The Convergence of Search and Social

  |  June 14, 2011   |  Comments

The lines between social media and search engines are rapidly blurring. Have you adapted your digital marketing strategy to the new reality?

There used to be social media and search engines. They represented two different destinations (social networks versus search engines), two different digital marketing tactics (social media marketing versus search engine marketing), and two different areas of specialization. But today you will find them looking more and more like each other: search engines are becoming like social networks and vice versa.

There has been a lot of talk about the "convergence of search and social." But what does this actually mean? How is it changing our experiences, and what does it entail for marketers?

How Search Is Becoming Sociable

Several trends related to the socialization of search have emerged:

  • Personalized search results. Based on our observed searching, viewing, and clicking behavior, Google has been customizing search results for some time. It started with simple geo-targeting of results, and now takes into account extensive browsing history when users are signed in to their Google accounts.
  • Social media feed integration. Google and Bing have integrated Twitter feeds into their search results. Being very fresh and content-rich, Twitter streams have consistently placed high in the rankings. Bing has focused on integrating Facebook likes as well.
  • Social media signals.Google has incorporated Twitter feeds and social ratings as signals into its algorithm, giving priority to those sites that have strong (and positive) social links and mentions. Social context is an increasingly important ranking factor.
  • Sidewiki. Google created Sidewiki to enable users to make comments on others' websites via a sidebar. That said, uptake to date appears to be quite low.

Additionally, the "get more discussion results" link represents an exciting development in search. I have recently taken up a health regimen that involves tracking my caloric intake. A few weeks ago, after a lunch of gyoza and miso soup at my local sushi shop, I turned to Google to determine the calories in what I ate. Below the second search result, I saw a neat little link with voice bubbles that said, "Get more discussion results." When I clicked on this link, I was led to a search results page with only discussion forums and social results.

steamed-gyoza-google

The +1 function, Google's newly launched quasi-equivalent to Facebook's like, is poised to further transform the search engine as a social entity. The +1 button enables users to click to recommend a sponsored search ad to those in their network. Soon, however, this functionality will be rolled out to websites so that users can +1 the site without having to go back to find the search ad that got them there.

How Social Is Becoming Searchable

Search engines are implementing social functionality; at the same time, social networks are bolstering their search functionality:

  • Recognizing that more than ever, searches are taking place on destinations other than search engines, comScore now includes "expanded search rankings" in its monthly ranking reports.
  • Facebook is among the top 10 destinations in terms of search volume, according to comScore.
  • Facebook struck a partnership with Bing to show Bing's web results within the Facebook internal search function.

The Implications for Marketers

The convergence of social networks and search engines will mean different things to you depending on your role and industry, but here are a few considerations:

If you fancy yourself a search marketing specialist or a social media expert, you may want to diversify. The bottom line is that deep skills in just one of these tactics will no longer be relevant: you need to look more holistically at how to ensure online visibility and authority. You need to become, in essence, a "findability specialist" - a term I've heard recently.

Search marketing and social media cannot be considered, planned, or executed in silos. As a business, you should no longer seek out just a search marketing company or a social media company, but rather find a company that can integrate both functions and do both well.

Traditional SEO strategies that focus on integration of keywords into on-page content and archaic link-building approaches are no longer going to cut it. Social media is becoming more and more a part of the algorithm that needs to be considered. Therefore, SEO strategies need to incorporate social media content optimization from both an on-site and off-site perspective. And if you don't yet have a footprint in social media, start thinking about how your business can leverage entities like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and the rest.

If you swear by paid search and have yet to explore advertising opportunities within social networks, you should probably get moving. Not that search engines are likely to disappear anytime soon, but as users spend more time in social environments, they will proportionately spend less time in search engines. Think about it: if I can perform a search on Bing when I'm on Facebook, why would I go directly to Bing to search? I can chat with my friends, post pictures, and search for a restaurant for dinner all in one interface.

There are likely many more issues to be considered, but I hope that the points outlined here will get you thinking about what the convergence of these two digital marketing tactics means for you and your business.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Batten

Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.

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