It’s a fast moving reality that search is becoming more social. And companies need to wise up before they get left behind. Let’s look at where we are in terms of the big two that matter: Twitter and Facebook.

Google + Twitter
The supra-dominant Google has been drawing information from fan pages since 2009. Facebook encouraged this because they wanted the extra traffic. Despite their recent campaign against Google, Facebook has also encouraged us to share our personal information with search engines (check your default privacy settings…!).

Facebook does not let Google see ‘inside’ Facebook, but Twitter does (in return for a large fee). And recently Google started incorporating Twitter ‘recommendations’ based on links shared in Tweets. Here’s an example of how they look:

Google Twitter

How Twitter 'shares' are shown on Google

You’ll only see these if you are logged into a Google account. Depending on your settings it will show recommendations from Gmail contacts, Twitter and Linked-In. Here’s a video from Google explaining how it works:

Bing + Facebook
In Britain, to ‘bing’ is not yet a verb. The market share of this Microsoft search engine, launched just two years ago, is only 4% in the UK, but in the US 30% of all searches are powered by Bing. And that number is growing.

Their exclusive Facebook partnership is a key component in driving that growth. Bing has had a partnership with Facebook since 2009, allowing updates shared with ‘everyone’ to be found via Bing. You’ll also notice that Bing results appear within Facebook.

In February 2011 the move to allow users to view ‘likes’ and recommendations made by their friends was a significant change. This feature is currently being advertised on TV in the States just now. Here’s how Facebook have promoted it:

The fact that Microsoft is a Facebook shareholder means that Bing is likely to retain ‘most-favoured-search-engine’ status for Facebook in the immediate future. That might change after the probable Facebook IPO in 2012, so don’t rule out better cooperation with Google in the future.

+1 logoGoogle +1
Swifly following the Bing/Facebook announcement in February, Google introduced its ‘+1’ initiative in March 2011. If you haven’t noticed this button on the web yet, you soon will.

Although not strictly a ‘like-for-like’ (ah,ha!) substitution, +1 is essentially Google’s ‘Like this’ button or Twitter’s ‘Tweet this’ button. The +1 button allows you to share search results and adverts on Google.

+1’s are public, so when you do a search, you will effectively see how many other people also gave a page their approval with a ‘+1’. You will be able to check your own +1’s on your Google profile, making it a useful bookmarking tool as well.

Google plus 1

The +1 button will appear next to each search result

Here’s Google’s promo video about it:

Social Media will affect search results
It’s a hotly debated topic as to whether Facebook ‘shares’ already affect your search rankings. There is some evidence to suggest that it is the most important correlation with your search ranking.

However, rankings per se will become less important, as people will naturally gravitate to a link that is recommended by friends.

Rankings will no longer be as important
If you currently only rank 6th on page 1, you might receive 5% of the clicks, compared to 50-60% for ranking 1st. But if you rank 6th and a friend recommends you, either via Twitter, Facebook or a blog, you can be sure your click-throughs will increase significantly. We already know that every choice we make is a function of peer pressure.

There are numerous implications for any company’s social media marketing strategy. What we can be sure of is that while the impact of social media on rankings is in its infancy, it is going to be extremely significant.

By Iain Martin