While everybody is talking about content farms right now, most people seem to overlook the far more important change that took place recently: Google has incorporated social search results right into the regular ones.
Until now they displayed searches by your Twitter, FriendFeed or Google Buzz friends below the regular organic results. These changes are even more profound; I can’t explain them in a few short sentences. What’s clear though is that for power users who have a Google account, there has been another important layer of personalisation added.
The rankings differ significantly when logged in and out. For instance I see shared results for the keyword [seo] on #3 and #5, while they are usually #5 and #7 behind the Google News results. Compare the two screenshots below, the logged in version comes first.
Social search is not just Google though. Google is late to the party. There have been several first generation social search engines around since 2009 or earlier, but most of them haven’t survived or only offer a poor user experience and search quality. On the other hand there are plenty of new tools out there – not necessarily search engines as we know them – that offer unmatched social search capabilities.
Last but not least, Bing and Blekko offer Facebook search, which Google does not. So it’s time to dig deeper into search, both from an end user and an SEO specialist perspective. Thus I have compiled one of my infamous lists: 30 Social Search Tools & SEO Resources for Power Users.
Definition and features of the new Google social search
What is social search? How can you use it? Which results are social, and how are they determined? I won’t answer these questions. Google and other publications have already explained and visualised it:
- Google Social Search : Features – Web Search Help
- Official Google Blog: An update to Google Social Search
- With Update to ‘Social Search,’ Google Embraces The Crowd | Epicenter | Wired.com
- Google Gives More Prominence to Social Search | Fast Company
- Social circle and content – Google
Bing Social Search (Facebook Search)
While Google uses Twitter, Google Buzz, Friendfeed, and even Quora and other results from the sites you have connected on your Google profile, it doesn’t have access to your Facebook data. Microsoft Bing does.
- Facebook Integration Now Live in Bing Social Search Results
- Bing launches social search, but will anybody use it? | Econsultancy
Other Social Search tools (non-Google and non-Bing)
You don’t have to rely on the two big players to get social search from your online friends and colleagues. You can use third party tools, which often do an even better job at facilitating social search, be they browser extensions, similar site collections or less known search engines.
- Greplin – you can search all kinds of third party sites, be they Twitter and Facebook, Gmail or Dropbox using this tool.
- Wajam – an add-on that creates an extra result which you can expand. It’s based on your friends’ favourites from Facebook, Twitter & Delicious, on top of Google.
- SideStripe – similar to Wajam, but you can add the widget to Facebook as well to search it from there.
- blekko – search your friends’ likes using custom search engines (“slashtags”) provided by others
- SimilarSites.com – use a toolbar and sidebar to browse similar sites to the one you have open in the current browser window. Results are user submitted.
- SimilarPages – like Similarsites, but using a less intrusive browser extension.
- Rollyo – as on Blekko, people can create and search custom search engines (search only selected sites) on the fly.
- Topsy – the best real-time Twitter search out there. Find out quickly what’s currently popular.
Social Search SEO for Google and Beyond
OK, so now you agree that social search is probably the future of search, or you at least you consider the ramifications of all these tools and changes as a webmaster. Other people have done that before you. What do SEO specialists consider to be the impact of social search on SEO?
- The New SEO is About Relationships and Relevance :: Small Business Marketing Blog from Duct Tape Marketing
- What Does Google Social Search Mean for SEO? – Search Engine Watch (SEW)
- Social Search Will Force Your Business To Recalibrate | Edelman Digital
- The Current State of Social Search
- Google Social Search – Why You Shouldn’t Worry About It | Three Deep Marketing – St. Paul, MN
The history of Google social search (newest first)
For all those who haven’t followed social search in the past, while it was evolving, take a look at where it came from and how it developed. As I said in the first paragraph, social search has been around for years and what we see now is already the second wave of more advanced social search tools.
- Google Updates Social Search | Search News Central
- Google Buzz Links Added to Social Search as Google Me Precursor – Search Engines – News & Reviews – eWeek.com
- Google Social Search Now Live
- Can Google be a social search engine? | Social Media Marketing | Internet Marketing
- Google’s Marissa Mayer: Social search is the future | VentureBeat
Issues and Trends
While social search might be the next big thing, it also raises some eyebrows. Do you really want Google to know who your friends are? Do you trust the social search tools and your online friends? Once we admit that social search is about to stay, how will the future look when it becomes more popular?
- Google’s Creepy Social Search | Dan Costa | PCMag.com
- 5 assumptions about social search – O’Reilly Radar
- Study: Customers Combine Search, Social Media When Buying
- Are Social Search Updates About to Change How We Shop Online? | Social Media Today
Why is this list geared to power users? The average searcher might still frown upon social media enhanced search, as they prefer to use Google in the same way that they did for the last decade. For the others, Google appears to become more and more low quality, despite the latest “farmer update”. Some content farms have even been winners in this update.
So advanced searchers are frantically trying to leverage their social connections to get better search results.
For good reason, it’s sometimes better to trust people you know, or at least large groups of people liking something, than algorithms counting words and links, especially as hardly anybody links naturally anymore.