This weekend, my mother-in-law asked me to enter a life of crime.
Not in the real world, of course – she’d like the father of her grandkids to remain jail-free. No, instead she invited me to play that Mafia game that’s so popular on Facebook.
Not interested in the game, I politely declined. But when my mother-in-law, who has just joined Facebook, becomes part of an online trend, that’s a sure sign that it’s hitting critical mass in the population at large.
Facebook is quickly becoming the immovable object that will soon butt heads with Google’s irresistible force.
Strength In Overwhelming Numbers
Facebook claims that its subscriber base over age 35 doubled in size between February and April of 2009 – just sixty days. That’s not only impressive for a site as huge as Facebook already is, but it means that your mother-in-law is likely on Facebook just like mine, and one of them is probably about to order a Mafia hit on the other.
That growing audience means traffic to any website that gets a link on Facebook. How much traffic? The analysts at Hitwise claim that celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton now gets more traffic from Facebook than from Google – more than 7 million pageviews from Facebook alone. If that trend increases, then the current wisdom about web traffic is about to get turned on its ear.
How Facebook Kills SEO
Traditional search engine marketing seeks to draw the attention of people searching for particular terms in Google, Yahoo, or other search engines. And that’s going to continue to be useful for a long time.
But the rise of Facebook creates a growing segment of the web that’s completely invisible to search engines – most of which, Facebook blocks – and can be seen only by logged-in Facebook users. So as Facebook becomes ever larger, and keeps more users inside its walled garden, your web site will need to appear in Facebook’s feeds and searches or you will miss out on an important source of web traffic.
What’s the best way to keep your links in front of Facebook users? The ever-more-important linkbait strategy.
How Linkbait Gains Us the Favor of Our New Facebook Overlords
Regular readers of this and related sites are already familiar with the linkbait strategy, which is this: create content that multiple outside sources will link to because it’s funny, controversial, interesting, or otherwise compelling.
In other words, generate great content.
Now, once you’ve got your compelling content posted – or ideally, even before you do – you should have some way of injecting that content into the Facebook sphere. Perhaps you’ve built up a large network already, for yourself or your site. Perhaps you’ve got a widget on your page thatallows readers to post your link directly on Facebook. Or maybe you just ask a few friends to post the links on their own, and hope it takes off from there. Your tactics may evolve over time, but the most important part is that you’ve got to write something people want to link to – the essence of the linkbait strategy.
The Hits Just Keep on Coming (We Hope)
So… as linkbait becomes more important for Facebook (and, let’s not kid ourselves, Twitter, too), what does this mean for future traffic trends?
It means that, more than ever, you’re going to have to continue to generate timely, quality, compelling content that attracts Facebook links as well as non-Facebook links. And once Facebook users get to your page, you’d better have a plan for how you’re going to keep them on your site, and keep them coming back later.
Why is that? In part, because Facebook links are invisible to Google – and therefore don’t contribute to your PageRank. Facebook links make no lasting direct contribution to your site’s SEO, and as Facebook drives an ever-larger percentage of traffic to your site, that means quality content will overshadow all other SEO techniques.
Facebook wants to be the Google killer… don’t let it kill your site, too! Start planning today to get Facebook users to your site and keep them coming back for more.
UPDATE: Six hours after this post was published, Wired released an article that provides extensive additional information about the enormous amount of data and links that Facebook is keeping from Google.