The Next Big Thing – Social Search?

Facebook and Twitter Search

There is no doubt that over the past few years search marketers have turned their attention to social media as a key channel to support the viral creation of links and to dominate SERPs onsite and offsite. However whilst most of our attention has been focussed around ranking in Google – many of us have failed to see the search opportunity that has grown within social networks and now many social networks such as Twitter search channels in their own right.

The sheer volume of users on social networks has even Google shaking in their boots and for good reason. Over the past few years Google’s direct search competitors have attempted to take on Google in the search race without denting their share. However in the meantime an unlikely competitor has risen to the top. Facebook has captured the attention of users on the internet and is now dominating the users internet experience attracting more visitors than Google in the month of May. And whilst the primary function of Facebook and other platforms like Twitter is not to search – social search is becoming significant. In fact according to a recent Nielsen study, social media sites such as Wikipedia, blogs, and social networks account for 18% of where searches begin. If this is the case social search is much bigger than Bing and Yahoo search combined in Australia.

Why is this so? In a recent article on Search Engine Watch – Mark Drummond put it nicely – “Facebook brings an entirely new opportunity for flavored search: ranking search results using the social connections between people, as captured in the open graph. What Google lacks is intimate knowledge of our interests and plans to proactively deliver information to us and this is precisely the advantage that Facebook has over Google.

Social Search Facts For Facebook & Twitter

Facebook

Facebook SearchFacebook racked up over 600 million searches in May 2010. Compare this to January 2009 where search volumes were a mere 161 million and it is obvious to see that Facebook search is becoming a sizeable opportunity. A significant portion of searches are obviously related to people search as the average query length on Facebook is 2 words – however search is starting to evolve to cover topics related to fashion, electronics and travel. What is however most interesting is that Facebook are actively focussing on improving search within its eco-system with the launch of Open Graph. By leveraging content from its “LIKE” feature combined with sites actively integrating with Facebook ie like TripAdvisor, Facebook has started to collate content to serve up to users when they search for a particular theme or topic. Whilst still in a very premature stage – get it right and this could significantly move the goal posts in the search landscape as content is served up on the basis of user popularity. For more on Facebook search – refer here.

Twitter

Twitter SearchIt is hard to pin point accurate statistics for Twitter search with reports ranging from 350 million to 18 billion searches per month. Regardless of this, the numbers are sizeable. Combine this with content that finds users – rather than users searching for content and there is no doubt that Twitter presents a significant opportunity for businesses. But this doesnt come without a high level of competition. Twitter reporting more than four billion tweets are sent using the service in a given month – that is a lot of content that could appear within the SERPs thus optimisation is key.

What To Do About Social Search? 

Some of the normal rules still apply such as effectively tagging content, using descriptive keywords and the rest but what else do you need to consider?

Optimisation for Facebook

Facebook has released documentation to effectively embed tags onsite for open graph. By doing so you turn your web pages into graph objects, which will enable these pages to become part of the eco-system. For more information on the important tags that should be utilised refer to the below link;

http://developers.facebook.com/docs/opengraph

Optimisation for Twitter

In the 2nd half of 2010, Twitter is planning to launch Twitter annotations. The full benefits of this feature is not clear however it is believed to provide the ability to augment our 140 characters with other useful information to assist Twitter to more effectively understand the content its users are sharing. With this I expect a series of key optimisation techniques to emerge to improve your visibility within Twitter search. I also assume this will be combined with an improved search engine on Twitter so users can filter and sort information to find what they are looking for.

Have you begun to optimise your site for social search? If so share some of your experiences below.

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realestateVIEW.com.au Goes Social With Hottest Property Search Campaign

Twitter Campaign

Whilst I rarely blog about some of my own campaigns and initiatives for realestateVIEW.com.au I felt that this one warrants a blog article.

On Friday the 18th of June realestateVIEW.com.au launched its first major social media campaign on Twitter. The campaign which has been created in conjunction with Citrus, aims to find the hottest properties on the market as voted by the public. On the basis of the voting public realestateVIEW.com.au will announce the hottest properties on Friday afternoons and each week someone will win a weekly prize of a $1,000 Freedom Furniture voucher for voting.

Over the course of the coming weeks I will reveal the insights and learning’s from the campaign.

