Social buttons are breaking search

In my previous post I wondered if social sharing services are breaking the web with data-rich hyperlinks and today I would like to pose that social sharing services are breaking search. Let’s assume the following scenario: You search for Facebook “proprietary protocol” in Google Web (the “regular” Google) and are presented with the following results:

facebook _proprietary protocol_ - Google zoeken-1

While we are used to skim through the results for the most relevant results, the social buttons produce an artifact that disrupts the search index. A result titled “Is VTP a proprietary protocol of CISCO?” is the fifth, unrelevant, result and is only shown due to the fact that they are using a Facebook social button on their website.The social buttons are flooding the index with keywords such as Facebook, Twitter, Share, Add that as a side-effect of sharing technologies. Because of the high penetration of social buttons this may also disrupt research practices on the web.

The following example shows what happens when you search for the keywords Facebook homosexuality in Google Scholar.

facebook homosexuality - Google Scholar

None of the shown results are relevant for my query and are shown because of a Facebook social button on their website. Social buttons are producing an artifact that disrupts search.

14 thoughts on “Social buttons are breaking search

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  8. This is definitely an issue that requires attention. A solution would be a mechanism to describe certain sections of a website as irrelevant to indexing which are then ignored by the search engine (e.g. encapsulating content in a container with a specific class). Somebody should let Google know ;-)

    1. Definitely! Detecting Facebook buttons (iFrames), Twitter buttons or Addthis buttons would “simply” be a matter of creating lists of social button code and classifying them accordingly in order to filter them from web results. Slightly tedious task but one would think Google has enough employees to fix such a list and therewith the issue ;)

  9. You know another thing that breaks search in the exact same way?

    The word “feed” and reference to newsfeeds (RSS/Atom).

    I do not specifically what I was searching for, but I do know that I had to tweak my search query quite a bit to get around this.

    I really really hope Google is going to do something about this. I can’t imagine they’re not aware of this issue because a lot of smart folks work there.

    1. Webpages and blogs nowadays produce many “technical artifacts” such as RSS and social plugins which break search. One would think Google would be able to think of a way to deal with these.

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