“Have you seen how many Twitter followers I have?” “I have thousands of Facebook friends or Fans.” “I’m really a big deal.” “I have hundreds of Google + votes on my blog post.”
Are you buying all of that? Does it matter to you? Does it have an impact on your site’s Search Engine rankings or site traffic? Is all that “adoration” anything more than an ego trip?
The answer to all of these questions is the answer to almost every question in the digital space: “It depends.” What did you do to get all of those followers, friends or Google + votes. Are you genuinely popular or did you succumb to “short cuts” to popularity? I’ve been poking around some of the back alleys of the Internet to get an idea of just what I’m up against as a search marketer, because some of these “social metrics” do have an impact on search engine rankings (or at least used to).
What started me down this path was my July Wired magazine. I love the Jargon Watch section which keeps you up to date on the newest word creations of our era. The word that got me thinking was:
Cherry blossoming v. |cher-ee, bloss-uhm-ing|
Following Twitter feeds and liking Facebook pages for pay. Taking its name from the Japanese slang for professional fans—sakura, or cherry blossoms—the technique lets companies buy social clout.
There you go, an Internet underworld term gone mainstream in the pages of a major magazine about paying for followers or fans. Amazingly, not long after that news alleging that 92% of presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s Twitter followers were fake came out (he has over 1.3 million Twitter followers by the way). Supposedly, former staffers admitted that agencies were engaged to buy fans and firms like PeekYou later ran analysis on Newt and the other candidates Twitter followers and found that “80 percent of [Newt's followers] are inactive or are dummy accounts created by various ‘follow agencies’” paid by his campaign.
I immediately started researching these “follow agencies” and it wasn’t hard to find them at all.
You can even buy 10,000 Twitter followers for $139.55. So Newt might have paid upwards of $14,000 for that “following”. I’m sure it’s really going to pay off in the Primary Season (NOT).
ReTweets on Twitter are likely a greater influence on improving search engine rankings than follower counts, and guess what there’s a market for them too. Buying, trading and selling retweets is a common practice.
Facebook Likes are apparently a ranking signal on MSN in aggregate volume for it’s search engine rankings. It’s very easy to buy Facebook Likes.
Google +1 has only been available for a few months, but Google has been very public in saying that +1′s will be (possibly already are) a ranking factor and it took a matter of days before the online storefront developed to sell them. You can buy a thousand of them for $249.
I’m not sure there is one, other than there is a market for everything – and that’s not really news. But, I am a firm believer in balance, the bigger they are the harder they fall and there is no such thing as a secret.
If you are buying Facebook Fans or Friends that don’t really exist and don’t engage with your Facebook content you are probably doing more harm than good for your Facebook marketing. Buying Facebook Likes could possibly help your Bing rankings, but come on it’s Bing – which still isn’t a major traffic driver in my opinion. Your money is probably better spent on more legitimate search marketing techniques.
Buying Twitter followers might have been a factor when Google was paying for the data fire-hose of Tweets from Twitter, but they don’t pay for that now and don’t really care if you have 6 or 6 million followers. If you like “looking” important to others then buy-away…
Buying Google +1 votes is at least paying for a something that Google admits is a ranking factor. But you need to realize +1 is Google’s property and they control everything on it. Do you really think you are going to be able to fool them in the long run? They can see the identity of every +1 user – even the over 2,000 people that gave a +1 vote to the number 1 ranking site for a search on “buy Google +1″. Former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt was recently quoted saying that Google+ was built primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names. Using this identity layer it’s going to be hard to get away with juicing the rankings for any long term gain with Google +1′s that are paid for. I agree with Ryan Jones:
Spam pluses will be easily found and ignored in the algorithm. With Google+ and pluses however, they won’t have that problem. There’s one key difference between pagerank and plus. With plus, your real name is associated with everything you plus – and your history and patterns are all stored in Google’s system. That’s one of the benefits of Google’s real name policy.
The other factor is that Google will be using + as a method to score the influence of its users and that influence will play just as big a part, if not a bigger part than overall volume of +1 votes. Influential Google + members aren’t going to be participating in these kind of schemes in any significant volume.
If you are all about short-term gain with no concerns at all about the long term implications of what these practices could yield then by all means experiment as your budget allows. But I wouldn’t expect your presidential election hopes to be very favorable as a result.