However if you want to learn more about the campaign or get involved visit – realestateVIEW.com.au/hottestpropertysearch

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Highlights & Low Lights In Politics – Online Of Course

As an election draws near the political discussions, debates and even slagging has already began as this is hotting up to be one of the more interesting elections of my time. Mining tax, emissions trading scheme, growing population, paid maternity leave and the general state of the economy has the pollies battling it out for the publics vote – but who is making most of the online opportunity? In 2007 Kevin Rudd utilised online mediums to connect with the public, but with every vote looking like it is going to count just what are political parties doing online – and what are they not doing. Below is the highlights and low lights that I see from our Aussie pollies.

Low Light – Search Engine No Show

Search Engine MarketingWhilst KRudd and Tony Abbott are building their social presence, the absence of strong search rankings is an obvious flaw in their online political push. The sheer volume of searches surrounding the main contentious topics is significant – yet neither of the Liberal / Labour websites are to be seen within the top 10 results for many search terms related to contentious issues. With real time search, news search and traditional search there is a significant opportunity for either party to take the SERPs by the balls and use it as a key channel to educate the general public on their stance on the big issues.

Aside from this it is interesting that neither party is tapping into paid search of any form to tactically “be there” when new issues break or new legislation is passed. Whilst the pollies are spending millions offline in TV and radio I am surprised they have not taken this online to people with an interest in a particular policy.

Highlight – Liberal Party Site Strategy

The Australian liberal party has built interactivity and personalisation into its website through a range of tools. Two of the key features that sets the site apart from the Labour website are the drop and drag tag cloud and the crowdsourcing functionality. The tag cloud enables users to quickly and easily personalise their experience by selecting the key issues / policies they are interested in learning more about. Whilst the crowdsourcing feature allows users to contribute their ideas and have other users rank and comment on them. This provides the Liberal Party with some very sticky content and also allows the Liberal party to learn from the public and use this information to guide their political campaign by focussing on the issues that are important to their potential voters.

Highlight – Social Media

Social media seems to be one channel that both parties have embraced. Both parties have created Facebook groups, Twitter profiles and even YouTube channels mostly branded as the individuals – Tony Abbott & Kevin Rudd. From a Facebook perspective, the Labour party has used its fan page as a central source of content integrating videos from its YouTube channel and photos from its latest events to provide another hub and place to connect with the public outside of their own website. Whilst the Liberal party has established a similar strategy but utilises a “Get involved” tab to acquire users to their site. From a Twitter perspective KRudd obviously has a significant advantage when it comes to reach with over 1 million followers, which makes Tony Abbots profile look amateur. Both are using Twitter as an information hub and are also utilising the channel to humanise their public profiles.

Low Light – Email Acquisition

Email Marketing StrategyOne of the highlights of Obama’s online campaign in 2008 was the prominent call to action to sign up to the Obama site. By doing so the Obama communications team was able to develop a robust communication strategy to keep Obama’s loyal followers up to date on his views, policies and successes on the campaign trail. Both parties seem to be falling short of exploiting this onsite for different reasons. The ALP has built a somewhat confusing sign up process whereby it is not really clear as to what the user is in-fact signing up to. Whilst the Liberal party on the other hand has hidden its email sign up below the fold on the home page – which would make it very difficult to acquire users. Add to this a lack of sign up features at key touch points on the site (ie within the latest news section) and this signifies a significant opportunity that has been lost to build an ongoing relationship with their potential voters.

Low Light – Mobile Presence

As mobile internet penetration continues to rise, it is interesting to see that neither party has really invested in the mobile space. A quick search online via my mobile browser and search via the apps store shows that the mobile channel has not really been considered as part of either parties strategy. With much talk about iPhone growth, the iPad launch and ever increasing mobile browsing behaviour it will be interesting to see if either party evolves their strategy in this space in the run up to the election.

This is just a snapshot of Australia’s leading political parties online. Have you noticed any interesting campaigns or use of channels by either party? If so please share them below.

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Search Down Under – SEO Cafe Learnings

SEO Marketing

On Tuesday evening in a boardroom in Elizabeth Street MELBOURNE, 12 marketers / search professionals gathered for a roundtable discussion on organic search. This discussion was the first “trial” session for myself and my friends at internet retailing to facilitate a discussion around the topic of search in Australia.

The session was attended by marketers / search professionals from agencies and client side roles and were from all experience levels. What was great to see was the enthusiasm from those with expertise to share strategies and techniques and the thirst of knowledge from beginners. The session covered a range of discussion topics from social search through to algorithm changes, link building and measurement, and this article summarises the key learnings from the events discussion.

