I recently wrote that search engines are ignoring more and more their old metrics that were so easily exploited by savvy Search Engine Optimization specialists, and that they are instead reading the more trustworthy signals that come from social media sharing and posting to measure a website’s popularity and relevance. It was just a matter of time, however, before social media interaction metrics would be manipulated as well.
Google and other search engines attribute high relevance to social media pages. Search engines sense that because of the sheer volume of user interaction taking place on social media profiles, social media pages are results of high importance to someone searching for a particular personality. If you Google any celebrity, his or her Facebook and Twitter accounts will likely be in the top 5 results. This may seem par for the course for pop celebrities such as singers, actors, and talk show hosts, but even if you Google Barack Obama, his Facebook and Twitter accounts show up before all the major news outlets and even before whitehouse.gov.
But of its total 271 million active accounts, Twitter just announced that 23 million, roughly 8.5%, are not human. These accounts are controlled by automated bots that tend to be used for spam and auto-responding to posts.
Beyond bots, however, some 70+% of the total 900+ million accounts on Twitter are classified as inactive for not having logged in in over a year. One must wonder, where did these hundreds of millions of abandoned accounts come from? Those millions and millions of accounts, totaling over twice the population of the United States, do not belong to individuals who just lost interest. It is well known that there are people for hire out there creating hundreds or thousands of accounts for the sole purpose of having those accounts follow a celebrity or politician to make them appear to have millions and millions of loyal followers. In fact, such services are openly advertised and are claimed to be an industry standard (http://fakefollowerstwitter.com/). Imagine how much a pop star or presidential candidate would like to tout that they are the top-followed personality on Twitter and how much their sponsors might be willing to pay some shadowy techies to make it happen. The root of the problem is obvious.
Social media platforms themselves will inevitably have to address this issue. Social media websites rely on advertisements that have value based on how many human eyes see them and/or click on them. I would imagine that it’s a tough pitch for Twitter to convince a business to advertise on a seemingly popular and well-followed page while the news has come out that an unknown but presumably massive number of that page’s following accounts are actually fake. And among those accounts that actually are active, a significant portion are bots that may click through ads and run up the advertiser’s bill.
Search engines, likewise, do not want their algorithms to reward social media pages that employ bots or falsified accounts that deceptively drive up traffic on their profiles. These tactics are cut from the same cloth as the techniques that SEOs used to exploit to boost a website’s authority and relevance in the eyes of search engines. The tools are already out there, such as StatusPeople’s Fake Follower Check, for individuals to see how many of their Twitter followers are fake. I predict that in the near future, search engines will begin to integrate similar tools into their algorithms to downgrade social media pages that employ these spammy techniques, just as they have done for conventional websites over the past several years.