Facebook SEO – Grayhat SEO in Practice?

by rishil on February 28, 2011

assbook

For those of you who read my blog, you must have come across my post on SERP Sniffing. In short, I define SERP Sniffing as:

Utilising Gray / Blackhat techniques to research SERP weaknesses so as to exploit them for Whitehat Purposes.

The strategy entails creating hordes of auto gen content, launching it on SERPs, and capturing ranking and traffic data per keyword, which would justify creating content around that keyword(s) so as to legitimize the ranking, and or port it over to a new domain so as to capture an easy win. The other tactic is to use a lot of aggregated content to create the “look” of real data on some of these light weight pages. (content aggregation is quite a well used spam technique).  Tools such as WP Robot do exactly that from a number of feeds and sources.

In my opinion Facebook is potentially running a cross between UGC Content Aggregation, third party Content Colation, SERP Sniffing and Automated SEO. Maybe not intentionally, but it is. These are Grayhat SEO techniques

Site:Facebook.com

Site:Facebook.com

Site:Facebook.com

With 1.6 BILLION Results indexed, you expect to get a huge volume of long tail traffic from search engines, regardless of what anyone says. Let me show you a few examples…

Lazying Around!

Lazying Around

Lazying Around

Interesting – this is a common misspell, and ranks No. 4 on Google. Lets see what the correct spelling of the keyword ranks:

Lazing Around

Lazing Around

Hmm, not as high, but still page on at No. 7.

Good use of SEO Automation on the Meta description by the way:

Welcome to the Facebook Community Page about *add keyword*, a collection of shared knowledge concerning *add keyword*.

The “How” of Building This Content

A large portion of this content is autogenerated from your interests, and likes, which used to be static content:

“Profiles no longer are a static list of likes and interests. Now, they are a living map of all the connections that matter to you.”

Wowsers. So if I and a number of others add those interests (which was just static text before), FB goes off and creates a community page for me and others? What about completely random and related stuff, such as, oh I dont know, lets try “Reading and Horse Riding“:

Reading and Horse Riding

Reading and Horse Riding

Ahh. There it is. Ranking nicely at no. 4.

So how do those pages look like? Here are a couple:

Lazing Around Facebook

Lazing Around Facebook

Reading and Horse Riding on Facebook

Reading and Horse Riding on Facebook

So what is happening here? Leveraging UGC content to create a whole host of internal, anchor heavy, link profiles, which then link to a number of Community Pages:

On each Community Page, you’ll be able to learn more about a topic or an experience—whether it’s cooking or learning a new language—and see what your friends and others in the Facebook community are saying about this topic.

Of course, not ALL of these pages are blank, check this one out:

Flash Floods Wikipedia Content from Facebook

Flash Floods Wikipedia Content from Facebook

Note the use of “No Follow“(!) on external content, including original source. See those links I have added arrows to? yeah, those are Wikipedia Scrapped content pages.

Question: Why is Facebook recreating Wikipedia? If any other business did that…

Official Pages vs Facebook Community Pages

Ok so what is the big deal? So what if Facebook creates pages out of peoples likes and dislikes? Well, another problem is that trademarks and brands arent safe either :)

Sookie Stackhouse Facebook Page

Sookie Stackhouse Facebook Page

Check out the ranking for the Sookie Stackhouse Character, which HAS an official page (”community” so to speak). See the ranking  when you append “Facebook” to the query? Note, you as the page creator have NO control over Facebooks content and c ode. So if tomorrow they decide to block all user created pages off search engines, who do you think will get an intant boost in SERPs? (I am not the only one who thinks that Facebook Community pages could be a nightmare for brands)

Should we be worried?

Yes. As I demonstrated above, the content is mostly Wikipedia rehashed, that is definitely being leveraged for SEO, however the longer term goal is to start fleshing these pages out manually (CONTENT FARM!!!):

Community Pages are still in beta, but our long-term goal is to make them the best collection of shared knowledge on a topic. We’re starting by showing Wikipedia information, but we’re also looking for people who are passionate about any of these topics to sign up to contribute to the Page. We’ll let you know when we’re ready for your help.

http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=382978412130

This in my opinion is EXACTLY how a number of SERP Spammers operate to occupy a number of niches.

The problem?

Well Both Bing and Google confirmed that they use Social Ranking Signals. So these “likes” are counted as votes? Yes? Ahh cool.

BUT

The likes and votes that make up these so called “Community Pages” arent real likes. They are MENTIONS of a topic that Facebook is converting into a “like”.  This is FORCED manipulation of their social graph, and NOT user “votes” as likes tend to be.  One user quite interestingly points out:

My Logic - SEO benefit

My Logic - SEO benefit

Is This SEO?

Normally I would say maybe… however, as I showed in the Description Meta Automation above, it seems that this is aimed at Search Engines Users rather than Facebook Users – FB users DONT see Meta description.

Now apply all of this information on two factors:

  1. Facebook has already got a MASSIVE site authority.
  2. Google is using Facebook signals to rank content.

Update (More Data to Prove the Hypothesis)

Some people speculated that Facebook may lose out to the Farmer Update – however, looking at SEObooks highlighted SEMRush data, it seems untouched:

Facebook Post Farmer Update

Facebook Post Farmer Update

If you have a SEM Rush Login, you may want to play around with their data on Facebook Keywords.

