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Social influence to replace links as measurement of importance on Google and the Internet?

February 16, 2011

Could lawyers and law firms be betting on the wrong horse when it comes to creating an effective Internet presence?

When you mention an effective Internet presence, most law firms think of search. How do we achieve higher search engine rankings for our website and blogs.

I blogged about the importance of links to achieve higher Google rankings earlier this week. Accordingly, most law firms, or companies doing search engine optimization (SEO) work on a law firm’s behalf are chasing links. Some are doing it the proper way, some in underhanded ways.

But what if links are not the long term answer for getting seen? What if it becomes the power of your social network that determines your importance and getting seen on Google?

Rather than people voting on your importance by linking to your content, we’ll use social influence to measure your importance on Google and on the Internet.

Today, it’s the relevance and value of incoming links that determine how important your website or blog is in Google’s eyes. And the more important you are, the higher you appear in search engine rankings.

Could we be on the verge of social influence being the measuring stick of your blog or website’s importance? We’d measure importance in search and Internet relevance by the number of ‘Facebook likes’ and the number of people sharing your content on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other information and social networks.

My gut tells me we are in for this change. Shouldn’t a tacit endorsement from someone who’s respected on the net (algorithms will be created to measure ones level of respect and influence) be a more valuable than a link from a link farm created solely to achieve search rankings?

Steve Rubel, SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, blogs this morning that it’s entirely possible that the ‘Like’ could replace the ‘Link’ as the leading signal measuring importance on the net.

For years the mighty hypertext link has served as the web’s traffic signal network. Links guide where our clicks, attention and, therefore, money flows. It has given rise to multi-billion-dollar businesses and even entire industries. As the blockbuster AOL/HuffingtonPost deal shows, we truly do live in what Jeff Jarvis calls “The Link Economy.” But maybe just maybe that economy could be peaking.

More recently it appears that an equally powerful network of signals has emerged just as certain kinds of links are being called into question in the mainstream press. Enter the like, which Facebook CTO Brett Taylor embraced in 2007 while with Friendfeed and Facebook copied in 2009. It has since flourished under Taylor’s lead at Facebook as it mushroomed to 600 million users. These millions have not only emphatically embraced the like on the social network itself, but more importantly across the millions of sites that use Facebook’s social plug-ins. Some 65 million Facebook users like things daily.

Rubel’s logic is similar to mine.

Unlike the link, however, likes arguably are arguably easier to create. Moreover, they are explicit endorsements rather than implicit ones. Therefore, they carry more weight once they are pulled through the lens of our friends. More so than links, this new network of signals allows content to find you, rather than you having to go find it.

Neither Rubel nor I expect that Google’s viewing links as a signal of importance is going to go away over night, or perhaps ever. It’s just a real possibility that social influence will become equally, if not more important.

The implications for you as a lawyer or law firm is to acknowledge that it will no longer be possible to cram social influence like you could cram for SEO via links.

Law firms are notorious for procrastinating or deferring to the ‘committee for really slow action’ the work the firm needs to do to achieve search results and Internet relevance. Bad as it that is, a law firm could still cram for results by hiring a SEO expert and executing on an SEO plan.

But as in the real world, online social influence that comes by building out a social network takes time. Lawyers will need to be personable, transparent, authoritative, and real through blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

It’ll take time to develop a comfort and gain experience with this sort of social networking. Being liked and viewed as a reliable and trusted authority on the Internet is not something you can cram for.