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January 10, 2013

Are Fraudulent Like Votes Derailing Your Google Ranking?

On a recent Wednesday night, I had 173 Facebook ‘like’ votes on my website. On the following Thursday morning that number had inexplicably dropped to 151.

I watch my website’s ‘like’ vote tally on a daily basis. Having only had that button on my website for fewer than six months, it gives me hope that people are happy with my work. Although I have nothing on my Facebook page and avoid any activity on it whatsoever, I have added social endorsement buttons to my website based on Google’s recent interest in them.

I’ve often wondered how to find out who has been ‘liking’ my website. So I consulted my website’s ‘like’ vote statistic page in my Facebook account. Ironically, it tells me it cannot share who has been voting because: “This data set is too small to display breakdowns without potentially revealing personally identifiable information.”

None of this makes any sense, especially in light of this mysterious reduction in my total. When I searched Google for anything about this latest incident, I found a brand new December thread citing numerous examples of people complaining that they had been stripped of huge numbers of their ‘like’ votes as well. The reason? It said that Facebook was doing “housekeeping” and it had detected fraudulent examples of ‘like’ voting everywhere, resulting in removal of the offensive items. Could this be Phase 2 of a Facebook purge begun last summer?

Help! Facebook Has Stolen My Valid Like Votes

With no control over who visits my site, who clicks on my social buttons and whether the totals are accurate or not, I can only trust that Facebook has some way to measure the precision of its systems. I have no choice but to assume they are operating in an ethical and honorable manner. I, for one, certainly am. While I know there are plenty of ways to purchase fake likes, fans, followers, friends and whatever else they say I may need, I would never waste my money. I have a hard enough time accepting the importance and expected longevity of the entire social media world as it is, regardless of how much I admire the technology behind it.

However, in reading the comments of many of the people affected by this rude event, I realized those sites which sell advertising based on such proof of popularity could easily lose revenue if the reduced numbers affect their ability to retain their paying customers.

For me, it’s simply a matter of pride. It had taken a few months for my ‘like’ votes to increase from 137 up to 173 and now they have been slashed by some 22 votes. While I agree this whole issue is pretty inconsequential, it has taken the wind out of my sails and made me even more distrustful of Facebook as a result.

In further exploring this issue on Facebook’s website, I found that the specific reason for this purge was to address fake ‘likes’ purchased through “illegitimately created accounts, as well as malware, compromised accounts, or deceived users.” Further, it said its “cleaning” would reduce counts an average of one percent. Yet, one famous account lost about 18 percent of its ‘like’ votes (amounting to thousands of removals) which makes my 12.7 percent drop of 22 votes seem pretty measly in comparison.

Still, I have to take issue with this event along with a great number of other respondents who claimed total innocence in terms of manipulating their ‘like’ votes in any way. However, according to CNN.com, there are 83 million fake Facebook accounts, with some 14.3 million directly linked to illicit activity.

Since I also have a star rating system on my website, I often track the IP addresses of all who have voted there. Not one voter has been an actual person. All have been confirmed worldwide spider bots who travel the Internet for whatever reason and click on my star rating system while crawling my site.

I have long suspected that the Facebook ‘like’ votes have been similarly influenced in this way.

How Google Fits In

If it weren’t for Google’s recent interest in our social popularity as another algorithmic gauge to our search ranking, this entire incident would give me good reason to remove both the Star Rating System and the social endorsement buttons from my website and wash my hands of the whole ridiculous affair.

And, I have to assume that Google cares much more about its own Google+ votes than it does about anything pertaining to its chief rival, Facebook. Also, it has been found that Google’s Plus One system is virtually untouchable when it comes to fraud or corruption of any kind, unlike Facebook’s problematic vulnerability. So, whether your search ranking is affected by how many fake Facebook ‘likes’ you may have would be dependent on how much importance Google places on your Like count to begin with. I venture to guess, not much.

But Google’s recent removal of tracking for its Google+ votes within my Webmaster Tools account may indicate its embarrassment over the generally lackluster reception it has had for that initiative.

Still, I would advise everyone to retain their Google+ pages and linked social buttons on all websites because Google has begun to list those pages prominently as valid results ahead of all others in organic searches. Even though Google will not admit to using its Google+ membership to affect search rankings, that certainly is a compelling enough reason to get some rich content into your Google+ universe which could encourage visits, activity and ultimately social endorsement votes where it counts: with Google, not with Facebook.


Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but also through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at http://www.midhudsonmarketing.com.

Connect with Marilyn Bontempo on Google+.

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