Facebook Keywords

Facebook Keywords

Resources

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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

James February 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm

There are a definitely a lot of parallels with content farms shown here, and it’s disappointing that even post farmer update Facebook seems to be “getting away with it”. If the pages contained actual UGC, rather than just being automatically generated based on people having put something like “Lazying around” as an interest, they’d probably be very useful, but the fact is, they’re not.
The weird thing is, that in this case, the pages are actually more useful on the content farms.

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Sjaak Hummel February 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm

If you think about it, this could be (one of) the reason(s) for the whole new farmer update ;-)

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rishil February 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I doubt it :)

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robwatts February 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm

It works today but do too much of it and you’ll get killed tomorrow, which I guess is fine for slash and burn approaches but ultimately is asking for trouble. It reminds me a little of the days of Bebo ranking for viagra and spammers taking note and jumping on board with their various little aff links or random product page creations. I’m also reminded of Squidoo lenses too whereby they started out with a genuine desire to build out and add value only to be hijacked by selfish spammer types intent on helping themselves on the back of things. (Not that Mr Godin wasn’t doing a little bit of this himself perhaps)

The somewhat troubling aspect of all this is that whatever way it’s sliced, examples like this show that authority still outweighs all manner of traditional signals and allows people to rank with relative ease for keywords that might be a little more unattainable for mom and pops or standard blog/forum etc.

You’d think that they’d at least attempt to divine a few easy to ascertain on page (and indeed off page) factors that would help determine extra levels of credibility. Is the content unique? How many external links of value are there to this page etc rather than a blanket approach of “Oh its trust score is high, let it rank for anything”

Anyways, nice post Rishi, only time will tell if Goog sits up and listens – *shufffles away to go build more signals of quality*

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James February 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm

So what you’re saying is:

1: Find Community pages that currently rank in Google
2: Post links to “relevant content”
3: ???
4: Profit

*shuffles away to do some “research”…

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robwatts February 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm

:-o Could that possibly work!? *shudders*

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Hobo February 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm

good stuff and yeah and you wouldn’t do that if you were Facebook? ;)

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rishil February 28, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Of course I would :P

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David February 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I was trying to read your blog post, but I couldn’t understand this word “Gray” what does it mean? Not English that’s for sure :)

P.S. Great post!

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rishil February 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Lol. I think “Gray”hat is the universal spelling – our American friends beat us to the punch on that…

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AJ Kohn February 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Really nice analysis and great examples. I often wonder if the left hand knows what the right is doing at Facebook.

The Community Pages seem like they’re in direct competition with the Like button and Open Graph – if you believe that the latter is the way in which Facebook is going to compete with Google on search. (I am one of those believers.)

These Community Pages feel a bit like Google’s failed Knol. It didn’t work for Google and I can’t see why it would work for Faceboook either.

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David February 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Outside of the community pages i’m still weighing up the risks of using a Fanpage and growing it’s audience and number of backlinks just not using keyword friendly links.
The interesting point is that I have set the default landing page to an application tab http://www.facebook.com/THELOSTAGENCY?v=app_150256405419

In Bing the #3 result is
http://www.facebook.com/THELOSTAGENCY

In Google #6 result has also dropped
http://www.facebook.com/THELOSTAGENCY?v=app_150256405419

This would show that Bing is far better and crawling and understanding Facebook pages and Google is just able to see the standard landing page, it used to rank the primary page higher before I started using a custom tab as the landing page. The issue is that if you are pushing Google to rank your Fanpage higher you should consider using the Wall tab as the landing page and not a custom tab.

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Depesh February 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm

another quality post, you’d pay decent whack for the types of research you do… who’s your agent? ;-)

on another note, how much does a site like facebook need such long tail searches? didn’t i read somewhere that facebook will become the internet? that facebook will have everything anyone ever needs? anyway the scraping of wikipedia is interesting, reminds me of mahalo which matt cutts said was a content aggregator or some other BS and not a content farm so was legit so facebook could state a similar case. In fact I’m going to copy the entire internet for my next web project, I have bought the domain http://internet.com that’s me on the front page too

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James March 1, 2011 at 5:36 am

I noticed those Wikipedia pages on Facebook when they rolled out community pages, I think it is highly unfair I mean if you own a website and you take content from Wikipedia you will get hit very very hard by SERP’s but Facebook seems to do what they want. You think with the traffic Facebook has they could 1000’s of employ community writers to make unique content for specific subject areas, I am sure people would do it for free.
Of course Bing will favor any thing Facebook does as they have deep connections with link data sharing and other things.
Also all those pages which have no content just a UGC heading is something that also should be looked at by search engines, I mean people hate eHow but at least a human has made the page on eHow and pumped out some content for it, it is not just a random heading which is riding off domain authority and internal linking.

Facebook would also be well aware of SEO, I am sure they have a few highly SEO minded guys in the team ;)

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Glynn Rieckhoff March 1, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Great post and very interesting! Thanks

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Atechnocrat March 3, 2011 at 6:52 am

Could that possibly work!? *shudders*

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RSE FB April 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Facebook greyhats, eh… Would that work?
Gotta experiment with some of that… ^_^

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