There is a booming industry of online businesses offering Facebook 'Likes', Google Plus Ones, Twitter Followers and the like. These social media bookmarks are supposed to be desirable because they signal to search engines the number of internet users who genuinely like your website or your content enough to share it with their friends.
Well they used to ...
It was, of course, not long before the idea was hijacked by companies who made up thousands of false accounts – in Facebook, Google, Twitter, and on.
From there it was easy to offer a thousand social media bookmarks or followers overnight and like with so many black hat SEO tricks before, it worked for a while.
Search Engines Spot Worthless Signals
Originally your website's popularity was all about how many links were pointing to it. When links could be purchased wholesale search engines gave them much less importance – especially when they came from websites that were nothing but lists of links.
When bookmarking came along (Digg, Redditt and the likes) this was picked up as a positive signal but when it was hijacked the value of those links was also downgraded, and in some cases completely discarded.
Now it is the turn of social media. A Facebook account with no activity and endless 'likes' to a disparate bunch of webpages is no different to a link farm a couple of years back – and search engines know it.
Rankings up, rankings down
For the many who follow these get-popular-quick schemes the light is beginning to dawn. Buying buckets of links did seem to get more visitors and then one day when the search engines changed their algorithm they were suddenly off the radar.
Everything they had spent on links was money down the drain.
But doing genuine Search Engine Optimisation is pricey and time consuming. Better to follow the new trend and buy into bookmarking programmes. Again a temporary improvement before falling again and more funds wasted.
Recently it has been time to spend on social media and see that cash go nowhere in the long term.
Long term search engine rankings
As those who have been trying to buy themselves to the top for years have found – there are many temporary solutions and the cumulative costs of taking part in 'faking it' programmes are becoming more than the price of doing real Search Engine Optimisation, where a site keeps stable rankings over the long term and never feels the pain of an algorithm change.
As a general guide if someone can get you thousands of 'somethings' for a few dollars it is easy to see that they are, or are about to be, worthless.