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Just what is “social search” and how can marketers embrace it?

Filed under: All Articles > Industry News
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By: NMK Created on: February 27th, 2012
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Social search – the personalisation of data presented to users in search results influenced by their social networking contacts’ activity – is becoming increasingly important. So how can marketers embrace this latest evolution in search? New Media Knowledge quizzed some of the top brains in search marketin for the answer. By Chris Lee.

By Chris Lee

Social search is receiving a fair deal of attention at the moment and posing even more questions for under-pressure marketers. Social search uses data from social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to personalise search results presented to users with the aim of enhancing their search experience. For example, if someone in a user’s network (or “social graph”) “endorses” a piece of content by sharing a link, for example, then that will appear in that user’s search results.

For Dean Russell, European social media director at PR consultants Lewis PR, said that that social search is being touted as “the next generation of search” and that by incorporating the social graph, search engines intend to become ever more relevant to their users.

“This is increasingly important in a world where information is going into overload and accessing relevant content risks becoming an art form rather than a science,” he told NMK. “Social search is a new way forward, giving greater context and currency to results. This is particularly vital when considering the sheer volume of content added each minute online - over 120,000 tweets, 3,500 Flickr photos, over half a million posts on Facebook – quickly making the traditional search approach outdated to the casual user.”

Get connected

Social search covers a very broad spectrum, but the aspect that Nichola Stott from search marketing agency The Media Flow finds most exciting as a search professional is the level of connectivity data that this gives to search engines. For example, question and answer site Quora uses code called “XFN rel attributes” to connect user pages together and Stott said that if a user’s social presence is somehow described to a search engine then people in that user’s network will become known.

Stott explained: “To illustrate this, I have a Google+ profile, and on the page ‘About’ me, I have connected my other profiles on sites such as Twitter, Quora, Facebook and Linkedin. When I add my other profiles, in the back-end the link to these pages is marked up with an XFN rel=attribute (rel=me). This tells the crawlers that the linked page is about me; the document object is the same as the originating document. On Quora, the people that I am connected to are linked via the rel=contact attribute. Essentially I am telling Google my presence over there is the same as my presence here, and by that inference content from my contacts there may be valid to me as shared throughout the web.”

Growing trend

For Horst Joepen, CEO of Searchmetrics – a search analytics software developer – the impact of social media on search results seems be increasing and the trend is set to continue.

“Both Google and Bing are now starting to assess the quality of web pages and how highly they should rank in searches by analysing how often and by whom they are shared on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. And recently, Google’s Search plus Your World function started bringing in Google+ data to focus its search results,” he said. “Bing is already experimenting with doing similar things using Facebook data. The upshot is that it is getting even more important for businesses to build and monitor their presence on social networks as it can help them improve their search visibility."

What does this mean for marketers?

Given the emphasis that search engines are putting on individuals’ social graphs, what are the implications for marketing strategies?

Jonathan Piggins, head of search at search and social media agency, DBD Media argues that if a business wants to remain front of mind for their customers, especially online, it must develop an integrated and comprehensive social media strategy that encourages engagement and understands the relationship between social media and search.

“This is about developing a presence where your customers are congregating (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and important new platforms like Google+, Pinterest etc.), encouraging people to join you there, engaging with influential site owners and bloggers and, last but not least, developing absorbing content that people are going to want to talk about and share,” he told NMK. “Ultimately it comes down to being present and adding something of value. With search engines already indicating the importance of social as a signal for quality and freshness, and following links promoted in social media it is only a matter of time before social signals become a lot more integrated into search.”

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