Facebook has earned its reputation as an AOL-like walled garden by keeping most of the content generated within Facebook hidden from those who haven’t logged in.
Not only does a login screen stop general Internet users from viewing Facebook content without logging in, it also impedes search engine indexing.
Currently, Google can index:
- a limited view of Facebook user profiles
- “Fan” Pages, including user posts
- Facebook comments left on third-party sites
At one point in time, search engines were also able to index many Facebook groups, but this does not appear to be the case any longer. I should also note that users may change a privacy setting so search engines can’t index their specific profile.
Way back when Google offered real time search, Google was denied access to Facebook user posts, an advantage Bing had thanks to a special agreement certainly facilitated by Microsoft’s investment in Facebook. Facebook user posts weren’t otherwise available to search engine crawlers.
The same is true for Yandex; Bing’s normal Web search didn’t return any user posts. Recent Facebook and Twitter posts are still available in a few countries via Bing’s special social search. To be clear, the number of Facebook user posts Google is indexing appears to be small.
User profiles still don’t display posts for users which aren’t logged in, so how is Google finding Facebook posts to index?
The posts I looked at had not appeared on Facebook Pages, which do display posts even if a user isn’t logged in. Groups appear to be off-limits. Facebook offers an XML sitemap to search engines, however access appears to be limited by IP so I cannot actually verify what it contains.
The most likely answer is that Google is picking up some Facebook user posts which have been explicitly linked to from other sites, like those also automatically posted to twitter. If the original Facebook post is too long for Twitter, a fb.me link connects to the original post on Facebook.
At the moment, users don’t need to login to Facebook to access a public user post as long as they have the direct URL. But you never know if or when Facebook may put user updates back behind the walled garden.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.