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Webmaster Blog

May
17

Social and Search: A Small Business Primer

Decisions just got easier with the addition of new social features to Bing. By bringing together the power of search and Facebook, people can now receive personalized search results based on the opinions of their friends by simply signing into Facebook. These features, available now, make it easy to see what people’s Facebook friends “like” across the Web, incorporate the collective IQ of the Web into their decision making, and conduct conversational searches. Decisions can now be made not just with facts, but with the opinions of trusted friends and collective wisdom from the Web, resulting in smarter, faster decisions. Also available today is the new Bing Bar, that includes the first universal “like” button, making it easy for people to “like” any page on the Web.  As a publisher your messaging is going to be amplified due to how Bing is surfacing the messages to consumer.

With social media’s rise to prominence has come an increased influence on search.  Search engines are always striving to return the most relevant results when a searcher uses their services, and integrating social signals is one more way Bing can understand what matters most to a searcher.  By integrating social signals from the social sphere, we can help guide searchers to the best results.  If people feel something is worth calling out socially as “the best”, it’s obvious hearing their opinions at the time someone is scanning for search results can have an impact on click choices made by that individual searcher.  By watching signals such as this, Bing integrates results that matter more to searchers, returning more relevant results.  Those searchers are your customers.  The signals they see are coming from the “friends” and “followers” your business has online.

Here is a snapshot of how the features work:

  • Microsoft data shows that nearly half of people say seeing their friend’s “likes” within search results could help them make better decisions; and who better than a group of trusted friends to guide everyday decision making? Bing’s new features make this possible.
  • Liked Results, Answers and Sites. Cut right to the good stuff, by seeing what stories, content and sites friends have “liked” right in the search results. Planning a trip to Napa Valley, for example, can be overwhelming with the hundreds of wineries there are to choose from – luckily the “likes” of friends can narrow the choices on which vineyards are a must see.
  • Personalized Results. Bing personalizes the search experience, by surfacing content your friends have “liked” from deep within search results to the top of the page. Because most people don’t go beyond page one of the results, they might be missing the best information.

But it’s not just friends that can help out. There’s also value in the larger brain trust of the Web. Bing now brings the collective IQ of people to decision making online when friends may not have the right expertise, or a person may not know exactly what they’re looking for. 

  • Popular Sites. See collective “like” results related to trending topics, articles, and Facebook fan pages, to find the most popular content.  When searching a recipe site, for example, see what articles on the site people have liked, to help find the perfect recipe for dinner.
  • Social Messages. Searchers can also benefit from knowing what major brands and companies are sharing on Facebook. For example, when planning a vacation and searching for a rental car, Bing will show recent Facebook posts alerting people to a new deal at the top of the results.

Many decisions require a discussion with friends. By combining Facebook’s communication tools with Bing, search can become conversational – taking decision-making on Bing from a passive experience to an active dialogue. Bing’s vision is to combine the power of discovery with the empowerment of conversation.

To clarify, this does not rerank the search results per se.  When Bing understands a searcher’s results contain annotations from their friends, we bring those results to the main page or results so the searcher can see them.  They are inserted for viewing, not replacing anything we would show in the organic results.  Bing expands the real estate on the page to showcase the socially annotated results.  The results themselves shift to accommodate this, with the order of ranking remaining the same.  Regardless of whether you are logged in socially or not, the actual order of the ten organic results does not change.

Here’s how social works with Bing:

 

It all starts with people sharing and liking content.  These actions lead people to share their feedback via outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.  Bing collects the publically available information to work into our processing and indexing of content.  From there, we process the data and factor that into ranking.  All of this happens very rapidly, with signals being collected in real-time, and results showing nearly as fast on search results pages.

Rising above the noise

Here are some things to consider as search engines become more social.  Some will be items you already perform, while others may require you to rethink how you approach building your site, content and community.

  • Quality: Create unique, interesting and useful content.  Deploy the like button smartly across your content so that customers can express their sentiment to help you show up better in search.
  • Trust: Work on getting trustworthy sites linking to your site. 
  • Popularity: Being popular helps. While quality of your inbound links matters more, having a number of trustworthy links pointed at your content helps, too.
  • Timeliness: Practice frequent updating of your sites or blogs.  Visitors like to know your site is current.
  • Simplicity: Make it easy to Like and Share content.  Enable functionality which encourages visitors to share your content.
  • Share: Include links in updates via your own social spaces.  The perceived quality of your posts increases when you include links to relevant, useful content.
  • Relationships: Seek ways to encourage trust-worthy people to share your posts and content.  Avoid spammy clumps or groups who randomly “Like” things.  Organic is best.
  • Frequency: The number of people “Liking” what you said/shared in the last minute, hour, day, week is easily seen by the engines.  Work to increase your influence.
  • Change: Be prepared to turn on a dime, and for the flash mob as new things go viral.  Focus shifts quickly today, so be ready to take advantage of shifts as they occur.

Things you should be doing now

  1. Growing your social footprint.  Get started with a Facebook fan page to leverage the ability to get “Likes” into the SERP.
  2. Accessing data to help you improve your website.  Sign up for a Bing Webmaster Tools account to not only see the data available about your site, but to watch for updates and future announcements from Bing.
  3. Balance your marketing plan.  In addition to well-planned search engine marketing and social media plans, you should be seeking to balance where you get traffic from. By including paid search as part of your plan you create a safety net for potential organic algorithm changes, and can drive highly targeted, converting traffic immediately.
  4. Cover the basics for long term traffic.  Since we’ve mentioned it above, make sure you’re making progress on that search engine optimization plan.  Work to ensure your website is as optimized as it can reasonably be.  This makes for a better product for your users, and for the search engine’s crawlers as well.

Wrapping up

There is a lot of conversation about the future of search these days.  One thing we can tell you for certain is that social will surely play a role in whatever future search has.  The ability to use social signals to fine tune search results, making them much more relevant for every searcher, is simply too important to overlook.  Search and social will each continue to evolve.  While neither will replace the other, they will continue to remain inseparable as part of a well-rounded marketing plan.

Final thought on managing social: Avoid spammy communities

As Link Farms flourished over the past few years with a goal to game the search engines with paid links, today we are seeing the advent of Like Farms.  In the images below, you can see the difference between content which gets shared organically (on the top), though people sharing with legitimate friends and followers, and the kind of sharing that happens through Like Farm-style sharing (on the bottom). It’s pretty easy for Bing to spot these activities as the patterns are obvious.  

If you are growing a legitimate community of followers they can actually help you share your content.  This does take time, though, so be ready to put in the work if you want the success.  Taking shortcuts like using auto-follow services to boost your fan counts, or using “auto-Like” services may seem like a smart use of your time, but in the end they won’t help your efforts.  You’ll end up wasting time, and sometimes even money, on tactics that simply don’t work long term.

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