This article was published on October 21, 2010

The Evolution of Social Search

The Evolution of Social Search
Lauren Fisher
Story by

Lauren Fisher

Co-founder at Simply Zesty. I love everything social and I think I have the best job in the world! I'm particularly passionate about bloggin Co-founder at Simply Zesty. I love everything social and I think I have the best job in the world! I'm particularly passionate about blogging and seeing innovative uses of social platforms by organisations. Feel free to drop me an email if you've got any questions, comments or you just want to say hi - [email protected]

The search and social industries haven’t quite sat comfortably together yet. The search specialists see social as something that can enhance link building, the social specialists see search as an added benefit of a campaign, without it being the main focus. They haven’t sat comfortably together, because up until now, the two areas haven’t been properly married online. Search is what you use to find something, and social is the end-destination. We’ve started to see that shift slowly, but over the past few days it’s changed drastically. First Bing and Facebook announced their intentions to create a new type of social search and they’re not the only ones that are making big inroads to this.

Google adds ‘shared by’ to search results

Google have been experimenting with search and social for quite a while now, with the first real move being the integration of tweets into their main SERPs. Now, they’re rolling out a new feature (not yet available to all users) that shows you how many times a particular result has been shared by someone. The screenshot I took below shows this in action :

And clicking into the link, it takes you to a page that shows you the level of activity and links to where this article has been shared. At the moment this is just returning links on FriendFeed and Twitter for me, though it’s reported that Myspace will also be included :

Now that all the big players are getting in on the social search game in a very real way, we’re seeing the potential this has to revolutionise the search market overall.

What this means for news organisations

The recent change by Google comes at an interesting time for some. This is all about the socialisation and sharing of news, yet this is still very much at odds with many news organisations. I’ve spotted 2 news stories this week, that provide interesting insight into how news organisations consider social media. One was an internal email to BBC staff following a tweet from a BBC breakfast reporter, on the rules of tweeting. The second comes from the Washington Post, who have issued a memo to staff telling them “It is absolutely vital to remember that the purpose of these Post-branded accounts is to use them as a platform to promote news… No branded Post accounts should be used to answer critics and speak on behalf of the Post.” In no uncertain terms, journalists are told that Twitter is a place to promote news, not to encourage discussion. Discussion inevitably leads to sharing, and with Google now putting more emphasis on shared content, news organisations might want to reconsider such strategies. The power of debate shouldn’t be underestimated. Conversation is how links spread, and this is surely now more important than ever.

Social search in action

So we’re convinced of the benefits of social search and we know it’s here to stay, but how does it impact you and how can you make it work for your business? Well firstly, if you’re still not getting involved with social media and producing real-time content, this should be the strongest factor to persuade you yet. There’s no point investing thousands through PPC or SEO to get into the top search spots, if you’re being overtaken by someone tweeting about your brand, or dragging your name through the mud as a crisis hits social media. Just as with traditional SEO you want people to find you and be driven back to your own content, the same is just as true with social search. Anyone who currently owns a dead Twitter account should hopefully be kicked into action and recognise the need to provide up to date, quality content. And the more quality content you’re producing, the more likely it is to be shared, meaning you’ll benefit from this new feature introduced by Google.
One of the easiest ways you can make social search work for you is by making sure your search team and your SEO team are talking together. Whether this is your in-house services or agencies, now more than ever it’s important to ensure you have a joined up strategy that allows the 2 to learn from and influence each other. The impact that social search can have on the SEO industry is huge, and it represents a fundamental shift in the way this operates. While SEO has typically been a longer-term strategy, often taking weeks of months to see the fruits of your labour, social search has changed all that.

Old links don’t matter any more

Aside from what social search means for the search industry and online marketers, the single biggest benefit of social search, is that it ultimately means better search. Far too often when I search for something, I inevitably get taken to a content farm. A low-grade, low-quality article that is rich in keywords and links but which means little for my personal search experience. Social search can be gamed for sure, but only up to a point. The changes made by Google, Facebook and Bing have fundamentally changed the search game as we know it. It provides a quicker route to good, relevant and popular content. The traditional SEO strategy of building in links to your site will no longer apply, at least not in the same way it used to. The thing is that people can’t be tricked in the same way that search engine spiders can. You link to something from your social account because it’s relevant to you, and this is very good news for searchers.

Social search is incredibly exciting at the moment and while it may take longer for people to change their old search habits this is something that businesses need to have a strategy for. It can work incredibly well for your business if you’re doing it right and the potential is huge.

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