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Should SEOs care about Real Time Social Search?

Written by David Harry   
Monday, 08 February 2010 13:10

Are we there yet?

I thought we could spend a few moments looking at the value, potential and implications for the world of (real time and) social search. I prefer to think of them as;

  • Social search – using explicit elements (voting, annotating) in conjunction with standard search functionality.
  • Real Time Search – searching the fire-hose of the social world (Twitter, FaceBook, FriendFeed and so on)

But for the sake of this post, we’ll just go with RTSS (real time social search) to make things easier. While I personally believe there is a need for distinction, it would make things messy for this simple journey. For starters, a few examples….

Explicit data; Social Search

Google Social Search

The Fire-hose; Real time search

Real time search

While people tend to not make the distinction between social and real-time search, it is certainly important from an SEO standpoint, to do so. Now we have some associations in place, let’s look at the present state of affairs (from an IR standpoint).

The search perspective

Now, before we get into Google’s brand of real time search, let’s look at how the search engineers themselves see this new frontier lately. At a recent Workshop on Search and Social Media, representatives from Google, Bing, Yahoo and Baidu sat down to talk about the future of social search (being inclusive of RTS and SS). Some of the benefits, aspects noted include;

  • Delivering fresh content
  • Local content
  • Expert opinions
  • Breaking news
  • Long tail content

There is a belief that search engines could better serve some areas that current web search doesn’t do as well. It is believed that the elements of trust and personal interactions combined with low latency can provide a broader more useful (universal) search experience.

Some of the problems identified;

  • Weighing freshness against accuracy and relevance
  • Coping with loss of social content’s conversational context
  • Managing low update latency (poor infrastructure
  • Fighting new kinds of spam.

During the session one of the more interesting discussions was around assessing intent/need. Is the signal in the content or attention? Is intent in explicit or implicit analysis? They certainly seem to still be struggling with many of the same issues that behavioural data (such as personalized search has been) has presented in the regular search experience.

They fellow from Yahoo felt that social search is more of a broad/vague quest that was best served by using more of a browsing model. Essentially the more simplistic Google approach makes social search less effective…

One thing seemed certain, there is no consensus.

Google’s real time social search

Until further notice, Google is still the king. Like it or not. And how have they been using the social stream?

The first one is the insertion of so-called real time search that was added to the SERPs over the last while. As with many new elements, it began near the top of the listings and have slowly dropped below the fold. And obviously are only coming up in certain query spaces which means query analysis is playing a role.

The other one, is the actual ‘social circle’ vertical which can be found via the SERPs as well as the ‘Show Options’ link. I never left the actual Google Labs experiment and have watched it right up to the present ‘beta’ status… And there has been some interesting changes recently….

Google Social Search additions

When those appeared I fell under a sense of déjà vu upon looking deeper we see;

Google social search expanded

Why déjà vu? Back in 2008 I reviewed some patents from Google on social network profiling. This was really the starting point (for me at least) along this trail. The first sighting of things to come; this was part of what we’re seeing today.

The next time we came across it in the form of the Google Social Graph API;

This is particularly relevant in that the examples for usage are strikingly familiar to the implementation we’re seeing now. I’d say that some of the more curious out there might find it entertaining to dig into the API and see what it can do. I know we are.

Now… let’s get to the important stuff….

What to consider as SEOs

Ultimately, it comes back to the question I am asked over and over. What does social search mean to SEO? And what can we do to make the most of it?

Much of the work I’ve researched from Google shows the status quo. The monetization drives the innovation. Meaning; the true future of social search lies in their ability to transpose it into a functional model for targeting advertising.

Is the data gathered a benefit to not only search quality and user retention, but the ability of the data to better serve advertisers in behavioural and network targeting. This means of course we will have to watch the space more to see if social search elements increase or decrease over time. That will be the ultimate barometer.

A recent poll in the SEO Dojo asked;  "How will Google Social Search affect SEO?"

  • 47.1% It will be just another vertical to cover
  • 23.5% It will have a significant impact
  • 15.7% The impact will be limited
  • 11.8% I have no idea, too busy working to play with it yet
  • 2% Not at all, it's just a fad

If we add first and third, nearly 63% of SEOs believed the impact of Google’s social search would be limited or negligible. Personally, at this point I would concur. Yes, that’s just the social search element, but the same can be said for real time as well.

But when it comes….

I am a big believer in ‘task ROI’. Meaning that every activity in SEO has a price; in labour or third party costs. Every SEO project has a budget. We must engage in activities that meet the unique requirements of overall project requirements.

So, there is likely a low ROI on chasing RTSS at this point. I know, so many of you yearn to sit around playing social guru all day, sorry, not going to happen. I would advise at least sitting down with the PR/SMM folks if there are programs in place, that can be leveraged. But if you’re in a vacuum working an SEO program, I don’t advise heavy resource investment in this area (yet).

Make no mistake; it will become more important. And it will make a further mess of the universal search spaces. One must become more intimately familiar with the query spaces they work in. You know, actually visit and analyze the SERP. It is increasingly important with not only RTSS, but geo-local, shopping and news, to have content strategy in place to best adapt.

And so… for now, I have to say that caution be exercised in approaching RTSS from an SEO perspective. All that glitters is not always gold… and your time must be spent wisely.

What say you? Have experiences/thoughts on RTSS and SEO? Sound off…

Other posts on RTSS:

Making sense of real-time social search
Why Googles behavioural targeting should creep you out
Can Google be a social search engine?
Google Social Search; the potential for personalization


Google Social Search; an early review

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