Google improves social search — and why you should care

Please see the original post on the iCrossing Great Finds blog, published March 9, 2011.

Last month, Google announced the release of its updated social search results integration. This update took your social network connections into account when serving results in the Google search engine. As a result, when you look at a search engine results page, you can see relevant results as well as recommendations and shares by your network, including your Twitter followers and Flickr buddies. It’s easy to see how an individual can benefit from Google social search inclusions – but do businesses get any value?

In a word: yes. And marketers need to pay attention to what Google has done. This blog post discusses why, based on iCrossing’s deep knowledge of search and Google.

A quick refresher

Back in 2009, Google began integrating social results in its search engine results pages, but the results weren’t in the same location, nor were they necessarily the same content. Back then, if someone in your network had created content, the mention would appear at the bottom of the search engine results page or if you clicked on the “Social” link on the left-side panel. Now, if someone in your network shares the content, it will be displayed right underneath the Google result itself. Pretty cool stuff, huh?

The why and what of Google social search inclusions

So why were these updates made? What purpose do they serve?

  • Google wants to be the most relevant. The basic premise of Google is to ensure that its search results are The Best. And because they are full of “teh brainz” over at Google, Google knows that social media is a huge deal right now, with everyone and their grandma (literally) sharing information in social networks. Google wants to give people the best, most relevant search experience so that you remember it positively, and keep coming back.
  • Google wants you to feel connected. Don’t think of Google as being “boring” or “lame” just because Google is a lowly search engine and not the end-all, be-all of social networks. Google knows how important your social network is to you, and wants you to feel connected and at home when you’re searching for a local movie theater or the latest product reviews.
  • Google wants to keep you on the search engine results pages longer. It’s one of the most basic website marketing principles – the longer you stay on a website, the more likely you are to take a look around and complete the desired action. And what does Google really want you to do? Why, click on its ads, of course! This is how Google makes money. So it only makes sense that Google will want to keep more and more people coming to its results and sticking around for a while.

You may be thinking that a lot of these benefits are focused on the individual searcher, and they are. Individuals are the ones performing the searches. But how can these social search inclusions help from a business perspective? Can local and global businesses use these inclusions in Google to boost their authority in the search engine results pages and gain additional traffic and sales?


Here are three steps you can take now to take advantage of Google social search inclusions:

  • If your business hasn’t done so yet, create a Twitter account, a Flickr account, and get active in various social bookmarking sites. You need to have these profiles before you can start networking on them, and they can be great for connecting with your current and potential customers.
  • Now that you’ve got your accounts created, use them. You can’t just “set it and forget it” with social media. Start communicating with people on Twitter. Build out that network of followers, friends and fans. The more people you connect with, the more people you have that can potentially share your content to their own networks. This is what will give your content a boost to future Googlers.
  • Utilize your internal network to share and fave your content online. Doing so not only gives content a boost from a social standpoint, but your content is then going out to their networks right away. If I know a friend of mine works at a company, and his social share shows up in one of my search engine results pages, I am more likely to click on the result for his company versus another.

Whither Facebook?

One thing that you may have seen missing from these results is Facebook. It’s been almost a month since this new update was released, and Google has yet to integrate Facebook “Likes” in with their social search functionality. Google’s official stance is that they are going to be doing more to “improve the comprehensiveness of Google Social Search,” which makes it seem like this update is right around the corner.

I would love to have these “Likes” placed in my results – mainly because I use my Twitter and Facebook accounts differently. On Twitter, I surround myself with people who tend to share trustworthy, valuable, professional content. While I do also follow some pretty hilarious Twitter accounts, the majority of my Twitter network focuses on online media and professional connections. My Facebook account, however, is mainly made up of my friends, and only my friends. It’s true that between these profiles there is some overlap, but I purposefully keep the majority of my connections separate.

So you can see how, depending on my search query, I’d like to view “shares” and “Likes” from different networks of people. When I have a craving for Thai, I would love to see that my best friend from college likes a restaurant in my neighborhood. And when I’m looking for an up-to-the-minute blog post from PubCon or SMX, those that are shared by my Twitter network are going to get my attention much faster.

Of course, I can always go over to Bing to see these results, huh?

A better experience

It seems like Google is really working hard lately to provide its users with the best search experience possible. Who doesn’t want a better, more personalized search experience? Well, okay, some people don’t like the continuous personalization. That is an entirely different argument.

But being able to listen to the recommendations of your friends, your network and the people you trust? And then act on them? That seems pretty darn valuable to me.

How can Google improve its social search functionality to be of greater benefit to you? What tips do you have for businesses to improve their results through social search?

Dana Notman is an SEO strategist at iCrossing.

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