Google: Social Search Gets an Upgrade…

…Now more like normal search.

Conventional wisdom is that Google are already incorporating a lot of social media signals into their ranking algorithms – a blog post will typically pick up some super fast rankings if you tweet it – but they keep their actual social search product pretty low key.

Google Social Search has been around since 2009, but because comparatively few people take the time to connect all of their social media accounts to their Google profile page, its a pretty limited experience for most users.  Until the new version of Google Social Search was launched today, the results from the people that you were connected to via your different social profiles were separated from the main results in a block – similar to images / video / any other universal search results.

Google Social Search 1.0 used social media data to enhance the results, but this new version is more interesting because rather than including tweets etc from within your network, it finds the content that has been linked to, and gives it a boost in the results to make it more visible.

Because Google Social search is reliant on people being logged into their Google accounts and having connected those accounts to their different social profiles, it probably isn’t going to set the world on fire overnight, however it is definitely something that marketers should see as a bigger opportunity.

Even if only 5% of Google users fall into the group that will see social search results, that still represents a similar volume of searchers as Yahoo or Bing in the UK.  It’s significant.  The question that a lot of spammers might be asking is whether it would be easier to gain rankings based on social factors for a keyword like “car insurance” rather than through using other SEO methods?  Well maybe, but you’d need a pretty good presence initially, and you would also want  to have a good product that people would be willing to tweet or like.

The point of social search is not necessarily the introduction of entirely new content into a SERP, its about providing an additional layer of reassurance to users based on people they trust.  As I said above, I firmly believe that social cues are already a big factor for rankings in a lot of verticals even for users who are not logged in.

Businesses who want to rank well in social search need to look at their brand, their product, and the way in which they engage with customers online.  They need to think about giving customers a reason to share their experience of a website with friends.  The launch of the upgraded Google social search today isn’t a game changer, but it should be a wake up call.

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