In the world of search engine marketing, no topic has dominated as much of the recent conversation as “social search.” Social search is the enhancement to core search engine results with social media annotations from an individual’s friends and those they follow online. The fundamental assumption is that people use social networks to connect with like-minded people, so the chances are high that “friends” will have referenced relevant content and/or websites.
This is a significant new norm. Not only have these annotations become commonplace, but also there is evidence that when social share data is present, those entries may appear more prominently across the results page. Now, creating content that is easily shared across social sites is a crucial tactic for the digital marketer.
But why would the search engines expend energy in integrating social data into their core results? Conventional wisdom would say that, as a result of the popularity and adoption of social media, there’s an incredible amount of consumer preference data available within the social graph. As users grow more comfortable sharing personal information and preferences online, incorporating that intelligence within search engine results seems to be a logical evolution. In the long run, it will help search engines maintain relevance as the Web becomes decidedly more complex and personal.
Does that tell the entire story though? What if the whole truth points to a far more ominous outlook for traditional search?
Along comes Google+
I posed these same questions in an article I wrote for MediaPost’s Search Insider a few months back. At that time, I went as far as to suggest that social search may represent a sign of desperation by the search engines; an extreme measure taken to remain relevant. With social media networks functioning as a primary source for information sourcing and dissemination for many, the search engines needed to tap into that larger social conscious. Social search seemed to be the response.
Google wasn’t content with social search alone though and in June launched its own social network, Google+. Seemingly overnight, it was no longer a bystander to the legitimate social scene (let’s forget about the Buzz debacle). Since then it’s become the fastest growing social network ever and has generally been met with critical acclaim save for a few gripes here and there.
But what are most intriguing about Google’s entry into the social space are the possibilities. Google will no longer need to rely on third-party share data alone. It also won’t be on the sidelines as other destinations facilitate fluid peer-to-peer communications. By joining the social arms race, Google has an opportunity to surround its users with a relevancy regardless of the specific touchpoint. Search is more social, and social is more … searchy.
It’s that last point that could help Google to achieve sustained success in social, and play defense against the current threat social poses to its dominance in search. If Google were to introduce core tenets of its search algorithm (authority and trust) to Google+, it may be able to deliver a more relevant experience to users. That experience may be something that Facebook and others find difficult to replicate.
The biggest challenge facing Google+ then is user adoption.
What does this mean for search and social marketers?
For the search and social marketer, a “wait and see” mentality is still largely required. Despite the seismic shifts occurring in the space, there remains little to do until the dust settles.
That said, there are some fairly pragmatic, necessary near-term actions. Silos need to be brought down. Search and social marketing teams need to collaborate, even join forces permanently. The new reality for these marketers is that everything is now interrelated under a common umbrella of “inbound marketing.”
Yes, social has become the new search. With Google’s recent entry, search may become the new social too.
by Ryan DeShazer
Vice President, Global Practice Leader – Search
Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanDeShazer
Cross-posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network
by Ryan DeShazer