In recent weeks, the theater of war for search market share has moved squarely into the social battlefield, where both Bing and Google have begun loading fodder into their social cannons. Google rolled out their +1 feature to ramp up their social search capabilities, then shortly after that Bing announced that they too will be beefing up their social search features by including Facebook “likes” in their results. Both moves are an attempt to make search more of a discussion; the assumption is that users are more likely to trust results that have been given a vote of confidence – either via Google’s +1 or for Bing, a Facebook “like”.
A user must be logged into the search engines in order to use Social Search in Bing and see “likes” in results, though +1s should start appearing in Google without login. There is no way to prevent users from adding a +1 or a “like” to your site – the only way to influence results will be to “play the game” and create a strategy for this new search landscape.
So how will these changes affect you and your clients? As far as the search algorithms go, Google has said there will be no direct link to +1s and their algorithm, though there should be an indirect result. Because Google considers click-throughs and site traffic in their algorithm, and they feel that having a site +1’ed will lead to more clicks and traffic, the thinking goes that eventually those sites that have the most +1s will end up closer to the top of the SERPs (Search Engines Results Pages). For Bing, the algorithm will not be affected – so ranks will not change based on “likes” – but when someone has liked a site, or an article or page of a site, that will be reflected under the usual listing in the results.
There are many other cool features of Social Search, but the main goal is to have users see which of their friends have already approved of a site so that they will trust it more. Practically speaking, the difference between search and social search within each engine is the level of confidence you can have in any given result.
Take the example of a user that logs into social search to look for a car dealership to buy a used car. In traditional Organic search, there is no way to distinguish which of the results is best for you without visiting a few of the sites; and in general, a user is not likely to click on results more than halfway down the page. If your site is 5th in the rankings or lower, you likely won’t have many clicks. Now consider the same search takes place, but the user is logged in for Social Search. You have implemented a strategy to get fans, employees, and whoever else is willing to “like” or +1 your site. The same search results appear, but below your listing the user sees that many of their Facebook friends have “liked” the site. Are they more likely to click the link their friends have approved, or simply visit the first site listed?
Social Search is not going away anytime soon; in fact, it is more likely that it will become a more robust and larger part of search in general, so agency social media teams and their clients need to start creating and implementing strategies in order to get the most out of it. Ironically, this move to Social Search is in a way a move to the old-fashioned way of finding information: Ask your friends what they like!