Googles Mayday Algorithm Changes

Google’s latest algorithm change in May termed “Mayday” has been dubbed the long tail game changer with many larger websites potentially feeling the effects of a loss in traffic from Google’s algorithm update. The session explored the impact of the Mayday change and the general consensus was that some had definitely seen a decline in traffic from long tail terms whilst others had seen steady month on month traffic.

Has your site been affected?

Through Google analytics advanced segmentation marketers / search pro’s can segment short tail and long tail terms into 2 categories and analyse the behaviour of each. For those wishing to utilise this segmentation technique refer to the following article which provides a quick link for the segment to be set up within your Google analytics profile – http://www.davidnaylor.co.uk/google-analytics-short-taillong-tail-segmentation.html

Twitter & Facebook Search

Twitter SearchThe group discussed the opportunity which lies within social search, however the discussion around “social search” being a search channel in its own right delivered some interesting insight. During the discussion statistics about the current volume of searches being conducted on some of the major social platforms and the growth potential in the future were shared.

Facebook Search; comScore said search queries on Facebook grew from 395 million in January 2010 to 436 million in February 2010, a growth of 10 percent. And by May 2010, search engine watch was quoting 600 million searches.

Twitter Search Statistics; According to statistics released at SMX Australia there are 500 million searches being conducted globally per month.

Leveraging This Opportunity

Viewing social channels as search platforms in their own right provides new opportunities for SEOs. By optimising content posted / shared on these platforms to maximise visibility for relevant searches, organisations can start to tap into the potential value derived from the many searches already occurring within the social space.

Measurement – Metrics To Measure Search Performance

Google AnalyticsThe discussion turned to how search pro’s and marketers are measuring organic search efforts. Whilst personalisation and localisation are playing an increasing role within SERPs it seems many still utilise ranking tools to measure performance alongside of other key indicators such as back links, indexed pages and of course traffic generated through search efforts and the engagement / conversion of that traffic.

However one of the most interesting comments regarding measurement surfaced around brand vs non brand related terms and how marketers should measure these as part of search performance. As search is an acquisition channel, should brand related searches count as a win for SEO traffic, or brand? Some within the group advised that brand terms are omitted from reporting the performance of search which is an interesting phenomenon. At the very least marketers need to consider if they should be segmenting organic search into 2 categories brand vs non brand search – as brand related searches could increase within any given month as a result of other marketing/brand initiatives and thus could skew general SEO performance.

Google’s Vertical Search Strategy & Implications

Vertical search has obviously been a key area of development / innovation for Google and Bing over the past year and it is interesting to see Google replicate a lot of filtering tools deployed by Bing in 2009. However one of the most interesting which was discussed during the session was the ramifications of the new “fewer shopping sites” filtering options on the search results page. Unfortunately for eCommerce sites, if a user selects this filtering option – it remains selected for subsequent searches – this may therefore result in many eCommerce sites dropping off page 1 of SERPs during an entire user browsing session – which could have significant ramifications on traffic.

It is difficult to quantify the impact these latest changes are having on sites. In addition it is also difficult to determine if Google have made this latest change to support the introduction of Google products into Australia and globally, however there is no doubt that this will be an topic that will be discussed in greater detail by local marketers / SEO’s over the coming months.

Thank you to all who attended the event. And for those that didn’t I hope the above summary provides some useful insight to further improve your organic search efforts.

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Location Based Social Media – Coming To A Town Near You

Location-based Social Media

2010 is definitely the year of location based social media – well overseas that is. Whilst the many sites popping up are of course a few digital years off the Facebook and Twitter status – this new breed of social sites are set to follow in their big brothers footsteps.

So who is who in the location based zoo and what are some of the key usage statistics;

Foursquare

What is it? Foursquare allows you to share your location with friends. Users on Foursquare earn points and “badges” for checking-in frequently, or at a certain time. If you raise enough points you become “mayor” of a certain area.

Key Statistics:
Foursquare MarketingFoursquare recently hit the 1 million user mark and is currently gaining momentum. According to CEO Dennis Crowley Foursquare is adding 15,000 users per day which is 450,000 per month. Furthermore according to Crowley, Foursquare is achieving approximately 700,0000 checkins per day and by the end of June should be achieving the 1 million mark.
In March 2010, Foursquare said it had 1.4 million venues logged in its system, with 1,200 businesses offering special deals to people who check-in via Foursquare.

