Making sense of search and social
What’s changed about our SERPs?
In October 2010, Bing allied with Facebook to make searching on Bing more of a social experience. With the help of Facebook, Bing is able to highlight search results that have been “liked” by your friends on Facebook.
More recently, in May of this year, Bing announced its new methods for utilising facebook data within SERPs with the idea that we can speed up our decision making process, to gain more perspective on this topic watch the official video.
Google dominates search across the markets Bing operates in. Whilst these new features seem radical, they are necessary; Bing has to innovate or continue to lose market share to Google, and after the “BingBook” deal was made last October this sort of functionality was always likely. Bing’s alliance with Yahoo has done little to boost market share, it cannot afford this partnership with Facebook to also have such minimal impact.
The changes move Bing search and Facebook closer together, and will often make users lives easier, but we feel some of the integrations will be rejected due to privacy concerns. What’s crucial to understand from a brand point of view is that search engines have generally favoured content which drives user engagement. User engagement used to be measured by links, but these changes to Bing herald the beginning of engagement being measured through social signals as well. Producing great content which users will enjoy and interact with is more essential than ever.
How has this altered the Search Engine Marketplace?
Firstly, there have been some pretty big moves into social by the major engines in recent months.
Many people think the Bing / Facebook tie-up is the reason for Google’s +1 functionality being launched so suddenly back in March. This is Google’s way for you to share search results, ads and web pages with your friends.
There’s been a lot of criticism floating around about +1:
- +1 was released with no way of putting a +1 button on your site – although these are now available
- Why would you +1 something in a SERP when you haven’t even visited the site?
- There isn’t enough differentiation between +1 and the already well established “Like”.
This criticism centres on the idea that +1 was a rushed response to the BingBook deal, and has added weight to the theory that Google struggles with social media. It wants to be the major curator of people’s recommendations but appears to be struggling to form a cohesive strategy.
It can be said that the aims of a search engine and a social network are polarised; a search engine’s goal is to move you on as quickly as it can, whereas a social network needs users to stay within its domain for as long as possible. However, +1 will become a part of SERPs because Google recognises and wants the power of instant recommendation – the “like” button. Why? Well, in just one year, over 2.5m sites have added “Like” buttons, however there are 325 million websites out there. That means Facebook is integrated into less than 1 percent of them.
As well as +1 being a way to target this massive opportunity +1 also offers Google the ability to further integrate paid and natural results. If you have a page with 100 +1’s not only will that data show in your natural result but also next to your ad if you are using the same page as the destination URL. This will boost CTR from these paid ads.
Graph provided by searchengineland.com
As the graph above shows social media signals have become too big not to be taken into consideration when determining relevance. Established relevancy signals such as links have become weaker as webmasters buy links, spam links or refuses to give links to sites that deserve them (None of Wikipedia’s outbound links give back to deserving sites).
Social signals can diversify the way search engines measure relevancy and are generally trustworthy; all of this data is generated within a social network which fosters the idea that friends don’t spam friends.
So are social signals actually impacting upon ranking in Google SERPs?
There are differing opinions. Some experts are convinced that social data, especially Twitter data, is being used by Google to determine relevancy. And whilst we know Facebook Like data is off limits to Google, some experts believe links from Facebook ensure your site is crawled faster.
You can easily prove that pages which are popular on Facebook also tend to rank well for relevant keywords, however, it stands to reason that if lots of people like a piece of content it will also have a greater amount of link equity. It’s important to look not just at correlation, but also causation.
Without doubt, this is an area that is still being feverishly researched, and further developments in our understanding of how social signals are incorporated into search will occur this year.
Are social signals in search a good thing?
- Large sample size – over 500m users, global data is a genuine representation of what people recommend. A sample size this large is too big to be manipulated.
- For years, links have been the currency of the web, but in reality only webmasters or technologically minded users could distribute them: relevance determined by the actions of an elite. If social signals become the new indicator of relevancy for search, democratisation occurs as more people indicate what is good on the web. This creates better results for everyone and suppresses spam.
- Links can be easily abused. More relevancy signals, especially ones which rely on human curation would make results better.
- If social signals were made a part of Google’s algorithm it would be a huge boon for blackhat SEO
- Of course social signals can be gamed – look at the amount of Facebook spam that already exists. Receives literally tens of thousands of likes.
- How can we base search results on social signals when there are very few signals for disapproval? Raw recommendations are a quantative, not qualitative indicator. Only when all sentiment types can be accurately understood should we incorporate social signals into search.
E.g. Spam videos on Facebook that thousands of people like (the video of Osama Bin Laden’s death is a recent example). People who liked the video went on to say something negative about it, but there is no way for that data to influence search results. If anything the increased engagement around the OBL video would be interpreted as an even stronger signal of the videos quality.
How does this impact on our clients SEO efforts?
Fundamentally, Performics best practice is reaffirmed by all of this. Behind our tried and trusted 4 pillars model for approaching SEO…
…sits the philosophy that a brand must engage users. Great content, fully optimised for search, is going to attract links, retweets, likes, comments, reviews and discussion. All of this would lead to rapid and regular indexation of that piece of content and it’s domain as a whole. Social signals are the new currency of user engagement. So, even if Facebook likes have no link to Google ranking directly, or even if Google +1 doesn’t take off, or if Bing’s market share falls after the release of this new functionality, producing content users enjoy and want to share has always been and will continue to be the best SEO tactic available.Next → ← Previous