Search Gets Even More Social

by James Duthie on December 3, 2010

A couple of weeks back I wrote about how search was increasing turning social with the integration of Facebook 'Like' data into Bing's search results. And yesterday we took another big step forwards into the inevitability that is social search. Indeed, we may look back upon December 1 as a historic date in the evolution of search engines, with two distinct cases emerging to validate the role that social will play in the future of search…

Case 1: Search engines confirm they use social signals

Many within the search industry have suspected that search engines have been utilising social signals as part of their algorithm for some time. Darryl King presented a compelling case study at SMX Melbourne recently on how social signals drove astonishing organic search results for the My Politician site during the Federal Election. Darryl contended that social signals had to be a significant factor, because there was simply no other way his new site could be outranking others with far superior traditional SEO signals.

Yesterday Google confirmed this to be true. In an interview on Search Engine Land, Google and Bing verified that they both analyse of the following social signals within their existing algorithm:

  1. How many times a link is shared in social media
  2. The authority of the person sharing the content

Perhaps most interestingly, both search engines indicated that they gave more credence to sharing behaviour on Twitter, as they had superior mechanisms for determining user authority within the microblogging platform. Personally, when consulting on social media I consistently advise organisations to invest in Facebook first, given its monopoly of the Australian social media landscape. However, this insight gives greater cause to consider Twitter as a serious social media channel for business.

Case 2: Google changes algorithm to penalise negative reviews

A few days back a rather large story broke on the NY Times regarding a businessmen who actively sought negative consumer reviews as they enhanced his Google rankings. Naturally this was a bad news story for Google. Any situation that brings into question the credibility and quality of their search results is a bad outcome for Google. So they  revised their algorithm to penalise businesses that generate poor publicity and bad customer experiences. While they stopped short of saying online customer reviews directly impact search rankings (because how easy is that to game), there's no question they want to integrate consumer driven reviews as an algorithmic signal in the future (look at Google Places as a clue).

Why this is a big deal for social media

The documented chain of events should be music to the ears of anyone providing social media consultancy services. Within Australia at least, social media can still be a relatively tough sell outside any industry targeting the youth demographic. In a country where many of the largest retailers still haven't transitioned to ecommerce, there are plenty who are still hesitant towards social media. Conservatism reigns supreme at the big end of town…

However, few organisations question the effectiveness of search. It is consistently nominated (along with email) as the most effective marketing channel in the arsenal. AIMIA's recent Australian Retail Industry study found Australian marketers rank search their second most important marketing channel. Thus, the fact that social media will assert an increasing influence over search engine rankings is significant. While it seems not all marketers see the value in communicating with their customers, there's no question they see the value of the SERPs. Every social media consultant should be working this into their PowerPoint presentations.

The exciting part is that they have only just begun! Social search technologies are only in their infancy. Google clearly hasn't nailed it just yet and have admitted as much. But they will continue trying. And… if there's one thing we know about Google, it's that they give weight/credence to age and history (domain age anyone?). You can be sure that if/when they nail social search, they'll be rewarding those brands with a proven track record and strong signs of authority and credibility.

The message should be loud and clear by now. If you're not in social media already, it's time to get your feet wet. Because your future search engine rankings will depend on it.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Raj - Melbourne, Australia December 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm

I’m sure search engines will be able to come up with an effective system to incorporate credible votes of confidence on social media sites into their search results.

Teresa S January 8, 2011 at 8:11 am

I agree I think this is going to be a very exciting for search.   What the social element may do is drive more SEOs to think more strategically about content rather than manufacture and spin dull and uninteresting content. 
Google's local crusade will also play a big role in 2011.  So much so that TripAdvisor has blocked Google from its reviews to ensure that they dont lose out in the local content stakes.
Interesting times ahead indeed!

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