Relevant to Each Other - Google Sidewiki and SEO

Marketers have grown aware of, and even become somewhat obsessed by, the new Google toolbar-enabled Sidewiki in recent days. For anyone who hasn't yet learned of this, please see the introductory ClickZ article, "What Google's Sidewiki Means to Marketers," by Sean Carton, and the official Google information page.

Carton and many other writers have provided insightful initial analysis of Sidewiki (please feel free to share links in the comments or this page's Sidewiki). And the search and health care teams at the agency where I'm an SEO released this early point of view, "Google Sidewiki and Its Implications for Pharma Brands."

Here are some initial thoughts about possible connections between Sidewiki and SEO.

Could Sidewiki Comments Affect Your Page's Organic Rankings?

The simple answer to this is "not yet." It's possible, but very unlikely, that Google could somehow incorporate comments attached to a page into the ranking algorithm for that page.

When looking at Google's information page about Sidewiki, I'm eerily reminded of 2006 when I first learned about Google's Co-Op project. At the time, I explored the possibilities that existed with the new Google "page-labeling" interface, which allowed registered users to place labels on pages. A famous Co-Op Profile was Dr. Choi, who labeled many of the top health care sites.

Theoretically, some user profiles could be authenticated to belong to legitimate experts in a certain field, and their labels could be used to help Google understand the importance of a page. On the Google page for Sidewiki, it said that one of its uses is to provide expert insights on important issues.

Could a page with several expert comments eventually be given additional credit in the algorithm? As is typical with Google, we may never know. It's certainly possible, but this could be gamed, so it's unlikely.

How Does Sidewiki Relate to SEO?

Because it's unlikely that Sidewiki can do much to affect rankings for the associated page, is there a tie-in with SEO? Although it's still early to tell, the most likely connection could end up being SEO reputation management, which is a subset of the SEO field that has gained credence over the past four to five years as brand owners have sought to push down negative listings found within search results for their brands.

Brand managers, brace yourself: Individual Google Sidewiki comment "pages" can gain search engine rankings of their very own. A simple case is the search I did when looking for the link to the ClickZ article about Sidewiki. A search for "sidewiki clickz" on October 7 yielded the article in the top spot, and a Google Sidewiki listing at number four!

The good news: the Sidewiki listing isn't truly a page of its own, and actually redirects to the same ClickZ article, with the Sidewiki comments available on the side if you're logged in. The better news for ClickZ: no negative postings.

Many brand managers fear what will happen if there are negative comments. The search result snippet in Google used the first part of the first comment as the page's description. Thus, if it was negative, or even somewhat unfavorable, this could shine a negative light on the brand if the Sidewiki comment is eventually able to rank on the first few pages for a brand search.

Thus, the SEO connection is really related to reputation management. There are a few choices as a brand manager that you can make, based on early understanding and further discussed in the point of view published by my agency:

Register a site with Google Webmaster Tools to claim the first Sidewiki listing for any owned page.

Establish an appropriate policy as to how to react to negative comments, should they be posted. During this content development period, "listening" should occur, in order to monitor site pages for Sidewiki entries.

Decide, as an organization, whether to engage the comments.

There aren't yet any easily available tools to monitor site pages for Sidewiki entries, other than through a Google-API enabled interface that would need to be developed. Two leaders in the social media monitoring space (Radian6 and Cymfony) are exploring the situation. Thus, it may be at least for the near future that someone will need to be assigned the Sidewiki-monitor role, if a particular organization deems it important enough.

One alternative: consider completely blocking Sidewiki users from posting comments on your pages. This choice has many potential negative side effects, however.

Hopefully, Sidewiki should have a better fate than Google Co-op. For that project, Google has almost completely cleared its tracks, having absorbed it into the newly named but similar Google Subscribed Links and eventually Google Custom Search, which enables labeling.

People thinking about "preemptive" reputation management should definitely consider how to make the Sidewiki result possibly work for them instead of against them.

Frank Watson Fires Back

This is a great insight into Sidewiki. Unfortunately, this may be another way competitors can impact companies and people.

If it gets to be misused like Ripoff Report, the entire project will be defeated. There is a need to preempt such actions, but we know many won't until it is too late.

If Google keeps hands off, they will be OK under DMCA, but if they have any input they could see a major legal problem. One wonders if they thought that part through.

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