Foursquare Partnerships:
To gain traction in the market, Foursquare has partnered with some major brands to provide organisations a unique way to connect with their audience and to get consumers talking about the Foursquare platform. Foursquare’s partnerships include the likes of Starbucks, MTV, PepsiCo and Bravo. The press and discussion associated with these partnerships have gained considerable coverage in the market and as such other brands such as Domino’s and Jimmy Choo have begun to leverage Foursquare as part of their marketing strategy.

Gowalla

What is it? Gowalla is a location-based social networking game created by Alamofire. Gowalla allows iPhone and Andorid phone users to check-in when they arrive at a business or location. By checking in, Gowalla stamps the user’s passport and provides them with rewards.
Hmm sounds a bit like Foursquare I know.

Key Statistics:
Statistics about Gowalla are hard to come by however despite all of the hype, Gowalla’s user base is dwarfed by Foursquare and currently stands at between 200,000 – 250,000 users. Even so Gowalla only had just over 100,000 earlier in the year so whilst its numbers are small it has been increasing share rapidly.

Gowalla Partnerships
Like Foursquare Gowalla is teaming up with several brands to drive interest and growth in the platform– however it seems these partnerships are more content / travel driven then possibly Foursquare. Gowalla sees its relevance for users on the move – particularly those that are travelling. Gowalla has partnered with National Geographic & The Washington Post to deliver walking tours and traveller advice. More recently Gowalla has also teamed up with the Austin Stateman newspaper to deliver 8 trips for users. Each trip offers a detailed description, map, editorial insight and user photographs.
It is difficult to determine if Gowalla is attempting to carve a unique position in the market in the travel arena – as it has also partnered with brands such as Chevrolet. However one thing is certain with a lack of differentiation between the services, both of them will need to consider where they will focus their energy – as only 1 geo-location social network will prevail, just look at what Facebook did to MySpace.

myTown

What is it?
Whilst all of the hype and talk has largely centred around Foursquare & Gowalla, another player has emerged – myTown. myTown, is a location based game that is sort of part geolocater, and part real life Monopoly and SimCity. When you go somewhere in your real life city, you check in at that location and get points, you can purchase the virtual equivalent of that location, and when other people in your town playing the game check in there you earn rent. Unlike Foursquare and Gowalla, myTown seems to take elements of virtual worlds and combine it with geo-location social media and so it may not be seen as a direct competitor to the above players.

MyTown GeoLocator GameKey Statistics
MyTown recently passed the two million users milestone, and is adding more than 100,000 new users a week. The location based game has notched up more than 60 million check-ins, with user spending a startling 70 minutes a day playing on average. However myTown has only formally launched in the US and is still only available as an iPhone app – thus myTown is obviously showing immense growth potential. In fact by the end of 2010 myTown aims to have over 6 million users on its platform and their latest $20 million in funding may just get them there.

myTown Partnerships
myTown has recently partnered with Google to boost its location based data set. Through the Google API myTown will gain access to Google’s massive data set of over 50 million locations around the world. This will enable myTown to rapidly expand to other countries (without having to form custom partnerships with local directories).
MyTown have also partnered with several brands including H&M earlier this year to provide users with points and virtual goods for checking in at store locations.

Google Latitude

What is it?
Trying to make their name in the social space, Google too has launched its own location based service – Google Latitude. Google Latitude is however no Foursquare, Gowalla or myTown. The service tracks you constantly, so there is no “checking in” or earning prizes.

Key Statistics
Whilst Google has failed to gain traction in the desktop social media market, they feel they have a competitive advantage in this market. Google Latitude already has over 3 million people signed up and by stealing a page from Foursquare’s book, an enhanced Latitude would have a check-in feature and a bolstered location history scheme. And since nobody can match Google’s grip on map data, Latitude would automatically add locations, whereas Foursquare requires user input. However it is important to note that a quarter of Latitude users have zero friends, meaning 750,000 users are largely dormant.

Google Partnerships
In true Google style, Google has partnered with the community to ensure its location based services benefit from the best development minds in the world.
Google announced that it will be launching an API (Application Programing Interface) that will allow people to build all sorts of different applications and layers on top of the system. But Latitude’s biggest hurdle toward mass-popularity is the iPhone. Google built a Latitude app, but Apple — who essentially hates Google — rejected it from the App store.

Whilst most of the above services are yet to truly cement sizable user bases in the local Australian market, it is only a matter of time and therefore it is likely that in the next 12 months location based marketing promotions will start to pop up across the Australian digital landscape.

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