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Search is changing into socially driven search
Yesterday there was a discussion over the digital feeding frenzy happening before our eyes; search engines were fighting over who got access to real time search data. The post over at Read Write Web summed up the complexities of the battle raging between Bing, Facebook and Google over dominance in a more socially driven search.
“Google’s new Social Search will allow users to opt-in to having search results from content created by their friends on social networks around the web included in Google search results. Those friend connections could come from any number of sites that you and your friends have listed in your Google Profiles – but it won’t include Facebook
Microsoft announced today that Facebook status messages and other content from Facebook users with public profiles will soon appear in Bing search results. That’s a huge change for Facebook. Bing also announced Twitter search integration, which is live now.
Google announced a deal with Twitter today as well. So Bing has Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has Bing-powered web search. Google just has Twitter, no Facebook search.”
Clearly the search giants think there’s something in this social search thing, evidenced by their bickering over who gets what. There’s been a lot of talk about ‘real time search’ which looks at what people are saying about a subject right this second. Google currently indexes and ranks content based on how many links it has and how “established” it has become. Real time search produces results based on what links people are sharing right this second. Tech Crunch offered their two pennies on how a more socially driven system might work:
“For example, if a link to a post about healthcare reform on an obscure blog suddenly gains currency and is retweeted hundreds of times, that is a signal to perhaps rank that link higher in searches about “healthcare reform.” If people stop Tweeting about it, then maybe it goes down in the ranking… Tweets and other micro-messages will become part of results”
This is a key idea, and one that should sound as a warning sign that things will soon be changing significantly in search. This new method of ranking a website won’t only apply to content based sites; this will happen to your business. What people are saying about your business really matters and soon enough it’s going to either add value to your business, or take from it. Now is the time to consider how your business aims to rank well socially, and there’s probably no quick fix solution. Social isn’t going to just be about having a blog and a twitter profile, it’s going to be about ensuring your business gets as much positive feedback as possible because that positive feedback will make your site rank better, so how are you going to achieve that?
It’s no secret that this is the way things are headed. Already on Google’s search results is the ability to add a comment to be seen amongst your friends, how long until these comments are aggregated and analysed to rank your website?
It seems more likely that this system will be integrated into the SideWiki Project which Google announced today. It allows searchers to see what people are saying about a website right from their browser, and crucially it allows people to write a review about any site they visit – all indexed into Google’s mammoth database. Granted, the implementation of this idea is nothing short of terrible, but it shows a desire and drive for Google to get their hands on social reviews – real data from real people. They’ve made no secrets about analysing the data SideWiki produces, “we rank Sidewiki entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from you and other users, previous entries made by the same author and many other signals we developed.” The headline on the Google Sidewiki reads “Help and learn from others as your Browse the web” – a more appropriate title might have been “Help us learn as you Browse the web”, since this is clearly an effort to get people ranking a websites value rather than an algorithm.
I guess that’s what this whole debate boils down to – who should rank a websites worth, Google’s algorithm or people’s ratings? By knowing and understanding how Google ranks a page, a whole industry has developed to help businesses rank better in the search results. Building links, using carefully constructed anchor text, link bait, and sometimes a few other shady tactics have all become a part of the industry. If current trends continue the switch over from this system to a social one might come as a shock to businesses across the world. Search will rank your site based on how well you perform, the reviews your site has received, and how many people are talking about you. It doesn’t look like there’s an easy way to manipulate that…yet.
Companies operating under this exact search philosophy already exist, and they’re already producing great results. Websites like Qype, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Delicious, Ciao (by Bing), are just a few amongst dozens of socially driven search engines that are springing up. Test the theory that these search engines are producing better results – specifically when looking for businesses, companies, organisations, and services, because they’re listening to what real people say about them. There’s certainly a blog post in comparing the results from these search engines, something I’ll put together in the future. For now I’ll just make my thoughts clear, in many situations these niche search engines produce significantly better results than Google does.
Don’t think for a second that Google will allow themselves to be left behind, they’ll be monitoring these trends closely. All of the changes I’ve mentioned so far are testament to the theory that they’re soon to change the way they operate significantly, and I predict it will happen much quicker than people expect. Those up and down arrows in Google’s search results might be cosmetic for the minute, but that data is flowing into Google’s servers and being analysed right now, they could utilise that data any time they want.
If we go back to Google’s stated plans – having your friends thoughts and feelings included in your search results. It’s a sign that you and your business had better make sure those friends are saying nice things about your brand and business; a personal recommendation is very valuable. And if all goes to plan, Google will soon be serving everyone personal recommendations.