Social Search Engine Wars Heating Up
Have you noticed how both Google and Microsoft have been active lately with social search updates to their search methods? Many marketers rely heavily on organic search engine traffic, so it’s important to stay current with what’s going on in the search engine landscape. More importantly, I think marketers need to understand where search marketing is headed to make both short-term and long-term plans.
Search Getting More Social
Both Google and Microsoft recently made announcements that pertain to integrating results from your social circle. Google announced an expansion to their social search plans, originally announced in October 2009. In the first expansion into social search, Google provided you the option of drilling into real-time search results through options in their navigation. For example, you could see what people in your social circle said in blog posts, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, and even on Facebook pages. But, these results were listed separately, accessible through left side navigation. The most recent announcement is different in that Google social search results will be integrated in the main search results. The other significant news is that some websites are expected to rank better or worse depending on the extent to which people have linked to them from social content such as blogs or Twitter. Note, you must be signed into your Google account, and your account settings must include links to your social profiles in order for Google to find people in your social circle.
Currently, Google’s social search results do not include Facebook Likes. We can only speculate that Google doesn’t have the same access to Likes as Microsoft does, considering Microsoft’s strategic relationship with Facebook, which includes an ownership stake not to mention Bing’s integration into Facebook, giving them the edge on Likes. There is speculation this will eventually change.
Impact on Marketers
In my opinion, the social search impact on B2C marketers is greater than on B2B marketers. For example, a search on the words “coffee shop” yields both standard web listings, along with images from Flickr and people in my social circle.
The impact can be very big because it’s a well known fact that people are greatly influenced by others opinions to the extent those opinions are expressed in believable ways. If our online friends provide content and commentary on coffee shops, those comments can have a huge influence on my selection.
However, I mostly live in the B2B world with clients that sell a product or a service to other businesses. So, for example a search on the words “accounting software” turn up all standard web listings. In order for me to dig into my social circle on this search, I must go looking for them. If I want to see what people are saying in discussions, I can find them from LinkedIn Answers .
Likewise, to find blog content in my social circle I can select on the Blog tab to find it.
The Handwriting is on the Wall
Social search is not new, but it is still evolving. The semantic web is unfolding before our eyes. The competition between Google and Microsoft/Facebook will continue to offer marketers and users alike with new and interesting experiences. The burden on the marketer is to understand the impact it has on how people can find you. More importantly, it’s not so much where people find you but what they find. The content that people find on your product is of greater importance because the whole idea behind social search is to facilitate community influence over decision making. As a marketer you want to be found and engaged. As a consumer, you want to find meaningful information that helps you make a decision.
So, the best advice I have for marketers, especially B2B marketers is to think like the buyer. You must be actively building a community around good product outcomes. Problem products will be the big losers. Good products with good outcomes supported by genuine community engagement by the marketer will gain more social search favor.
Now is the time for companies to get on the bandwagon with the mindset that marketing is not solely the responsibility of the marketing department.
Are you prepared to benefit from social search? As a marketer, what are you doing to reap the benefits? What concerns you about social search? I’d like to hear from you in the comments below.