Search Engines Move Into A Zen Moment

Being "in the moment" could possibly emerge as a Zen marketing and advertising strategy as search engines move toward pulling in real-time status updates from Twitter and other social network sites. Overshadowed by the hype that Microsoft's deal with Facebook and Twitter generated, Google made a move into the space Wednesday by introducing Google Social Search.

Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, in a blog post called real-time social updates -- similar to those appearing on Twitter -- an "entirely new type of data" and a way for people to communicate "thoughts and feelings." The updates could also serve as "an interesting source of data about what is happening right now in regard to a particular topic," she writes.

This "up-to-the-minute data" might provide people who search the engines looking for answers with snow conditions at a favorite ski resort, driving conditions on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, or spot promotions and discounts at favorite department stores -- such as Bloomingdale's, for example.

Marketers might also tap into a longer list of keywords for paid -search ads triggered by real-time tweets. "Paid search ads appearing alongside real-time search results would provide another vehicle for marketers who are looking to capitalize on timely topics and participate in these conversations," says John Ragals, COO at Digital marketing agency 360i.

But Clix Marketing Founder David Szetela doesn't expect Google Social Search to have a visible impact on pay-per-click (PPC) advertisers for a while, since it depends on the person having a Google account, a Google profile and a list of Google contacts. "I'm not sure how many people comprise that group at this point," he says. "Assuming users find the blended search and social pages appealing, Google will certainly work to build a sizable group that has and uses all."

Advertisers should benefit in the long term. Szetela, who has a book scheduled for release in two weeks, says he has seen excellent results from ads placed in Gmail when advertisers use contextual advertising best practices. The ads appear next to relevant topics in Gmail messages.

While the decision by search engines to index real-time social updates may prove beneficial to PPC campaigns, this could present major headaches for search engine optimization (SEO) experts, according to Mark Simon, vice president of industry relations at Didit. "If personal users' social results take up organic 'real estate,' this will create real challenges for marketers relying exclusively on SEO, as some traditional SEO results will inevitably be pushed down in the SERPs," he says. "If organic results feature comments from searchers' friends, advertisers will need to create targeted copy that resonates with searchers, as much as -- or more than -- comments from friends."

Simon says that advertisers will compete with people who know users best, and whom users trust most -- their friends and family members. Advertisers will need to understand searchers and target them much more effectively than before.

Although Google isn't talking -- not yet, anyway -- SEO Guru Dave Harry wants to know whether Google will use FriendRank or social profile Web applications, such as OpenSocial, to rank organic search queries. "It will be very interesting to see how they're ranking things and how fresh it stays," he says. "As an SEO, a ranking that is there today and gone tomorrow isn't as valuable as something in the regular index. On the other hand, it might give us a new avenue for link-building. Those that can use strong social skills with SEO to create viral content, such as link bait, should be able to find some uses for it."

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