Posts Tagged ‘Bing’

What Happen If Facebook Invented It’s Own Search Engine?

By Greg Sterling

The news broke yesterday that Facebook was getting a whopping $500 million from Goldman Sachs and existing investor Digital Sky Technologies at a valuation of $50 billion. None of this has been confirmed by the company but it’s being very widely reported. Apparently the Goldman investment will enable the company’s most wealthy clients to “get in” before an IPO and virtually guarantee that Goldman is the firm (or the lead firm) that takes Facebook public when that eventually happens.

Groupon also just raised a gigantic funding round, between $500 million and $950 million according to reports. Within the past 12 months there have been other massive rounds of more than $100 million at companies such as Zynga and Yelp.

Part of what’s going on in these cases is early investors selling shares, as well as founders and early employees “taking money off the table.” This relieves some of the pressure to go public. However, once the number of shareholders of a company reaches 500 or more Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) rules apparently force companies to start reporting financial information as though they were public.  It’s not clear how close Facebook is to the “500″ number officially or clear to me how that number is calculated precisely. (Clearly Facebook has more than 500 employees who have stock options, which are classified differently.)

As an aside, SEC has begun an investigation into the trading of private company shares. I suspect that we’ll see some new regulations down the road, though not in this Congressional term, that alter the ability of companies to do this kind of private fund raising and trading at this level of scale without going public.

On to the fun stuff: what might Facebook do, beyond making more people rich, with all the money? More headcount and more acquisitions are obvious moves. In addition the company is reportedly going to move to a new, larger home in Menlo Park that was a former Sun Microsystems campus — sometimes referred to as “Sun Quentin” after the California prison in nearby Marin County.

Facebook is reportedly making about $2 billion annually (run-rate) on advertising. But it’s serving almost 25% of all US display ads according to comScore. So I would expect its display revenues to increase accordingly. Yet where might Facebook look for more revenue growth when it does go public eventually?

Mobile advertising is one obvious place, e-commerce is another (shopping is a big opportunity for Facebook) and local is a third opportunity. But search might also be another place that Facebook inevitably turns.

Given the Microsoft relationship and Facebook’s lack of core competency in search it would not seem logical that the company would go there. But the “gravitational pull” of search may ultimately prove too great. As you know, after email search is the web’s “killer app.”

Imagine that Facebook were to become convinced that having its own search engine was a key to delivering a better user experience overall, as well as generating new ad revenue. One obvious and immediate possibility would be to buy Blekko, which has pushed social integration with Facebook Likes further than Microsoft itself.

Blekko has raised just over $24 million and could probably be acquired for some multiple of that figure below $200 million. Presto: just ad search. Other more unlikely possibilities would be to buy someone like Infospace or even Ask, though in both cases it would cost more than $200 million and potentially much more in the case of Ask.

For its part Blekko is very innovative but faces a long uphill climb against Google and Bing. Under the hood at Facebook, with 500 million users, it would be quite a different matter. In my view the thing that today separates the Facebook experience from being “truly useful” is a strong search offering, notwithstanding the Bing integration.

I’m speculating and I don’t know what the Microsoft-Facebook deal terms look like. They might contractually preclude Facebook from developing or introducing its own web search engine for some period of time.

Formerly I would have argued that it would be very difficult and almost pointless for Facebook to develop its own search engine given the Bing relationship. But with all this new money flowing and not that many revenue opportunities like paid search out there, the push and the pull of search may just be too strong for Facebook to resist.

Postscript: Clint Boulton at eWeek has an interesting post arguing that Facebook might buy the Chrome-based social browser RockMelt. He suggests this is another way to compete with Google, although Google is the default search option on RockMelt.

Source: Search Engine Land

Google and Bing have announced that links shared within the social media networks will count in their algorithm

Google and bing

Both Bing and Google have confirmed (via an excellent interview by Danny Sullivan) that links shared through Twitter and Facebook have a direct impact on rankings (in addition to the positive second-order effects they may have on the link graph). This has long been suspected by SEOs (in fact, many of us posited it was happening as of November of last year following Google + Bing’s announcements of partnerships with Twitter), but getting this official confirmation is a substantive step forward.

In addition to that revelation, another piece of critical data came via yesterday’s announcement:

Danny Sullivan: If an article is retweeted or referenced much in Twitter, do you count that as a signal outside of finding any non-nofollowed links that may naturally result from it?

