The Social Side of Search

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In the not too distant past, Internet users turned to search engines to find content based exclusively on keyword searches. Algorithms made it possible for the search engines to return results that were the “best” matches based largely on keyword relevancy, meta data and the overall popularity of the content as determined by factors that were considered indicative of value – external links, views, etc.

Much as it has changed everything else we do online, social media has also had a tremendous impact on search. Generally speaking, there are two specific ways in which social media influences search. First, Internet users are turning to social networking sites as a source for searches. This means that many users who once began their searches at Google may be turning to Facebook and LinkedIn to find relevant content, as well as friends and contacts who can provide greater insights regarding the topic of interest.

Secondly, and just as important, traditional search engines are continually seeking ways to integrate social activity into their results. For example, Google – which has long included Twitter feeds and Facebook and Wikipedia pages in its results – also offers Google Buzz, a tool that allows Gmail users to share a range of social media content either publicly or privately among a group of specified contacts or friends.

Not to be outdone, Bing recently struck an alliance with Facebook that has resulted in a new search engine product called Liked Results. Search returns will now include what a user’s friends have “liked” through Facebook. Possible scenarios of how the functionality will be applied include searches for a movie that show which friends liked or disliked the film or geographic-specific restaurant searches to find out which restaurants are listed on their friends’ profile pages. Article searches may also yield a list of relevant articles that friends have liked and/or shared through Facebook. Obviously, the biggest issue surrounding these changes is privacy and whether or not a large majority of Facebook users will be willing to have their account information and activity appear in search engine results.

Of course, there’s talk of other potential developments such as Facebook launching its own search engine and web browsers, particularly Google’s Chrome, becoming more personalized. Instead of simply conducting searches, you would log in so that your web browser could deliver all relevant information to you – feeds, updates, messages, etc. – from the browser.

While we may be a ways from realizing these types of developments, there are things that you can do to ensure that you get the most from social and search. Namely, you should develop specific optimization strategies for the content you maintain on social networking and other user-generated content sites such as YouTube. Here, the primary focus should be on generating quality referrals and likes and getting people to share your content regularly.

Beyond this, you should also be determining ways in which your social media content can improve your results among mainstream search engines. Without a doubt, they will continually refine their algorithms to accommodate information from social media sites. And, because the social media landscape will also change and evolve rapidly, it’s highly likely that new considerations for social media and search will continue to emerge.

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