Well, day four of the New York Search Engine Strategies conference has passed, and it was another full schedule. Three panels yesterday (Linking Strategies, Link Baiting and Viral Search Success, and CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines) then the 8 hour drive back to Toronto (someone forgot to renew his passport).
One of the interesting tidbits I was reminded of today (in the Bookmarking session) and had meant to blog about earlier was the fact that Google had "quiet launched" Google Bookmarks late last year. Such a launch would not normally be cause for excitement, but I think the implications merit some discussion, as they are certainly likely to impact Google's search results. Accordingly, this blog posting is not to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Google BookMarks versus Del.icio.us, but rather how Google is likely to use this bookmark information.
I've held for quite some time now that Yahoo bought Del.icio.us to evolve their algorithm and reduce the role of links in their algorithm. Doing so would enable them to carve a niche for themselves, and to differentiate their algorithm from Google's. Think about it for a moment if you would. Imagine, given the complete and total abuse of links in attempt to manipulate search results, bookmarks provide another alternative (and perhaps a better and less easily manipulated option) to track a site or page's relative popularity. Its simple … the more often a site gets bookmarked, the more popular it is. The tags that people use to describe the links in their bookmarks, provide an alternative to link text, and offer a good deal of insight into the actual topic of a page. A slam dunk really. There are also others in the blogosphere talking about this too; all around guru Eric Ward discusses the subject in more depth at http://searchengineland.com/070305-091740.php, and Steven Bradley at http://www.yellowhousehosting.com/resources/2007/02/08/seo-implications-for-personalized-search/.
Enter Google bookmarks. I'm sure Google has been watching Yahoo with extreme interest since the Del.icio.us acquisition. However, with this one small addition, Google can effectively mitigate any advantage that Yahoo would had had, albeit Yahoo is much closer to reaching the "bookmarking" critical mass. That's not to say that Google will replace the linking component of its algorithm with bookmarking related scoring, but it is highly likely that Google will use bookmark information to supplement and further diversify its algorithm, especially the personalized results. By doing so, Google will effectively have another checks and balances mechanism, and will be less reliant on the heavily abused linking aspect of its algorithm. It seems reasonable that sites with lots of links, should also have relatively more bookmarks. Accordingly, as usage of the Google Bookmark function increases, expect it to constitute a progressively larger portion of the Google algorithm at the expense of both in-page and off-page factors.
So, what are the implications for companies?
1) Content is king. If Google sees that a site has tremendous link power, but receives no "bookmark love", thats a pretty clear indication that the site has employed a good link building team but has not focused on creating good quality content. Such sites are likely to see their positions in search results eroded.
2) Fresh Content. People will bookmark sites that provide up-to-date news and information. The more often fresh content is added or old content updated, the more likely people are to bookmark a site.
3) Design for the user. The human element is becoming an increasingly important element of ranking. If the user can't find the information they're looking for, or its difficult to read, they're not likely to bookmark the site no matter how much content is present.
4) Interactive tools. Tools and calculators provide site users a quick and easy means to accomplish a goal. If tools and calculators are developed to help potential clients save time, reduce errors, reduce risk, conceptualize, or simplify complex problems, they're likely to be invaluable. Keep in mind too, the more often a potential client requires the use of such a tool, the more likely they are to bookmark it (eg. daily stock quotes vs. a mortgage calculator).
5) Consider making it easy for people to Google Bookmark your content, by utilizing chicklets and the like. The more site users that bookmark your content, the better a site will ultimately rank.
In the end, the message is clear. Don't focus on trying to beat the algorithms of search engines. Google's plethora or PhDs will find you out. Sure the results can be manipulated in the short term, but there are long term implications. Instead, focus on continually adding good quality content, designed for users. Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask only continues to get better at finding ways to detect artificially inflated rankings, so optimize for the long term.