Bing: We do look at the social authority of a user. 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. It carries much more weight in Bing Social Search, where tweets from more authoritative people will flow to the top when best match relevancy is used.

Google: Yes, we do use it as a signal. It is used as a signal in our organic and news rankings. We also use it to enhance our news universal by marking how many people shared an article.

Danny Sullivan: Do you try to calculate the authority of someone who tweets that might be assigned to their Twitter page. Do you try to “know,” if you will, who they are?

Bing: Yes. We do calculate the authority of someone who tweets. For known public figures or publishers, we do associate them with who they are. (For example, query for Danny Sullivan)

Google: Yes we do compute and use author quality. We don’t know who anyone is in real life 🙂

Danny Sullivan: Do you calculate whether a link should carry more weight depending on the person who tweets it?

Bing: Yes.

Google: Yes we do use this as a signal, especially in the “Top links” section [of Google Realtime Search]. Author authority is independent of PageRank, but it is currently only used in limited situations in ordinary web search.

We now know that those link sharing activities on Twitter + Facebook are evaluated based on the person/entity sharing them through a score Google calls “Author Authority,” and Bing calls “Social Authority.”

We can probably predict a lot of the signals the search engines care about when it comes to social sharing; some of my guesses include:

  • Diversity of Sources – having 50 tweets of a link from one account, like having 50 links from one site, is not nearly as valuable as 50 tweets from 50 unique accounts.
  • Timing – sharing that occurs when an RSS feed first publishes a story may be valuable in QDF, but tweets/shares of older pieces could be seen as more indicative of lasting value and interest (rather than just sharing what’s new).
  • Surrounding Content – the message(s) accompanying the link may give the engines substantive information about their potential relevance and topic; it could even fill the gap that’s left by the lack of anchor text, particularly on Twitter.
  • Engagement Level – the quantity of clicks, retweets, likes, etc. (if/when measurable) could certainly impact how much weight is given to the link.

We can probably also take a stab at some of the signals Google + Bing use for Author/Social Authority in the context of the sharing/tweeting source:

  • Quantity of Friends/Followers – like links, it’s likely the case that more is better, though there will likely be caveats; low quality bots and inauthentic accounts are likely to be filtered (and may be much easier to spot than spammy links, due to the challenge they find in getting any “legitimate” friends/followers).
  • Importance of Friends/Followers – the friends/followers you have, like the link sources you have, are also probably playing a role. Earn high “authority” followers and you yourself must be a high authority person.
  • Analysis of Friends/Followers Ratios – Much like the engines’ analysis of the editorial nature of links, consideration of whether a social user is engaging in following/follower behavior purely out of reciprocity vs. true interest and engagement may be part of authority scoring. If you have 100K followers and follow 99K of them, but the engagement between you and your followers is slim, you’re likely not as authoritative as an account with 100K followers + 5K following, but those followers are constantly engaged, retweeting, liking, sharing, etc.
  • Topic Focus / Relevance – The consistency or patterns between your sharing behaviors could also be a consideration, using topic analysis, patterns in the sources of shared/tweeted links, etc. Being an “authority” could even be subject-specific, such that when a prominent SEO tweets links to celebrity news it has less of an impact than when they tweet links to a web marketing resource.
  • Association Bias – I suspect Google and Bing do a good job of associating social authors with the sites/domains they’re “part of” vs. independent from. Sometimes, this might be as easy as looking at the URL associated with the account, other times it could be based on patterns like where you most often tweet/share links to or whether your account is listed on pages from that site. Basically, if @randfish tweets links to *, that probably means less than when I tweet links to bitlynews or when someone outside the company tweets links to SEOmoz.

These signals represent my opinions only, and while it’s very likely that at least some are being used, it’s even more likely that there are many more that aren’t listed above. Over time, hopefully we’ll discover more about the impact of social sharing on web rankings and how we can best combine SEO + social media marketing.

To me, the most exciting part about this is the potential to reduce webspam and return to a more purely editorial model. While people often link to, read and enjoy sources that link out manipulatively, very few of us will be likely to follow a Twitter account, friend someone on Facebook, or “like” something in a social site that’s inauthentic, manipulative or spammy. The social graph isn’t necessarily cleaner, but the complexity of spam is far lower.

Here’s to the evolution of organic marketing – search, social, content, blogs, links – it’s all coming together faster than ever before, and that’s a very good thing for holisticly minded web marketers.

Source: SEOMOZ

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