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Over recent months, even years, it’s become more and more evident that search as we know it is changing. The growth and popularity of social media and location information (via GPS & IP address) means that the search engines can tailor search results to an individual, meaning that people are starting to see completely different search results than the person sitting next to them at work. In the past few weeks, both Google and Facebook have announced new social features, which just reinforces our belief that a new age of search is coming.

Google Goes Social

In the past few weeks, we have seen a big change in Google, this started with a change to the look of search results and the appearance of a black bar across the top. The filter options down the side have been given some colour, and even when signed out with personalization turned off information such as location is logged and search results adjusted accordingly.

These changes are all part of Google’s latest, and most promising, attempt at social media. Google+ is still in it’s early days, with limited user capacity, but the sounds coming from Google+ is positive, with people really liking the interface and usability. So far this is looking to be Google’s most successful attempt at social media, and one that is likely to stick.

There are a number of aspects of Google+ which show that Google have been paying attention to how people use other social media and what they’ve been unhappy with. One of the most widely hailed success stories so far has been ‘Circles’. Google have realised that people don’t necessarily want to share every part of their life with everyone they know, so when you add a new person to your friends you will be asked to categorise them into a circle, this will mean that with a circle for family and one for colleagues you can choose to share something personal with your family but your colleagues won’t see this update. Yes, Facebook have lists, and yes if you go through the effort of clicking through you can choose a list to view your status update, but it’s clunky, a lot of effort, and a lot of users just don’t know how to do it! In Google+ Circles this process is quick and simple, and everyone likes quick and simple! If you see something on any Google site you want to share with one of your circle’s you just need to look to the new black toolbar and voila it is shared.

The next feature of Google+ is ‘Sparks’ which searches the internet and pulls in elements it believes you will be interested in based on what you add to the search bar. This is a feature which is lacking at the moment, but we believe that as more users join Google+ and Google collect more information on different people and their interests, the results will become more relevant. There is also a ‘Featured Interests’ section where you can see what other people are using sparks for.

‘Huddle’ is a group messaging tool which will work across Android, iPhone & SMS. It uses your circles and means that a group of people can be part of the same instant conversation as it unfolds. Closely related are ‘Hangouts’, the best way to describe these are as the new age of forums. You can log on and make yourself available for a video chat in a huddle, friends will see you are available and can come and go as they please with up to ten people at a time in one huddle. This eliminates some of the issues with Skype where people can’t or don’t want to talk as everyone in a huddle chooses to be there.

Once a user has activated their Google+ profile their standard Google profile will be removed so that Google+ is the central point for all things Google, there are also some pretty nice features associated with the profile. Those with the android app can auto upload photos from their phone! The profile will also show all of the +1 content the user has chosen.

What is +1

Google +1 is Google’s version of a ‘Like’ button. When logged into Google, any search you do will have a +1 image next to the title tag. By clicking on this you are doing several things:

  • bookmarking this site for future use (available in your Google+ profile)
  • telling other friends that you like something as your profile image will appear in their search results as having +1′d this site
  • feeding information into Google and the owner of that site about who likes it and how they use it!

and once you’ve +1′d a listing:

The +1 button can also be added to websites so users can click on a page whilst in the site. The advantage to website owners for adding the button is that they can access an activity report in Webmaster Tools which shows how many times pages have been +1′d from site links and search links. They are also able to access an audience report which provides demographic information.

Social Plugin Tracking in Google Analytics

Google haven’t stopped at  Google+ and their +1 button though! They have also introduced social plugin tracking for Google Analytics, this will track all social media activity from Tweets to Facebook Share’s to Google +1 clicks. By adding a bit of javascript into your site you can access a Social Engagement Report which will breakdown site behaviour for all social visitors. This means that you can see if people who use the social interaction buttons, spend longer on the site and which pages they visit and share.

This gives website owners, new considerations. They may have pages which are ‘hot’ for a few days or weeks because they are topical, or there is an e-newsletter sent out etc. But there may also be pages which are consistently ‘liked’ over a long period of time, which will give website owners the opportunity to optimise content which is valuable to their target audience.

There are some pros and cons to the tracking though; Analytics will only report on +1 interactions which occur on your website domain. Whereas the activity report in Webmaster Tools will show all +1 interactions regardless of where on the web they happened. However, Analytics is updated more frequently than Webmaster Tools which also means that the two will rarely tally up!

Google acquired Post Rank?

That’s right, Google have acquired the company who, to date, have the best methods of aggregating social engagement information. This is going to mean that as well as all the new information Google will acquire from Google+ and +1 they will also acquire all of this social information PostRank have acquired over time. This said, the services offered by Post Rank are impressive and definitely worth considering. Some of the highlights are:

  • real time tracking of where your visitors have come from, how they came to you, and what they’ve done on your site.
  • measuring of actual user activity, this will translate into the relevance and influence of your site - off-site engagement can account for 80% of the attention your content receives!
  • finds the influencers for your brand
  • benchmarks your competition
  • tracks your engagement points
  • top posts widget for blogs, meaning your most popular content is always easily available

Finally, now combined Post Rank and Google Reader enables ability to score, filter, and track the performance of your RSS feeds.

Google Offers

Set to compete with flailing group offer site Groupon, Google Offers will give companies the opportunity to get a specific offer out to potential customers who fit into their designated demographic. These customers will buy directly from Google in advance meaning that the company presenting the offers will receive a one-off payment from Google once the payment’s have gone through.

The staff at Google Offers will be advertising specialists who will be able to help in the ad and offer creation meaning that the company wanting to create the offer will have support right the way through the process.

Authorship Markup

Rel Author is a form of content tagging which enables you to tag content to highlight the author. This enables Google to distribute weight appropriate weight based on who the author is and how popular they are. This authorship markup will also link into the author’s Google+ profile so that a list of all the content they have written will be available from their profile. Pete Wailes summarised the process as “integrating Google+ and the authorship of the net”.

Facebook Edge Rank

Finally, the whole world doesn’t revolve around Google, although they would like to think it does. Facebook have been pretty busy themselves. They recently announced their partnership with Skype which will allow video calls from within the site. However, there has been a lot of talk about Edge Rank, what it is and how it works. Basically it’s what Facebook uses to ensure that what appears in the News Feed is relevant to each user.

If the News Feed wasn’t filtered it would be completely unmanageable so Facebook created a formula which takes into account three ‘edges’ each one of these edges is a component which is then fed into the formula. The components which make up each ‘edge’ are:

  • Affinity Score – between the user and the status creator, how much interaction is there between you, how often do you visit each other’s profile’s, comment on each other’s wall etc.
  • Type of Edge – Different types of activity have a different amount of weight, so a status update may be worth more than merely pressing a like button
  • Time – The older the edge the less important it is
What it comes down to is that new feed objects are more likely to show for people you interact with regularly, this means that companies need to be actually interacting with their followers and producing relevant content. Getting people to ‘Like’ their page and hammering out sales blurb isn’t going to be enough.
Join the discussion?
In summary, social is the next big thing, SEO is becoming more influenced by what is happening in the social landscape. It is not enough to have the right keyphrases and content anymore. As SEO’s we have to become more socially minded and truly understand the direction the internet is taking, and embrace it! Companies need to take the time to answer customer’s queries, respond to their questions, encourage discussion, and not just set up Twitter and Facebook pages as token gestures. It’s time to ‘Join The Discussion’
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