Each new Google update brings both anxiety and excitement to the search engine marketing practitioner. Such was the case when I discovered the new social update Google added to their search results on February 17. No, not the “Social Circle” section buried below the top ten. I’m talking about the little icon letting you know when one of your connections on Twitter, YouTube, Friend Feed, Quara, Google Buzz (but not Facebook!) shared the link that your query brought up, like the one shown below.
The SEM Mission
This feature is a definitive bonus to those who have thrown themselves into social media — connecting with colleagues, brands, friends, celebrities, etc. Finally Google is rewarding you for all those hours spent (outside of work hours of course) on blogging, YouTubing or building your Twitter account! As they stated in the official announcement:
“As always, we want to help you find the most relevant answers…But relevance isn’t just about pages—it’s also about relationships.”
The search giant is building off our inclination to trust a recommendation from our connections far more than that of Google bots.
(Note: The new update only appears if you connect your social personas with your Google account.)
For the lay person, the fun stops there. The search experience is improved and we all feel good about being social online. This is one of many signals to identify which search result is bound to bring an accurate answer. But for the search marketer, there’s more fun to be had.
Aye, There’s the Rub
Here’s the goal: For your most powerful keywords, find a way to get a trusted social source displayed under the link to pages on your site, organically and as white hat as possible of course.
The solution? Like Lebron James and Dwyane Wade will tell you..SHARE! This social attribute strengthens the theory that social matters to today’s current search engine landscape (while also foreshadowing tomorrow’s). Google opened a Pandora’s box of SEM ideas with this update, so I outlined the most basic of strategies to keep my efforts grounded:
- Build a Twitter account for my client. This seems to have the most visibility within G’s SERP’s so far. Build equates to following the best practices in filling out all the necessary profile info and finding the thought leaders within the client’s industry to follow (and hopefully gain a follow back).
- Frame content around core keywords. Find a synergy between your editorial calendar and your keyword list, inserting keywords into page titles and URL structure.
- Share content effectively. Tweet, post, Buzz and blog often, but with focus. Carefully surround each link you tweet with keywords and personality. These are the most likely to be retweeted. Think beyond tweets though. Feed industry leaders your content through emails and IM’s. Increase the coverage of your links to ensure they appear on SERP’s.
- Note the results. While many of the strategies I propose above are not new to search engine marketers, the incentive is. Previously, a client may have gawked at social media’s role in a search marketing campaign, but this type of focused, results based approach will increase return on investment in the long run.
The Road Ahead
In their official announcement, Google made it clear that this social updates is just the beginning. And only briefly does the statement refer to the effect social mentions will have on rankings, leaving us only to assume the algorithm is taking note of our social activity and relationships. As a reminder, the social search element is only active when logged into your Google account, basically extending the effects of Personalized Search.
Facebook’s absence from this update is noteworthy as well. As reported by Matt McGee of Search Engine Land, Google is limited in access to Facebook data, only receiving information from Fan Pages, not activity on personal Facebook walls. Who’s hurting whom is a debate that will be answered over time.
The fun’s just begun. Mess around with the social search update and see which strategies work most effectively for your client. Who’s reference shows up for a retweet? Are all followers created equal? What is the difference in ranking between a social search and a “regular” search? Feel free to leave your answers (and more questions!) in the comments below.