Is Search+ the real natural search?
We are social beings, we rely on the interaction with other people to educate us and inform our decisions, and over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the web catch up with this idea. Sure, there have been social forums and communities on the Internet since the days of Newsgroups and IRC, but it’s only recently with the continual rise of Facebook that we’ve reached a stage where we can blend our online and offline identities into a single “us”.
According to Internet World Statistics, there are around 2 billion people who are “internet users”. That’s a little bit less than 1 in 3 people world wide, and of them, around 40% (800 million) have Facebook profiles. That’s significant. back in August 2010, Eric Schmidt said that we create as much information in 2 days as we had for the whole of human history up to 2003. The change in pace of information creation? User generated content via social media.
We’ve reached a point where conversational content now dominates the web, and this can’t be ignored. Last year, Google made it their stated aim to add a social layer to all of their products. This included greater individualisation of search results and the launch of Google+.
Search Your World
This week, we’ve seen the launch of Google Search Plus Your World, which takes personalisation further. We’ve had social media items incorporated into natural search for a while, with information about who shared what, but the new update takes this much further, to the point where it is quantified.
The current annotated social results include information about who shared what and liked items to give us insight into what content from the wider web our connections are interested in:
Search Plus Your World gives you much more; telling you how many social results you have, which results are from within your community, and who shared what. They also include more content actually from social networks, with a prominence for Google+:
Results from within my circle (shown using the little blue man) represent 4 out of 10 of the results for “Latitude”, and 3 out of 10 results for “SEO”.
There has been criticism of this. EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center [sic]) complained that the inclusion of social results was an invasion of privacy, and Twitter/Facebook expressed disappointment that their content wasn’t well represented. I’m not certain that either complaint is particularly valid – any social content that I’ve shared is avaialble for my circles to see anyway, and content from Twitter and Facebook is indexed in Google.
The big question is what this means for businesses.
Well, for a start, it means that simple SEO is no longer enough to sustain visibility and get traffic. Companies who only look at the journey up to the click will start to suffer. Those which invest also in the post click experience of their customers will benefit more. Businesses that engage meaningfully with their customers and encourage and embrace feedback and conversation to build their relationships will benefit because their social investment will be reflected in the number of people who share their content and see it prominently within the search results.
Businesses that have a strong community of customers around them who are willing to provide word of mouth recommendations to their own social networks will benefit.
I wrote earlier that there are 2 billion people online around the world, and technology has caught up with that number. The ability to match genuine interest communities and quantify those relationships means that it is possible to add conversation anywhere and for real recommendations to support the decision making process that people have online.
We’ve talked for a long time about the importance of brands online, and Google have been vocal in their use of trust metrics to provide customers with a better experience. This change is about empowering communities to support each other, and about users getting a better experience from the companies they work with.
Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.
Alfred North Whitehead
We are social beings, and base our choices on our relationships and who we are. Adding a conversational layer to search changes it from a useful tool into an expression of who we are. If conversation is our natural state, then social search is natural search.
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