Google Social Search; seriously, WTF people?

Ok sure, the title is a bit off coloured (not something unusual to me of course) but this one has been eating at me over the last few months away from writing/reporting. Google.Social.Search. Why has this flown under the radar so badly with the SEO world?

Is it because social hasn’t been a strong focus as far as direct SEO benefit? Because it’s a seperate discipline? Because nobody is actually looking at SERPs anymore? Maybe because it’s not obvious enough as far as benefits? …. I’ve no idea.

It is nearly hilarious (if not a bit sad) that the industry has been going mental about Panda (which we know little about and have even less control over) over the last while. The obvious one there is that we don’t hear about the attribution update a mere fortnight prior (which skews most analysis I have read).

And of course it’s counter-part on the social graph side, the +1 button which is likely little more than a brand war for social buttons around the web. Does it re-rank anything? No. This is key. Why? Because of the simple fact that there was a change at Google that actually does, as far as the social graph is concerned.

Here’s a few past bits;

Once again, the interesting parts in this story are the fact it was never in Labs (which +1 is) and more importantly, it RE-RANKs THE RESULTS!

Someone get that man a heat map!

So, here we are again. There was a great post over at the Lost Agency on this (and Bing’s recent uptake in interest) called; Social Search Impacts. In that post they had an image from a heatmap simulator called Fen-Gui (have not tried it, unsure on accuracy);

Google Social Search Heat Map
Credit

This is exactly part of what is so important about this update. As we have seen with images and videos in the past, they can be a great draw to the users eye. Let us now extrapolate it out and realize it’s not just an image, it is a personal endorsement from someone in the social circle. Add in the aforementioned rank changing ability, and wow.

I’d love to see an actual (non-simulated) heat map study on these, if anyone knows of one, please do let me know.

 

That is all, carry on

I have heard various arguments as far as the value here, but that’s not the entire point. Little +1 buttons are window dressing and ego food. Of the two changes to Google social search this year, this one was far more important and it seems telling that few seemed to have grasped this.

Furthermore, preaching the Gospel of the Geek, these changes and implementation of the social graph give us more insight into where the future of search is headed. Behavioural data has always been an issue for search engineers and I believe this type of deeper personalization will ultimately lessen the noise that potential spam can create. That of course means that greater value (weight) on behavioural signals is likely in sight.

 

Here’s a vid from Google on it;

 

I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments; why has this flown under the radar?

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9 Comments

  1. Because it’s fringe stuff (tied to logged in Google accounts) and because it’s social.

    Google and social just don’t mix well. Not yet, anyway. +1 has more potential. With social search all I can think of is ‘meh.’

    But, as always, I may be completely off the mark. 🙂

  2. It’s a good question.

    I think, first, it’s because it’ll be tough to measure on scale. You’d need to compare standard results versus a rather large corpus of social search results to come up with any real insight. Even then, mitigating factors muddy the water.

    Second, to my knowledge Google is still not using Facebook Likes in social search. And without that data, the universe of people really influenced by Twitter is relatively small. Maybe not in our industry but for the general population.

    Finally, I’m not sure the social search results are trackable. Actually I haven’t checked, but I assume so since no one has released a Google Analytics hack to parse the ‘social search’ parameter from the referrer. Without that it’s just … a lot more work.

    Now, with Google +1 competing with Facebook Likes, maybe social will finally pick up some traction. But +1 adoption seems like a necessity.

  3. Jahnelle Pittman

    Gotta agree with Barry, Dave. After all the fails, “Google social” is equivalent to “government intelligence”.. it just doesn’t scan.

    On top of that, you asked, “Because nobody is actually looking at SERPs anymore?” Here, you really have to define what you mean by “nobody”. The clients are still looking and still yelling for ranks, k?

    Some allow themselves to be educated; most don’t and the SERPs are still the ultimate scoring board.

    For my part, social search hasn’t slipped under the rug, but it’s not a glaring beacon yet, either… more like “watchful waiting”. Can’t ignore it, but…

    Totally off topic… what’s your take on schema.org? hmm?

  4. The key takeaway for me, is that the bigger your social circle, the more people will see your avatar in the SERPs. There’s little to discourage automated mass-following on Google Reader, Twitter, etc to widen your circle.

    How many bots are we going to see with names like “Click here” and avatars that are just a green tick?

  5. @Jahnelle & Barry – well, this isn’t (for me) about Google’s social forrays. This is about an element of the SERP which (unlike the +1) actually changes the rankings. COnsidering we’re SEOs, this I’d imagine is big news… but NO, the +1 gets all the hype because we just looooove shiny new buttons.

    As for the ‘logged in theory’… how many peeps already have accts via Gmail or elsewhere? Oh and hey, seems each new Android owner (200k per day) also gets a Google account. Google accounts are on the rise in a massive way and I believe this argument no longer holds water. Or at least shouldn’t for SEOs that are paying attention.

    @AJ Google isn’t using ‘likes’ in rankings and thank god for that. That is a TOTALLY spammable metric and they damn well shouldn’t be. Google uses a REAL social graph unlike Bing whom are using one network, Facebook. Google looks at ALL your social connections and only shows/re-ranks on a personalized level.

    This of course shows us the future of social search. Many of us SEOs didn’t really plan for the rise of universal SERPs and I see this happening again as the writing is most certainly on the proverbial wall.

    @Andy, actually methinks that’s the beauty of it. As I started seeing less relevant recommendations in the SERPs I questioned my following practices and am now much stricter as far as whom I will follow. Spammers can’t do jack about it, plain and simple. U see spammy crap recommendations and you simply go to the network (they’re linked in the SERP) and unfollow the jackass. I have done it a few times. Thus I like this personalization because it helps on that end.

    Oh and Schema? Haven’t really gotten to deep in there and don’t have much of an opinion yet – sorry.

  6. @Dave, it’s not so much ‘not paying attention’ as ‘not easily swayed by hype and hyperbole’. I’ll take Google Social Search seriously whenever it warrants it. That time has not yet arrived.

    I’m not an SEO who always surfs the cutting edge, who’s chasing the must-do thing of the moment. I base my practices on shit that works and leave the hype to the blogosphere.

    Once Social Search has proven its merits – or otherwise – I shall adapt, as always. Until then… meh.

    Same goes for +1 actually. I haven’t put it up on any of my sites yet, nor shall I rush to do so.

  7. I agree and disagree. First, I agree that the presence of “recommendations” from my social network in the SERPs catches my eye and makes me want to click. However, as Barry notes, you have to be logged in and I almost never am and I know lots of other (non-SEO) people who also do not log in.

    As a result, the +1 button doesn’t seem like it will have much effect unless it’s available to everyone. And, that’s where I agree/disagree again. If I were Google and I wanted people to give me that data, I’d make that button visible all the time as a lure to get people to set up accounts and log in. When someone who is not logged in clicks on it, I’d have a little pop-up window that explains the extra features I could get if I just set up an account and logged in.

    Of course, you may have noticed that I am not the fabulously wealthy owner of a website so maybe that would be a crazy idea. Either way, I’m not ready to discount +1 yet.

    Marjory

  8. Like Barry, I’m not yet ready to give much credence to Google’s lame attempts at social media integration. While I do think they’re finally taking seriously the need to consider SM, I think they’ve got miles to go before they sleep.

    As for why +1 got more attention, I’d agree that it’s primarily because it involves a new shiny-toy.

    One which I suspect was introduced with nothing more in mind than providing an incentive for more folks to stay logged in.

  9. as for every interface change, social shares may be very influential… but not much more than a spy game for the moment 🙂

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