Before the advent of social networking sites, most web pages contained content generated by a dedicated team. However, user-generated content is king in today’s market, which is great news for site owners who want to create a more dominant presence without too much outlay on their part. This presents a problem for search engines, because ranking sites which are filled with user-generated content (UGC) is tough. Google filed a patent relating to this facet of the modern web almost three years ago, presumably in anticipation of the launch of its own Google+ social-networking platform in 2011.
Google and other search engines now need to consider the relevance of comments posted on blogs, questions answered by users on sites such as Quora and even status updates made on Facebook or tweets posted to Twitter. The first roadblock to Google ranking these sites comes because they typically require that users have to log in before they can post any content or even read anything posted by other members. This is taken into account by the patent, which will apply weighting to the value of individual users in the same way that websites are ranked.
Such interactions, which can include everything from posting a video to commenting on another piece of UGC, will play an important part in the process of ranking social-networking content. It should be possible to identify authoritative social-networking authors based on these interactions and still give users a relevant set of results for their search queries. The interconnected nature of social networking would mean that an authority score would be based on the subsequent quality of the contributors who respond to it, allowing Google to adjust its ranking accordingly.
Interestingly, Google might also be able to assess UGC across multiple categories, even for the same user. So if you make a comment on a blog post about classic cars and then also answer a question about space travel, Google might have two distinct ranks for you based on the quality of your responses, your previous activity in these areas and the quality of the responses which they in turn generate. This could be used to focus optimisation services, because a segregation of different search categories and terms within social networking will allow users to have greater control over their authority ranking.
As with much of Google’s search augmentation, this focus on authority and contribution in social-networking services will not only be used to increase rank relevance, but also to weed out spammers. The lower the quality of the contribution and the less ‘rich’ the content, the harder it will be for particular users to rank highly in Google’s searches. For a further personalisation of the search results, Google has the ability to monitor interactions between people across various social networks. This will allow it to tailor the results so that they are weighted towards people whose online bond is strong, adding an even greater degree of specificity to searching online.
Of course, the mechanics of this process will be largely obscured from the view of the user, so whether or not Google will actually employ the totality of its patented powers is difficult to determine. With sites relying on UGC more and more, optimisation services will now need to consider carefully Google’s approach to ranking this type of content.