The Facebook Like Button, Dissected
The Facebook Like button. Not since the invention of the word “like” has “like” had so much impact on the human psyche.
Forget friendships — gaining approval by people online via the Like button is the new popularity gauge, leaving those with less likes than others feeling a bit inferior and even lost.
And since Facebook, Bing and trends tell us we all need to be liked, the only cure for our complex is well, more likes.
So, let’s take a look at this crazy Like button phenomenon, its various uses and why you need to be liked to survive in the age of online marketing.
Two Variations of a Like Button
Aside from the like that people strive for on their Fan pages (more on the value of a Facebook fan here), two variations of the Like button exist. The first we’re going to talk about is the Like button that integrates with a website and allows Facebook users to endorse a Web page’s content or an object such as an item for sale, a person, a restaurant and more.
The following image shows the Like button integrated on the BruceClay.com home page:
With this button, you can also use what’s called Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol to specify what type of content the person is liking, if it represents real-world objects (movies, celebrities and more, versus just content). Facebook gives a list of categories that you can specify.
Facebook notes that the number of likes shown on any given Web page or object is the sum of:
- The number of likes of this URL
- The number of shares of this URL (this includes copy/pasting a link back to Facebook)
- The number of likes and comments on stories on Facebook about this URL
- The number of inbox messages containing this URL as an attachment
When someone likes something on your Web page, the following happens:
- The content is published in a person’s news feed on Facebook, and therefore, in the news feeds of people that person is connected to. It shows the user liked the page and links back to the original source.
- For items a person can like that represent real-world objects, once someone endorses it, it follows the same protocol as above, but also treats this liked item as a Facebook page. What that means is the Web page now shows up in the liker’s (if that’s even a word) interests and activities on their Facebook profile. Companies can use this data to target ads to these people on Facebook, if they wish. The item will also be searchable within the Facebook search bar feature.
The other variation of the Like button is the act of liking within Facebook. The Like button within Facebook allows content to spread even more (including the items that show up in news feeds from your website that someone endorsed).
The reason why more likes within a Facebook post are significant is EdgeRank. EdgeRank is Facebook’s algorithm for serving up “top news” in a person’s news feed.
There are two views for a person’s news feed in Facebook, found in the upper right-hand corner of the feed): “top news,” based on the EdgeRank algorithm applied to updates from your network and “most recent,” showing the most recent updates from people within your network.
Facebook tell us that the default landing tab is Top News if you haven’t logged in for a while or set it to “most recent.” Top news is the status updates that have received the most interaction based on criteria in EdgeRank. But before we dive into the significance of this, let’s discuss how EdgeRank works.
The Like Button and EdgeRank
One TechCrunch article gives a good analysis of how EdgeRank operates. Keep in mind that EdgeRank is similar to Google’s algorithm in that the factors are not entirely divulged.
What we do know is that in EdgeRank, a status update is simply called an “Object” by Facebook until someone interacts with it via a comment or like, at which point it’s part of the algorithm and is now called an “Edge.”
However, the TechCrunch post points out that the action of creating an Object, say a status update, automatically turns it into an Edge, which is how it gets in peoples’ news feeds in the first place.
So that said, an item outside of the Facebook realm, whether it’s a Web page, article, person, place or thing online, can be thrown into the Facebook community and Top News algorithm for more exposure just by being liked by someone.
For every item dubbed an Edge, according to the report from TechCrunch, there is an algorithm that is applied to it that consists of affinity, weight and relevancy:
- First, there’s an affinity score between the viewing user and the item’s creator — if you send your friend a lot of Facebook messages and check their profile often, then you’ll have a higher affinity score for that user than you would, say, an old acquaintance you haven’t spoken to in years.
- Second, there’s a weight given to each type of Edge. A comment probably has more importance than a Like, for example.
- And finally there’s the most obvious factor — time. The older an Edge is, the less important it becomes.
The Like and Optimizing for EdgeRank
I stumbled upon a white paper by Buddy Media via Search Engine Land during my research. The paper shares tips based on research on what factors go into the EdgeRank algorithm.
According to Buddy Media’s research, each type of Edge carries a different weight in the algorithm depending on what it is. For example, the report states that Facebook assigns a higher weight to images than other types of content such as links.
