Understanding Social Search – It’s about “people and relationships”

“We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.”  – The Official Google Blog.

What better way to describe Social Search than directly from Google’s “mouth” – their blog?

I’ve been studying SEO since 1999 when I realized that businesses would need more than just a website as a way to brand the business. As a business owner, you need to be the brand that’s found. Even back then, Google was positioning itself to be THE place or tool that people used to find information. It seems a bit silly to spell it out now but I wanted to put it into context so you could see how far we’ve come. We’ve come from pure information as search results to a world of PERSONAL search results, thanks to Social Search.

Understanding Social Search is an important topic I’ve been keeping up with since I realized (and declared to anyone who would listen) 28 months ago, when Twitter and Google hooked up in December of 2010, that there is no such thing as only “search engine optimization” anymore because Social and Search have become so intertwined that you simply cannot expect an optimized website to be found all over page one in Google or Bing if you use SEO methods that pre-date 2010. SEO methods that pre-date 2010 are methods that do NOT include optimized Social Networks and LinkedIn (a business network) or blogs.

From where does Google pull content to display as your personal search results?

Google’s Social Search results pull content from your Twitter followers and LinkedIn – if you have those networks linked in your Google+ profile – and also people from your Gmail contact list; Gmail chat buddies; and Google coworker groups. If you use Google Reader, you’ll see some search results from some of your websites and blogs you subscribe to. It’s all information that’s “found publicly on the web,” according to The Official Google Blog.

Google’s Social Search is actually three years old, as of this writing. It was announced in a blog post dated October 26, 2009. At that time Google+ did not exist in its current form. The About section existed then and it was called a Google Profile.

Recently (January, 2012) Google launched Search Plus, Your World. Here’s an excerpt from Google’s blog, below, explaining the three main ways this looks when you do a search and you’re logged into Google. This was the biggest change that Google has introduced since it began its existence. That’s how big this is, folks. I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to you to get your Google+ page up and running and properly optimized and 100% completed. (See some highlights about how to get your Google+ profile set up from my blog post about that.) Here’s that excerpt from Google’s blog about Search, Plus Your World and what search results look like now, when you’re logged into Google:

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

Let’s examine each of these three main ways Google works nowadays so you can better understand Social Search.

Personal Results: let’s say you’re in Denver and don’t get out here much and aren’t familiar with the best places to eat, especially in the downtown area known as LoDo. Yeah, you could “Yelp it” but you’re not going to be as familiar with those reviewers as you would be with people in your Google+ Circles; Google contact list from your Gmail account; Twitter followers, etc. Right? And that’s what Google is betting on – that you’ll more likely search in Google and consider the personal search results from people in your networks whom you already trust. You trust them, because, after all, they ARE in your social networks already. These Yelpers are people you’re probably not nearly as familiar with. Additionally, these Google search results are much more personal in words and feelings than the Yelpers’ results. This might end up being a personal choice (pun intended) as to whether or not you prefer the Yelp reviews over your Google personal results or perhaps you’ll take both into account when deciding where to plunk down your hard-earned dollars next time you find yourself in LoDo Denver and you’re hungry.

Profiles in Search: Ahhh…Google, thank you for making it so much easier to see a person’s Online Reputation pretty darn quickly. All you have to do is start typing that person’s name in the Google Search box. Google will auto-complete the name and show personal search results first – while you’re still in the search box. Click on the name and you’ll see all the relevant search results regarding that person you just Googled. And if it’s a common name, of course, Google will show all the people who have that name and have public content. I experimented and typed in “Michele” (without the quotation marks) and then “P” for last name to see who would show up in my auto-complete choices. I saw a name that I was not familiar with yet here it was in the personal search while I was still in auto-complete mode. I visited that person’s LinkedIn profile. Turns out that she and I are connected via a group in LinkedIn. She was a 3rd level “connection” in LinkedIn for me. The only thread between us is that we’re in a group in LinkedIn. This discovery was fascinating to me because Google must have examined my LinkedIn network via my LinkedIn link on my Google+ profile and showed this particular Michele P. as one of the choices when I typed in “Michele” (with one “L”, by the way) and “P” for the last name. Bottomline: when you Google someone’s name, Google will, first, show you names (and auto-complete them) that are people who are connected to you, even by the thinnest of threads.

People and Pages: When you search in Google for a brand or a topic or a particular interest or hobby, Google will show you Google+ pages and profiles of people in your network. Remember, that your “network” is not only Google+ Circles but all of the networks you have linked to from your Google+ profile, as long as the content is public.  So, if you do a search for Starbucks, and you have the personal search turned on (click the icon that looks like a person) you’ll see that brand’s Google+ page or profile appear in the top right area of page in Google. You’ll also see Google Places, which is the map for that particular brand.

“Behind most every query is a community” – Google says. This is particularly true for when you search by topic or area of interest. This is another VERY IMPORTANT reason to have a Google+ page for your business, as well as a Google+ profile for yourself.

About to Hire a SEO Expert Who Doesn’t Utilize Social? That’s a Red Flag. Turn and Run.

When considering hiring someone to integrate Search into your company’s marketing and online reputation strategy be sure to work with someone who has years of experience, not only in Search, but in Social.

Understanding Social Search

Now you have a better understanding of Social Search and why it’s so important to build your community online, as well as offline. The lines are getting blurred more and more between the two. It’s the people and companies who are NOT found in search results that we’re starting to wonder about. We’re starting to wonder why we can’t find anything about you or your company. Don’t let that happen. It’s so easy to build your Online Reputation when you remind yourself that Social and Search are married for life now. No divorce in their future.

What will Social Search look like five years from now? I think Social Search will look like everyone you know and everyone you don’t know yet are connected to because you share a common “knot” in the thread of Social Search. Thank about THAT for a while and let me know what YOU think by writing your comment and sharing this post with your networks. I sure appreciate hearing from you and that you’ll share this via the social plugins, below, too.