Facebook SEO: Of Links and Likes

“The next Google” label is heard from time to time, and since releasing their universal Like button, the focus has been on Facebook.

The idea is that all of these Likes means that Facebook now has access to proprietary data about the popularity of pages across a vast amount of sites. Talk has further grown as links to external sites were spotted in Facebook search results.

Facebook vs. Google?

Right now, Facebook as a search provider is barely a blip, behind the likes of Ask and eBay, according to comScore. One obvious difference is that Facebook isn’t a search destination — people go to Google to search, people go to Facebook to be social. This number will stay low as long as Facebook isn’t a toolbar option and doesn’t allow searches from users who aren’t logged in.

Another considerable difference between Facebook and a traditional search engine is that links are used in judging credibility as opposed to the possibility of “Likes.” Many sites will never have Like buttons, which is a concern.

Additionally, relying on only “Likes” would leave Facebook with considerably less information about the types of pages unlikely to draw likes. For example, I might read an article about CSS3, but will I Like it? I’m not likely to Like pages that my friends wouldn’t care about. However, I might add a link to the article from a web design blog.

Will sites eventually need to consider “Likebait” as they do linkbait? Perhaps Likebait will include plastering pictures of puppies next to the Like button on all your pages — because who doesn’t like puppies?

However, there’s nothing to stop Facebook from crawling the web and building their own link graphs. The catch, of course, is that it’s easier said than done.

Google has a decade head start on the technical advances it takes to build a search engine. We’ve seen how Microsoft, with tons of cash and software experience, has struggled to turn into a competitor. For now, Bing serves the “web results” for Facebook, which keeps Facebook focused on their strengths.

What may drive more searches for Facebook are the opportunities with their level of personalization. While Google keeps attempting to break into social search and personalized search through a number of efforts, Facebook is squarely in the middle of what you care about, who your friends are, and what your friends like. Why search in Google for events happening this weekend, when Facebook can tell you not only the events, but which people are attending (although event search is pretty disappointing right now).

While Facebook may want their search to become more Google-like, Google may want their search to be more Facebook-like.

Today’s Opportunities

While we play the guessing game on what Facebook will ultimately do, opportunities exist now which are likely to grow. The Like button is one of the most important social sharing buttons for helping drive links and for visibility. Your interesting content should have those today.

Facebook is also pushing for widespread adoption of their Open Graph Protocol. The protocol calls for a set of standard meta tags added to a page, along with many variable tags depending on the content. Adding these to your pages helps Facebook categorize each page and customize your listing (just like regular meta tags).

Don’t expect a big lift today, but there’s no reason not to add them to your site now (you can even use a WordPress plug-in). Google and others will likely take a look at what you’re doing with those tags — they’re similar to what’s already being done with RDFa and microformats.

As a referring site in general, there’s no question Facebook is a major source of traffic, according to the latest Compete data. For that reason, you should start by looking into Facebook pages and groups first. Your best bets are still getting you more fans, links, and optimized content for your Facebook page and increasing Likes on your own site.

Grab your vanity URL if you haven’t already. Webpages in Facebook search, for now, are an afterthought behind people and fan pages. And, to get into those, you need to make sure you’re in Bing.

Join us for SES San Francisco August 16-20, 2010 during ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week. The festival is packed with sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, ad networks and exchanges, e-mail marketing, the real time web, local search, mobile, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an expo floor with 100+ companies, networking events, parties and more!

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