Google Gets Social: What It Means for Marketers

It’s a new year, and when a new year comes, us marketing folk like to make grand pronouncements and predictions. We like to claim things like “It’s the Year of Mobile” (which I think we’ve all claimed at least once in the last three years). Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong. Most often, we’re a bit of both – we highlight a key trend, but we don’t truly know where that trend is going or where it will ultimately end up.

For example, almost exactly seven months ago, I wrote a column called “The Convergence of Search and Social,” discussing the fact that search engines are becoming more like social networks and likewise, social networks more like search engines. I employed a few examples that pointed to this trend. Although I had some hunches, what I didn’t do is make predictions about where this is going. That said, the recent launch by Google of its “Personal Search” did not come as a complete surprise. All signs pointed to the fact that this type of social content would start to be surfaced, and with Google’s foray into the social network arena with Google+, it was only a matter of time. But we were only mid-way into the year, and I wasn’t in a pronouncement-making mood. So alas, I missed out on being able to say “I told you so!” – something I very much love to say.

Jokes aside, the socialization of search is a mighty phenomenon that has real implications for marketers.

For those of you who have not yet seen the news or the new search results, here’s a quick recap: Google has now begun importing the data from its six-months-old Google+ social network into the search results. That means if you’re looking for information on traveling to San Francisco, you might start seeing results of friends’ photo albums from sunny California.

For the full story, you can read the official launch post by Google on the service, dubbed “Search, plus Your World,” and hear some perspectives on this topic:

Many of these articles highlight the industry’s reactions to this approach, citing privacy concerns and current Federal Trade Commission allegations of unfairly exploiting its position. While all of these are valid points, it may be some time before Google is potentially forced to revisit this launch and change the way its Google+ content is integrated in its search results. So that means us marketers have to understand the near-term implications of this, and what it means to both our search and social strategies.

As I’ve highlighted before, the increasing personalization of organic search means that it is getting more and more difficult to apply a global SEO strategy to your website. As every person could feasibly be seeing different results, optimizing to achieve a “top ranking” in the search engines may become impossible. Which results are we referring to? Yours, mine, or a million other possible permutations of results?

And even if you achieve a ranking for certain users, you could be missing an entire piece of your audience who sees different results. If your brand doesn’t have a strong social element or presence, your results may get pushed down in favor of more personalized content. And finally, how do you even measure search rankings moving forward? Manual tracking of position will only be skewed to the user doing the searching, and automated rank report tools are not currently equipped to understand and quantify the nuances of personalized search results.

The implications of this is that now, more than ever, marketers need to stop thinking about their individual search, social, and other digital tactics in a silo. They need to start developing an overall digital engagement strategy that considers the entire digital experience of a user, designed with the customer at the center. What are all of the various potential touch points that we have a chance to reach and engage this user? How can we provide high-value, personalized, relevant content in each of these instances? How can we treat everyone as an individual, rather than an audience? The more you follow the Google philosophy of customer centricity, the more chance we all have of succeeding in this new era of personalization and convergence.

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