You’ve probably heard by now that Google announced the roll out of social search yesterday, dubbed ‘Search, Plus Your World’. There has been vast speculation about Google’s motives, with the most credible of which suggesting it’s to do with…
- Gaining market share in the social network market.
- To improve the quality of search results through increased trustworthiness and personalisation (research by Nielsen suggests that 42% of people trust search results, but 90% trust recommendations from friends).
In reality, all of the above will contribute to why Google’s launched social search. However, in this post I don’t want to talk about the politics – I’ll leave that to the tabloids. I want to talk about how this is inevitably going to impact our jobs as SEOs.
What’s Google’s Game Plan With ‘Search, Plus Your World’?
To really understand the impact, we need to realise what Google’s game plan with social search is. I’ll point out now that I’m not an expert or an insider in any way, but this is where I think Google might be going with Search, Plus Your World and Google+.
- Google is creating a ‘map’ similar to Facebook’s Open Graph that connects people with their content, websites and readers to understand who produces what content, what happens with that content and how people react. This is where the rel=”author” and rel=”publisher” tags play a big part (I wrote a post about this on Social Media Explorer).
- Google will then learn contextual information about readers and content producers taken from their Google account activity (e.g. what YouTube videos they watch and searches they make when signed in) and use this data in combination with existing ranking factors and G+ sharing data to better place content in search results.
If I’m right, then I can see a shift in prominence in the SERPs to content producers with an active audience, but only in niches where communities exist.
For example, in the social media niche, sites such as Mashable, Social Media Explorer and Social Media Today will receive extra prominence in SERPs because they have an audience containing not only the ‘influencers’ but also the remaining mass of social media enthusiasts who share their content. The social media sites that don’t have an active audience or community will lose prominence.
In niches where there is no community (think ‘septic tank maintenance’ or ‘zinc coating of ships’) social search won’t change anything, at all. That is unless a company creates an active audience from scratch – for example, how Compare The Market arguably created an active audience in the insurance niche using Aleksandr Orlov.
As I never wrote a ‘2012 predictions’ post, here are five things I think this shift towards social search will make us think about more as online marketers.
- Email marketing will become increasingly important due to the power it has to encourage desired actions, such as social shares. I am currently writing a post on SEOmoz about using email auto-responders to influence social SEO – hopefully it should go live in the coming week (follow me and I’ll tweet it when it does go live!)
- SEO strategies will have two sub-strategies: the ‘personalised SEO strategy’ and the ‘non-personalised strategy’ – the latter of which will be almost identical to what you’re doing already, but the former being more about gaining social approval and engagement from your audience.
- Low quality link building will become obsolete in niches where communities and active audiences exist. High quality link building will still play a major part in ranking for all sites, low quality link building will still work for uncompetitive niches with no audience.
- Companies will need to find ways of gaining the ‘social approval’ of influencers in their niche (if such a thing exists). +1s from your niche’s celebrity will be the social equivalent of the .edu/.gov link.
- Google will work on increasing the proportion of people who are signed in. That one’s just obvious :)
It’s fair to say that Google+ and social search will inevitably impact SEO this year. To what extent we don’t know, whether Google decides to make the ratio of social:links as a ranking factor 1:1 or 5:1 or 0.1:1 just isn’t possible to say yet, but my advice is prepare for the worst case scenario and you won’t regret it, because it’s something that will only increase in importance over time.
Of course, this is all my opinion and if you disagree with me I’d love to hear about it and build a fuller understanding of all sides of the story. As usual, share your thoughts in comments below!