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.

Continue Reading