Evan Jacobs

On our Facebook page, a reader (@Patrickberzai) commented on a recent +1 story, mentioning that, “They should make a G- (minus) button.” That got me thinking: Why is there a lack of counterbalance to “Likes” and +1’s?

On one hand, you have the notion that the mere act of giving a positive spin to a neutral object is enough to differentiate “good” content from the rest. This system is used by Facebook and Google (and Matt Cutts has suggested +1 might ultimately become a Google ranking signal). Bing does not have a +1 equivalent, but instead integrates Facebook social data on an opt-in basis for their searchers. Alternatively, social commenting system Disqus allows both up and down ranking – encouraging users to vote up useful comments and bury irrelevant or spammy ones.

The Implications of +/- vs. +

For content marketers, a positive/negative rating system can be daunting. What if a competitor launches a smear campaign and enlists users to down-rank your content unnecessarily? Would negative ratings be abused by spammers to skew (potential) ranking signals and elevate their own domains above legitimate websites? Does a negative rating for one piece of content compromise the rest of your pool?

On the flipside, the existence of -1 and “Dislike” buttons could deflate sites with inferior content and help eliminate spam through crowdsourcing. It also would keep content creators sharp about their readership, giving fast insight into which topics, writing styles and designs are successful (as well as which types don’t pass the bar.) Currently, this type of insight is expensive and time-consuming to acquire; many businesses spend thousands of dollars on market research and sophisticated analytics platforms in an attempt to gather such data.

Of course, for this negative rating system to work, Google, Facebook and other implementors would have to institute flood limits. Most abusers or spammers of rating systems like +1 will systematically vote for themselves multiple times in one sitting. A flood limit (perhaps three consecutive +1s or -1s per five minutes) would go a long way toward limiting fraudulent rankings.

In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the risks in this case. Quality content will continue to be rewarded with a “Like” or +1, while scammers, spammers and copycats will be pushed down in results for logged in users, leading to immediate benefits for content marketers.

How +/- could work for your business

With any system, smart design analysis and proactiveness are key to ensure the desired result is achieved. Here’s a few ways marketers might see some positive results from negative ratings:

  • De-emphasize, don’t bury. Although it may be tempting to remove content with negative feedback from your site and search results, de-emphasizing the results with a lighter color or lower opacity should be enough to show differences in reported quality. This also helps avoid spammers from doing permanent damage to your content ratings because the manipulated results are still visible but given less prominence; searchers/readers will still be able to view your content if that is what they are seeking. Burying/removal should only occur from a mixture of poor rank and user-submitted spam reports.
Brafton's treatment of "Featured" Content
  • Reward “good” content more publicly. To set the right precedent for adoption, quality content should be given a greater spotlight. If social data becomes a confirmed ranking signal, marketers might benefit if Google devoted a special area on the homepage for top +1’ed content. Facebook could take the idea of their sponsored “Likes” and push it further to show recently liked companies, pages etc. from friends – a “You might like X” concept. Additionally, marketers can promote their well-received pages themselves with a “featured” spotlight for content with high ratings, such as what we have done on our category landing pages.
  • More feedback = more trust. According to a survey by Invoke, the quality of comments (and potentially, social ratings) impacts 62 percent of consumers’ perceptions of a business blog. Thus, it stands to reason that the more (socially) engaged your content is, the greater potential ROI and goodwill you can collect from its consumption. For example, if a blog post received a negative rating, marketers could confront the problem head on, using this as an opportunity to engage prospects and ask them what type of information would be more valuable to them.

Closing Thoughts

According to the July 2011 Netcraft Web Server Survey, there are more than 357 million websites on the internet. The task of finding quality (and reliable) content becomes more difficult every day and necessitates the existence of a more complete rating system – especially as social ratings may become ranking signals.

Whether it be social in nature, or relegated more specifically to search engines, I think down rating is a basic need that is mostly unmet by the current internet status quo. What do you think? Would a “Dislike” button be a complete content marketing nightmare, or can you see potential advantages from this type of feedback? Vote in the above poll and voice your opinion in the comments.