And some factors increase the Edge’s ability to rank when combined, depending on the combination. As we saw outlined in the TechCruch post, the three factors are affinity, weight and relevancy. And in the Buddy Media report, it states:
An image with dozens of comments will have a higher affinity score than a status update with a few ‘Likes’
The report also points out that video carries a weight score that alone can influence the EdgeRank. So what does the Like button have to do with this? The Like is a part of the EdgeRank algorithm that can put your items in the Top News feed.
Plus, likes factor into other metrics such as the percent of feedback on a status update in your Facebook Insights. The feedback percentage is calculated by taking the total number of comments plus likes, divided by the total number of impressions (the raw number of times the update is shown to users; this is different than post views, which can be found by going to Insights > Interactions).
In addition, likes typically beget more likes. According to a presentation by Justin Osofsky at Facebook in 2010, the type of people who like items visit more URLs from Facebook and have more friends. And voila! More exposure online.
Optimizing the Like Button
Back to the Like buttons you plug into your site. Like buttons have the ability to include Meta data, just like a Web page. I won’t get into the nitty gritty here, because Greg Finn put together a step by step post on how to optimize Facebook’s Like functionality and sums it up well.
But, it’s worth a mention that if given the option to optimize and test variations of the way information is presented to users in their Facebook news feeds when something is liked online, you should probably take it.
Optimizing the Like function on your Web pages or objects includes action items like customizing how the title of the liked item will be presented; what type of object it is, such as a celebrity or restaurant (I mentioned the supported objects earlier in the Open Graph Protocol section); what image will be shown in Facebook for that item; and much more.
The Like Button and Search Engine Rankings
Google and Bing have two very different approaches to search results as it relates to the Facebook like button. Both Google and Bing have said that social cues factor into search. But just last week, Bing announced Facebook likes will actually affect the results and rankings when signed into Facebook.
In fact, Bing said:
Bing delivers a more personalized search experience by using the interests shown by your friends. Now you won’t miss potentially interesting information that may have been buried deep within the search results. Bing will surface results, which may typically have been on page three or four, higher in its results based on stuff your friends have liked. And, how often do you go beyond page one of the results?
And, it’s not just friends in your Facebook community Bing is taking cues from. Bing takes likes to the next level by including results with liked items from people who aren’t in your direct network of friends.
Bing shows well-liked content, including trending topics, articles and Facebook fan pages, from sites across the web, to help you dig in and quickly find exactly what you’re looking for. Looking for a great recipe? Now when you search for a recipe site, you’ll see what recipes people have liked on that site, allowing you to cut through the clutter and find the perfect recipe for dinner.
Here’s Bing’s announcement on video:
On the other hand, while Google’s algorithm takes into account social cues and serves data from places like Twitter in its results, the Facebook like in particular has not been confirmed as part of the algorithm.
Some believe that the Like doesn’t factor into Google rankings for many reasons; one reason being a Google employee weighing in on the matter in a Google Webmaster Help thread, exposed in this post by Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable.
I suspect Google is too busy working on its own social search with the likes of Google +1 to make rival Facebook a factor in its algo – but who knows.
The Like Button and ROI
Search Engine Land recently featured a post on how Facebook says likes and social plugins help websites. The numbers, from Facebook, look pretty impressive; their studies show that implementing the Like button increased revenue, traffic and time on site for several of its users.
And aside from the hard numbers (I mean, how do you top the Like button directly generating revenue?), maximum online exposure, brand engagement and potential rankings in the search engines – all the benefits we’ve spoke about today – are an advantage of implementing the Like button.
The Like Button Controversy
If all of this sounds like rainbows and gumdrops, here’s the Debbie Downer part. The opponents to Facebook’s Like button have a few things to say:
- Privacy issues: All the information a person has ever liked is stored in one place: Facebook. This leaves a person’s “personal” information exposed to whomever would like to view it – including potential advertisers and other parties that may use it to their benefit.
- Site speed: Some say the Facebook code used to implement the Like button can slow down your site’s load time, and as many of us know, site speed is a factor in Google’s algorithm.
- Dictatorship: K, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it’s the closest I could come to describing the concept that you can’t reap the benefits that the Like button has to offer unless you participate in Facebook. Shouldn’t all businesses be able to benefit from the same rewards of social search and endorsement buttons online without having to be a part of some exclusive club?
And there you have it; the Like button in all it’s glory. We’d love to hear what you have to say about it – the good, the bad and the ugly.