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Social Media's Impact on Search

In an effort to continually improve their search results, both Google and Bing have been working on ways to integrate social media into result pages. This is because social media offers a real-time element to the web that search engines need to keep their results timely, as well as a personal element that helps users find content that is likely the most relevant to them.

Over the past 12-18 months, we’ve seen social media integrated more into search results on both Google and Bing. In December, the search engines officially confirmed that social media is a part of their ranking algorithms, telling Search Engine Land:

  • Public activity on Twitter and Facebook is counted as a signal in search algorithms.
  • They calculate authority of social-media profiles.
  • Authority is used to weigh the importance of shared links.

And earlier today, Google announced an update to their Social Search that integrates annotations below individual results. These show searchers if people they are connected to have created or shared the piece of content, and raise the content shared by one's social circle higher in search results. All of this is contingent on you being logged into your Google account, and can be integrated more heavily by connecting your social accounts to your Google profile. (For a more detailed review of this update, read this Search Engine Land post.)

Following are screenshots that show how each search engine is incorporating social media into its results.

Google’s social media integration

Google Realtime is dedicated to social-media activity on Twitter and Facebook.

Google Realtime

Google News includes a “Shared by” feature, which pulls recent tweets of articles listed. 

Google News Social media

In the main search results page, Google sometimes offers suggestions of links from people within a searcher’s social circle.

Google social media

Google's new Social Search includes an annotation below content your social media contacts created or publically shared.

Google Social Search Update

Source: Google

Bing’s Social Media Integration

Bing Social pulls Twitter and Facebook activity for search queries, offers shared links and recommends Twitter users to follow. 

Bing Social

In its news section, Bing pulls in “Related Tweets” and “Related Blogs.”

Bing News

In addition, Bing and Facebook formed a partnership in an effort to better personalize search results. When logged into Facebook, searchers see a “Liked by your Facebook Friends” module that shows relevant listings recommended by Facebook friends. 

Bing Facebook

Bing also displays public Facebook profile information for name searches, and gives searchers the ability to friend someone and send them a message directly from the search-results page. 

Bing Facebook

So what does social media have to do with search?

The goals of both Google and Bing are to provide searchers with the highest quality results. Often this comes in the form of real-time trends or is made relevant by the opinions of friends. To search engines, information shared on social media is:

Trendy — Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have millions of users actively sharing information, pictures, status updates and links. This covers endless topics, ranging from a local sports team’s 26-game losing streak to a country’s government revolution. By continuously indexing all these shares, search engines can pull out the most popular topics and information, and then use it to improve the relevance of their search results.

Authoritative — Similarly to how they rank websites, search engines give social media users authority rankings, and place more weight on links shared by more authoritative users. 

Trustworthy — People tend to trust the recommendations of others within their social circle more than those from unknown sources. For this reason, search engines believe that integrating friends’ opinions into relevant searches improves the quality of search results.

Top social sources for search engines 

While social media can include forums, networks and bookmarking sites, Google and Bing are most interested in data gathered from Twitter and Facebook because of their popularity, reach and ability to support viral content.

Twitter

With an average of 65 million tweets published per day (as of June 2010), Twitter has become the source to find trending topics and viral content. The one drawback to Twitter is that it tags all links shared by its users as no follow, meaning search engines cannot index them.

However, to bypass these limitations, Twitter developed a Streaming API, which is a full feed of all public tweets. This “firehose,” as it’s called, shares a lot of information that Google and Bing can index and integrate into search results.

Facebook

The average Facebook user shares 90 pieces of content per month (as of February 2011) and through the Open Graph, Google and Bing are both able to integrate public information shared by Facebook's 500 million users into their search results, although to varying degrees.

According to Search Engine Land, Google doesn't receive data that happens on personal Facebook walls, but it can access data that happens on fan pages. In addition, it appears Google doesn't have access to Like data for sites across the web. 

On the other hand, Bing has a high level of integration with Facebook, most likely because Microsoft owns a small stake in the social network. As a result, Facebook has integrated Bing search into its site, and Bing can integrate Facebook functionality directly into its search results.

What does this mean for marketers?

If social media isn’t a part of your marketing strategy yet, it should be. Social-media influence and reach are becoming more important factors in getting your information indexed and ranking high on search-engine result pages. The more authority you have on Twitter and Facebook and the more people sharing your information, the better your chances of getting found for key search queries. This is more true than ever after Google's update to Social Search. 

As search algorithms get more sophisticated, and strives to eliminate ways for SEOs to game the system, the most effective long-term strategy for combining search and social is to create, post and disucss relevant, useful content (i.e. blogs, video, eBooks, white papers, etc.) that your followers will want to share. Make it easy by including share options along with the content on your website. 

Good resources for tips on growing social-media reach:

 

Keith Moehring is business development manager and a consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. Follow Keith on Twitter @keithmoehring.

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