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Why Should Search Care About Social?

September 10, 2009
As Search Marketers, we have an amazing amount of insight into metrics and are able to link every dollar spent back to ROI, or to a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). The same can not be said about social media.
 
So why, as Search Marketers, should we care about social media?
 
1. Link Building
The obvious reason to care about social media is for link bait to your site. A few examples may include getting people to Digg or StumbleUpon your content, sharing links to your site via Twitter, or through your Facebook fan page. However, the link between search and social goes much deeper than link juice.
 
2. Customer Support
Product support-related searches on Google will often include Forum results – people discussing you, your company, your products, your customer care. A search on “ipod forum” brings up 139 million results. Whilst “pc help” brings up 240 million. These may be extreme examples, but wouldn’t it be nice for your own company-hosted forum to appear in the top rank when someone typed in a support-related query for your company or products?
 
3. Social Sites are Search Engines
Google may be Number 1 when it comes to search engines, but YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. Additionally, immediate events (real-time search results) aren’t easily searchable outside of Twitter.
 
Web users aren’t stupid. They are getting more sophisticated and adapting their search behavior outside of the traditional engines. For example, if I want to know what conversations are happening at this exact second, then I search on Twitter. If I want to look for a good deal on trinkets, then I search on eBay. If I am looking to rent an apartment, then I search on Craigslist.
 
If search is expanding out to all these different platforms, then we need to think and work outside of just the traditional search engines. It also means we need to optimize more stuff so that we show up in these searches. For example, making sure we include keywords in tweets, carefully crafting video titles, and using metadata around video transcripts… the list goes on.
 
4. Universal Search to Include More Social Media Results
Engines recognize that people are getting street smart when it comes to search, and they aren’t just going to sit by whilst searchers wander elsewhere.
 
ComScore found that universal search results are increasingly dominating search engine results pages (SERPs). Universal search (also known as blended search) shows you video, images, news, and shopping, specifically broken out as part of your search result.
 
Last month, Matt Cutts told the SES San Jose audience that Google sees reviews as an extension of search. So could a future addition to universal search results include product ratings and reviews? And what about Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, and FriendFeeds? As search marketers, we need to stay on top of this if want to continue capturing shelf space in SERPs.
 
5. More Forward Thinking: The Future of Social Search
There’s no question that Google is great at a lot of things. But right now, it doesn’t do such a good job of making sense of social sites. Looking forward, how will this develop and how will search and social become better integrated?
 
Groundswell author, Charlene Li gave an eye-opening talk on how to prepare for the future of search, at SES. In her presentation she talked about search engines relying much more upon social networks to deliver results that are a lot more customized to each individual searcher.
 
Some key points from the discussion included:
  • Better real-time search results
  • Personalized search results based upon social data
  • Searcher intent becoming clearer with geographic location, time and social context
  • Search recommendations based upon reviews from people we know, rather than from complete strangers

Just think – you’re stuck in your hotel room in a strange city, and your stomach is growling. You need to find a place to eat. The search engine detects your geographical location, and recommends a restaurant two blocks away, based upon positive reviews from friends within your social network. Heaven!

These are just some of the reasons why search should care about social. I am sure there are more (feel free to share ideas). It also serves as a good reminder that moving forward, people need to be at the center of our search strategy, not keywords.

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