Social search at Google took many twists and turns since the official introduction in Google Labs back in 2009, but it appears the engine may have just recently learned how to tie signals from Facebook, Twitter and other social sites into search engine results. On Thursday, in a blog post, Google explained updates to Google Social Search.
Google will mix social search signals throughout organic results based on their relevance. The results also add notes for links that people in your network share. And the engine now gives users more privacy options to take control of who gets to see what. The big question for advertisers and marketers remains whether the signals will improve optimization and paid-search campaigns.
How much influence will social signals have in Google's organic search engine results and paid-search ads served up in campaigns? There are several views on the subject.
In a blog post, SEOmoz Founder Rand Fishkin outlines what he believes are the next generation of ranking signals. He writes that the "next generation of ranking signals will rely on three (relatively) new groups of metrics." Those metrics include brand signals, entity associations, human quality raters and trusted user behavior. Fishkin explains all three.
Hypothesizing the changes, aimClear Founder Marty Weintraub likens the way Google might look at Twitter and Facebook signals similar to Klout, which monitors buzz and determines the ratio of followers with content shared such as retweets. How much social authority does the person sharing the content have? Google likely looks at the broadcaster and the re-broadcaster of a link to determine the person's authority.
"Google says there's no association between organic and paid-search rankings," Weintraub says, getting into the whole conversation about how some marketers believe Google favors brands in search results. "But if I'm Google and want to determine whether something is related to a brand, I would look to see if the company's paid per-click ad had registered service marks. Google swears they don't, but I don't understand why they don't because it seems an awesome way to determine whether they're a brand is through paid search."
Google will rely on social as an additional signal for organic search results, according to Rob Griffin, SVP, global director of product development at digital agency Havas. In fits into a recent move by the search engine to allow users to block sites they deem "crappy," hopefully putting an end to successful content farms. "I have to figure that factoring in 'Likes' and other social signals will help ensure I don't hire an undesirable firm in India," he says. "For paid search, it's mainly to enhance relevance by message targeting and retargeting to specific users and expanding reach by targeting look-alike segments."
Kenshoo CMO Aaron Goldman doesn't believe Google will ever disclose how much weight it gives to social signals, but the latest move adds urgency to the development of social media strategies. It's more critical than ever to get people engaged with the company's brand and sharing links to capture attention in search results.
A Google spokesperson says the company is not currently using social signals in its advertising products, and has no future plans to share.
David Harry, an SEO expert, says organic rankings probably will not change. If anything, it's another form of personalization for search and local, he says. It might influence some ranking, but not all.