribe, to Edward Lewis’ Twitter paradigm that you kill off spam profiles/accounts from followers. Because it was/is all about quality in your stream and getting the maximum from the space/tool. Then it happened:
At some point, I started caring about how my profile ranked and how much influence my profile carried. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but is was a progression over time. And, truthfully, it makes me a bit sad. I love the community of SEMs/SEOs/Marketers that I listen to and communicate with daily. I really do believe we are as tight-knit a community as there is on the web, but at some level we all see each other as a means to an end. Spreading the meme, good SERP position for queries where social has influence, and standing on one another’s shoulders to shout for authority/thought-leader status.
Just tonight I looked over my profile and found a huge surplus of spam hanging around. And, because I’m so careful to keep an acceptable Friend/Follower ratio, I explain it away. I prune obvious leaving the ones I know are spam but fake human well enough.
The Tools Reinforce This Behavior
Don’t get me wrong, I think Klout, Peer Index, and the like are innovative and genius. But they reinforce the mentality about Rank over Quality. And, yes, I use these tools to not only keep tabs on my own influence, but when I’m engineering a social attack strategy, these are first places I go to start organizing and architecting that attack.
These tools assess influence, reach, amplification. I don’t know the accounts personally, whether they’re small and have a solid following; I just know that I’m going to place Person X here and Person Z here because their influence and amplification dictate those terms. Because these are the right moments to set off the meme-explosions with the right profiles. It’s impersonal and cold-hearted.
Google and Bing Reinforced This Behavior
I’m not blaming the messenger for this. Danny did a bang-up job on that post. I’m blaming the engines for encouraging people to be more mindful of their counts than the quality of their profiles. It’s clear the engines think that these two ideas overlap, that one can’t be had without the other. In some respects, they’re right. Quality attracts quality. However, quality also attracts a boat-load of spam.
To be honest, one the hand I’m glad the engines finally admitted what most of have known for some time: influence, friend/follower ratios matter. On the other hand, it disturbs me that this information will only encourage more spam profiles to be created, and that people will not label as such because of the influence factor. I know that’s asserting a lot about the Twitter community in general, but I see this as an inevitable outcome. When ratios matter, when authoritative meme-spreading matters, spam gets a break because they lend itself to bolstering stats and occasionally helping a meme along.
What’s the Solution
I wish I had one. And, there are some of you out there saying, “And? No problem here. It is what it is.” I’d love to tell you that Tweeple will reverse course and solely focus on building quality, but I know that’s not realistic, or feasible. We’re marketers, it’s about leveraging advantages.
The solution is to let this take its course. That’s the best I’ve got folks. I think since there’s still some mystery around how engines are viewing what’s authoritative and influential and what’s not, there’s no reason to get jittery. Yet. But, if “links” have taught us anything, it’s only a matter of time before exploitation of the system becomes a premium. And it is my sincere hope that the engines have enough sense to adjust fire when it becomes saturated into their SERPs.
Overall, I’d like to see our community eliminate the spam profiles following them now. I know that you kill off one, three more takes its place, but if we remain steadfast on eliminating these profiles, eventually we’ll be left with quality. I can hope can’t I? (Starting with me)