How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Social Search

A moment of pity, please, for poor old Bing. The destined-to-be-second-forever baby of Microsoft just can’t seem to get it right. The vast majority of the general public don’t see the point in it and its well-meaning attempts to win our hearts have, much like an over-eager suitor blaring some Phil Collins love-drivel outside of your window at 3am, served to put some of us off more rather than driving us to use the product (one of their TV ads in which everyone starts acting like frenzied monkeys actually terrified someone I know so much they swore off Bing for good!)

It’s more or less perceived, perhaps unfairly, by the majority of the public that Bing is a second-rate product in comparison to its better-established search cousin. However, a potential game changer has thrown a bit of a spanner in the Google works and handed Bing somewhat of an opportunity to gain new users; social searching.

Social Search: What’s It All About?

A few months ago, Google launched ‘Search plus Your World’, a tool which mixes relevant content from people in your G+ circles with regular search results when searching for terms. So for example, if I search ‘Bruce Willis’ and my mate Rich happens to have watched ‘Die Hard’ and posted a picture of the veteran action star and then declared his love for Willis through updates, the chances are that will appear alongside the usual suspects such as Wikipedia. Other relevant postings from G+ from people outside your circle also appear.

It was, to be honest, a bit of a flop. Criticisms range from what some people see as a force-feeding of G+ down people’s throats to the aforementioned favouring of results from G+ over web pages. Of course, all of this can be turned off pretty easily, but for the most part, it’s hard to find many positive comments on Search plus Your World.

Bing’s attempt at social searching, launched about a week ago, for the most part seems a lot less forced and easy-to-digest. Results are split into three columns on a page; the usual search engine results, a ‘what Bing knows’ column and a social sidebar. ‘What Bing knows’ mainly consists of listings for restaurants and cinemas, but the social sidebar is undoubtedly the most interesting of the new features.

Drawing on results from the big two social networks, Facebook and Twitter, as well as LinkedIn, Foursquare, Blogger and (oddly) Google+, Bing’s offering undoubtedly provides a more comprehensive social search function than Google. Although only on limited release currently, the layout looks neat and most importantly, easy to pick up and use from the get-go.

SEO and Social Search: The End of The World Or A Bold New Era?

On a personal level, social searching seems a like quite useful tool. Whilst I don’t trust my friends to educate me on most topics (they aren’t the most cultured bunch, bless ‘em), it will certainly make for a more diverse search experience.

What does it mean for your friendly neighbourhood SEO, however? Will our days now be filled with sending out friend requests on Facebook so our client can be the first port of call when someone searches for something? The answer, according to the experts, is a resounding no.

Social media has been, or least should be, at the front of any SEO’s thinking at any time. After all, a quality piece of content that goes viral will provide with infinitely more valuable juicy links than a hastily-scraped together submission to article marketing sites.  Social search provides us as SEOs with an exciting opportunity to build high-quality links whilst also getting our client’s out there to potential customers through trusted sources – their friends, colleagues, etc.

Social search also means that targeting content is as important as ever – a respected figure in the industry your client works in with thousands of followers tweeting about your content will massively benefit your link-building efforts as well as that tweet appearing in the social search feeds of anyone who happens to be following that person.

There are, of course, issues that arise from social search becoming so heavily integrated in a users’ search experience. Months of hard work achieving that first page ranking under the current system could be rendered worthless if that ranking has been built without a social strategy.  This is particularly relevant with Google, which doesn’t define strongly between ‘traditional’ and social results in the way Bing does.

As previously touched upon, Google have come under fire for giving Google+ an undue amount of power over personalised search results. Having a Google+ strategy and getting into users’ circles (stop sniggering at the back) is now more important than ever, despite Google+ having less registered users than Habbo Hotel, the network for teenyboppers worldwide. That’s not to suggest Habbo Hotel should be given the same amount of influence as Google+ when it comes to social search (unless you’re searching for ‘Justin Bieber’), but it does show that ‘Search plus Your World’ is actually only representing a quite small portion of the internet.

Issues of monopolisation have also arisen, with Google potentially being made to sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done by the EU for using their dominance of the search engine market to shoehorn people onto Google+.

There’s also the issue of the blackhats, our darker SEO brethren who lurk in the shadows and utilise the dark arts to manipulate search engines for their own diabolical purposes. There have been suggestions that companies may sell valuable ‘plus 1’s’ to clients, pushing social results up the rankings artificially. However, given that Google has pretty much dealt with this sort of thing effectively in the past, it seems likely there would be some kind of action plan against this.

Social search should present an exciting challenge to any SEO, signalling a shift from traditional methods of SEO to more focus on creating high quality content for social purposes. Whilst there are bound to be many issues whilst the big two iron out kinks and close loopholes, social search should eventually be to the benefit of both the everyday user and those of us who work within search.

  • Written by on 25th May 2012 at 09:05
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