Social Media

Google Social Search Introduces New Opportunities Within SEO, Social Marketing Efforts

October 28, 2009

Google has launched a new experimental feature in Google Labs that searches your social circle in addition to your regular Google search results. Announced at Web 2.0 in San Francisco last week, Google Social Search is currently in its Beta testing phase.

What Will Social Search Pull?

Greatly impacted by Google’s announcement last week of their search partnership with Twitter , Social Search culls the following data from your Social Circle.

According to Google, your Social Circle is made of:

  • Contacts from Gmail and Gchat
  • People you are publicly connected to on other social sites (Twitter and Friendfeed for now)
  • Publicly shared content of friends of friends
  • Feeds you follow on Google Reader

The social graph is an increasingly familiar online model. It represents the amplification and diffusion of a message through a user’s friend network.
The social graph is an increasingly familiar online model. It represents the amplification and diffusion of a message through a user’s friend network.

How to Try Social Search

Social Search can be activated in Google Labs by clicking “Join this Experiment.” After you have joined, your Google searches will include Social Search results when available.

Social Search results appear within the Google SERPs and are marked as “Results from people in your social circle for…” To make sure Google covers all of your possible social circles, be sure to add your various public profiles as links in your Google profile .

To access Google Social Search, visit Google Labs.
To access Google Social Search, visit Google Labs.

Benefits for Users

Social Search will be most beneficial for users whose friends are active contributors to the social media environments listed above that Google can search. For these users, Social Search accesses friend content that is likely to be more relevant or provide anecdotal advice or opinion.

One great example is vacation planning. Say you are interested in visiting France, and are looking for some additional information on great sights in Paris. In addition to search results from Frommer’s or Lonely Planet, Google can pull photos from your friend’s Parisian trip last year, or another friend’s blog post about their favorite restaurant on the Left Bank.

Using Google Social Search, I entered the term “Social Media”. Two results came up – the first from a blog I follow in my Google Reader, and the second from a friend’s Twitter feed.

Results for my Google Search for “Social Media” after I activated Social Search.
Results for my Google Search for “Social Media” after I activated Social Search.

Implications for Marketers

Google Social Search introduces a new approach to search that goes beyond traditional SEO. Now that consumers’ social graphs influence every action they take online, including search, marketers must be proactive in online social environments in order to positively impact their natural search optimization.

Engaging followers on Twitter, for example, will encourage RTs (re-tweets) and conversations about a brand, which will increase the chances that positive brand-related tweets will come up in Social Search results.

In addition, marketers now have an additional incentive to appeal to social content creators. Blogger outreach and DWOM® initiatives will become increasingly important as blog content will surface higher in search results if the user follows the blogger.

Considering the newly introduced Social Search on top of the recent roll-out of Sidewiki, Google seems intent on placing more control into the hands of online contributors. As such, it becomes increasingly important for marketers to listen to consumers and develop relationships with online influencers.

Other Companies in Social Search

Google is not alone in the social search arena. Aardvark , a platform that launched first on email and instant messaging clients in early 2009, has been leveraging the social graph to tap friends and community members for relevant information.

Now available also on Twitter, Facebook and iPhones, users send questions to an Aardvark bot which solicits answers from other users who have expressed interest in the topic on hand. Although one may not find the answer on Google to “Of the movies that are out right now around NYC, what’s the best one to watch for a first date?,” a similar question on Aardvark will result in three answers from the community within eight minutes.

Above: An example of Aardvark’s online platform.
Above: An example of Aardvark’s online platform.

There are many other Social Search engines, but few are as immediate as Google Social Search or Aardvark. For example, Mahalo Answers, similar to Yahoo!Answers, allows you to ask the community a question and offer Mahalo currency as an incentive for the best answer.

Mahalo currency can be bought using Paypal, and cashed for real U.S. dollars. Another example of social search is Cha Cha, a well known mobile search engine that has real people responding to questions you submit via text messages.

People who ask questions on Mahalo reward the best answers with money.
People who ask questions on Mahalo reward the best answers with money.

The benefits of Google Social Search over these other human-powered search engines are Google’s use of the social graph and the immediacy of real-time results. Google Social Search seeks out information that is directly relevant to you because it comes from your friends or friends of friends.

Results are generated immediately because it pulls from sources and content that already exists instead of waiting for others to answer your questions. On the downside, there will likely be less content that is relevant to your searches. Unless you have thousands of friends or follow hundreds of bloggers that each write or post about different topics, there are a lot of chances that you won’t find social search results for your query.

The Future of Social Search

One major feature that would enhance Social Search would be the addition of Facebook updates and activity into the searchable stream. An enormous breadth of content and information is exchanged on Facebook, and the ability to leverage that would be pivotal to any search engine. While Bing recently announced they have plans to integrate Facebook data into their social stream, Google currently has not announced plans to do so.

Now that social content is more accessible than ever before, marketers will benefit most if they carefully consider how relationships influence and affect others in the digital space.

For more information about Google Social Search, check out the videos below:

What do you think?

Do you use social search engines to garner anecdotal information from the social graph? Will Google’s Social Search rock the boat of our traditional search experience? Tell us in the comments below.

– Christine Hsu, Social Marketing Strategist at 360i