Google provides a number of tools that are useful to companies that rely on the web to drive leads to their businesses. Google’s Webmaster Tools help you understand how Google views your website, and how they can better understand your site. For a deep analysis of how people use your site, Google Analytics can provide insight. But the most important and useful tool to use on a daily basis is the Google Toolbar.
The latest feature to be added to the Toolbar is a new application called “Sidewiki,” which essentially allows anyone to post comments in a browser sidebar on any website on the web. Once someone has signed in to the Google Toolbar they can post comments and read comments that have been posted by others.
Rather than posting the most recent entries in chronological order, Google is using an algorithm to promote the most relevant “useful, high-quality” entries to the top. Details on the alogorithm are, of course, not revealed, but Google has noted that they will include “use of sophisticated language”, “user reputation”, and “user history” to determine rank ordering of comments. Importantly, Google will decide which postings contain inappropriate content, not the owner of the site.
The first step is to “claim” your site’s Sidewiki as the owner of the site… you can do this by installing the latest Google Toolbar with Sidewiki installed. As the site owner, any comments that you post will be displayed at the top of the list. Look at this as an opportunity to talk to your website visitors, point out useful features, highlight what separates you from your competition, etc.
Depending on the adoption rate among consumers, Sidewiki may be a significant and concerning development as it essentially takes control of some of the presentation of a company’s website out of the hands of its owner. While Google has published Editorial Guidelines, the potential for abuse is certainly out there. A competitor could post a bad review or negative comment about your business… on YOUR site. There is no system currently in place to notify site owners that comments have been posted on their sites, so monitoring comments will be a manual effort.
Google has not allowed site owners to opt out of Sidewiki… at least not for now. The good news is that Google has a track record of launching new applications and services, getting feedback from the web community, and adjusting their offerings based on that feedback. As an example, Google has historically had serious accuracy issues and spam problems with their Maps product. When they began serving Maps more prominently in results for localized searches earlier this year, there was an outcry from the SEO community regarding the quality of the data. Google took a number of steps to develop tools to enhance listing accuracy, ultimately resulting in a “white listing” process for national clients.
Like other forms of social media including Twitter, Facebook, etc., it’s a good idea to have someone dedicated to monitoring the online conversations about your brand, and engaging in the dialog in a genuine and meaningful way. Time will tell whether Sidewiki will be a compelling new social media dynamic like Twitter, or a relatively benign solution in search of a problem.
More details can be found at The Official Google Blog.
To install Sidewiki so that you can monitor and participate, visit Google Sidewiki on Google.com.
Watch Google’s video about Sidewiki below.