Sunday, 25 October 2009

Social search and the information bubble

Google and Bing used the Web 2.0 Summit to lay down their social search markers. A long anticipated move, the search engines have been pushing hard to improve their real-time search capabilities. In a nutshell, Bing is doing some nice tag clouding of trending Twitter topics (US only currently) as well as including Facebook content whilst Google announced an agreement with Twitter and the altogether more intriguing Google Social Search. I’m not going to evaluate the two offerings here, this blog asks the question: “How will real-time and social search impact SEO?”

A brief history of SEO
Algorithms change. Frequently. Experienced website optimisers monitor these changes and decide what the next stage will be in the optimisation of the website(s) they manager. Most recently, Google Webmaster Central has announced the demise of meta keywords, once the obsession of optimisers, and raised the question about the long-term future of page rank.

Google has long been the market leader with a devout focus on the relevance of SERPs to drive user experience. They have market domination in the UK because their focus has always been on search results, not content. Google changes its algorithm to keep pace with the way in which consumers search for, access and share content online. Yes, they exploit their position for commercial gain. However, they do so by ensuring the search engine works for online searchers. Integrating social media into the SERPs was the next logical step.

Why is social and real-time search relevant?
People are consuming, moving and commenting on content at a micro-level. Look at how Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately’s death hit the headlines through social networking.
It is logical that search engines want to find a way to index and display user-generated content so that search results mirror the real world. If there is a trending Twitter topic yet a traditional search results page shows none of this content, browsers will turn away to an alternative information provider.

Real-time social media owners like Twitter were never realistically going to topple Google for all our search demands. However, integrating social search with the power of the major engines’ algorithms provides an enhanced service to consumers. In the future, when we search Bing or Google we will have the content of private and commercial web owners as well as conversations taking place on social networks. We can begin to build up a contemporary view of individual topics and not just rely on historical commentary. If you add in blog updates and mobile to the mix, you can see a 360 degree information bubble emerging.

Imagine the education potential? Want to teach children about the impact of politics? Get them monitoring the Twitter conversation using search engines and correlate this with historical evidence. A great example would be the social coverage of the Iran Election (and the subsequent backlash against Habitat for breaking the etiquette).

SEOs need to adapt and increase their capacity for social media optimisation
Switched on SEOs are already planning social media optimisation (social network conversation management) as part of their overall website optimisation strategy. However, the importance this element now plays has increased as the major search engines place more value on social conversation. SEOs need to focus on:

  • The value of personal and commercial blogs
  • Registering the brand across social networks
  • Brand reputation monitoring and management
  • Generating relevant content via social profiles
  • Managing conversations effectively using cost-effective tools (such as Hootsuite)
  • Responding with a human voice to comments, questions, queries
  • Producing relevant and valuable content
  • Integrating social media planning with other marketing channels
  • Engaging with thought leaders, influencers and advocates

This list in not exhaustive but covers the key elements of social media optimisation. What do you think? Are you committed to the value of social media in your website optimisation? Do you think there are other areas that I have not covered above?

Please share your comments.

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