Social search is the hottest topic in search. Everywhere you turn there's a new feature rolled out by the engines, or a new article, blog post, or tweet opining how search engine optimization (SEO) is forever changed because Bing decided to integrate Facebook data and Google introduced real-time Twitter streams into its respective search results.
So what is the deal with social search, and what should SEOs do now to capitalize on the convergence of these two online channels?
Much Ado About Nothing
The key is to not overhaul your core SEO strategy. Social search isn't yet a game-changer, and it isn't even ready for prime time attention within the SEO community.
By Google and Bing's own admissions, we're only now beginning to explore the possibilities of a socially infused set of search results. Many more enhancements and experiments will soon make their way to the results pages, so don't make hasty decisions based on what's currently being displayed.
And if you still aren't convinced that there's not a lot to do yet, then look no further than some recent articles on the topic. My (least) favorite piece appeared on Mashable and did little more than illustrate that the search industry doesn't yet know what to make of social search. The author in that piece recaps recent developments, and builds to the conclusion that this is important and may impact SEO.
Stunning revelations! May I have my five minutes back please?
But there are some things to action on right away.
For example, should marketers encourage Facebook fans to "Like" its content because presumably they're friends with like-minded people who may be exposed to that Like through a Bing search? Should marketers become more active in the industry dialogue on Twitter because those discussions may appear on a Google results page and position their organization more favorably than a competitor?
Yes, to both questions. But don't expect that to become the hallmark of your SEO strategy.
Making the Most of Available Social Intelligence
In "Finding B2B Marketing Success Through Integrating Social Media," I introduced the single biggest area where we're having a positive impact on search through aligning our approach with social programs. I called it "Uncover the Lingo," and while that piece discussed a practical application in a B2B setting, the approach isn't exclusive to B2B organizations.
A lot of data is available to us. Social media monitoring technologies like Radian6, Trackur, Meltwater Buzz, or Social Mention help to demonstrate the general ebbs and flows of the online conversation. But there are gems hidden within that data: it shows what the market is most concerned with and how it's characterizing the pain points.
Too often we see clients that promote with "inside baseball" speak, or language that is unique to the organization, while the marketplace uses an entirely different vocabulary. The real beauty of social monitoring technologies is in discerning that specific vocabulary so other forms of marketing communications can be viewed as that much more relevant by the intended audience.
Search is no exception. When content is repositioned to align to the specific keyword phrases that have proven to be relevant and timely by the industry at large, SEO can really shine.
The Three Screens Vision
And that really supports some of my fundamental beliefs about search marketing. Search, in its current form, is a dying practice.
Gone are the days when the SEOs can enter stage right to discuss website optimization as a standalone activity, and then leave once the work is done. It's far more complex, and social search exemplifies this.
The web is a real-time, evolving ecosystem where tweets are the preferred source for breaking news and friends and likes are the highly sought-after status symbols.
Rather than viewing search, social, e-mail, display, mobile, etc., as isolated activities, the future of digital marketing is to acknowledge this real-time dynamic and inject an organization's integrated message at appropriate times and across relevant venues.
Here's my specific vision: imaging that your digital marketing team is armed with three flat-panel computer monitors each:
- On one monitor is a real-time social chatter stream, which is highlighting the inflection of the conversation currently across the Web.
- The next monitor shows digital campaign data (PPC, e-mail, display), what worked, what didn't, and your analyst's thoughts on why certain behaviors emerged.
- The third monitor is an open Word document where a new blog post is being authored, empowered with the intelligence of what has worked historically and what is being discussed as relevant today. Incredibly powerful stuff.
Get Going with Social Search
So while social search optimization as discussed by the "experts" may be more hype than substance, what is clearly important today is ensuring that digital marketing initiatives are fluid and tightly aligned. The web your customers interact with is real-time, and you need to move in that direction if you want to remain relevant.
Use the tools and data available to you to identify trends, and capitalize on those trends by optimizing content, bidding on keywords, sharing news, liking the views of others, and tweeting or re-tweeting timely industry news.
Your social search presence will be ahead of the curve.