Search Becomes Fluid With Bing-Facebook
Media outlets are reporting today that Facebook may have hit another major milestone, on paper, net worth is believed to have surpassed eBay's to become the third most valuable Web business in the United States. Why? Valuation experts are projecting that the platform’s evolution into search – and now social inbox announced yesterday – will equate to unseen levels of long-term loyalty and monetization for the half-a-billion Facebook members, even if we can’t see how it will all play out quite yet. We here at Fluid Marketing agree. Facebook is creating strong reasons for people to conduct their most important and frequent activities within the Facebook environment, dare we say taming the fluidity beast. Maybe. Here, my colleague at Wirestone Zach Melchiori and I take a swipe at the Bing-Facebook search integration breakthrough, and what it could mean for Facebook in its burgeoning war with Google.
Microsoft and Facebook have announced a partnership that enables Bing to present search results that incorporate “Liked” content together with Facebook profiles. This effort represents what could be called the 4th generation of search.
- Generation 1 started what seems like a hundred years ago in the mid-90’s when early adopters to the Internet realized the connected web actually contained information worth finding;
- Generation 2 exploded as mathematicians and statisticians at Yahoo! and Google created algorithms that enabled searchers to find exactly what they looked for really quickly -- it's the browser-enabled search we know and love today;
- Generation 3, still emerging, is about semantic search; where search results combine the obvious and literal with the imagined and intuitive -- search understands what we mean even if we don't use the exact terms;
- Generation 4 is about enhanced social value and personal connections, where information relevant to the search topic are culled from a person’s social graph and incorporated into results, thereby creating what people may think as a higher value result because it includes recommendations or suggestions from people you know and trust.
The goal of this partnership is to offer people who use Bing a more personalized experience. If the assumption holds one’s social graph represents a focused layer of relevance than the generalist approach represented by agnostic search algorithms, then incorporating social graph data into search results will produce a higher value result. By applying a social layer to search, Bing and Facebook are anticipating that users will be able to make decisions quickly and with more confidence since their search results are being influenced by networks of users they presumably trust.
A lot has been written, including a great post by Charlene Li, about whether or not this represents a coup for Microsoft or Facebook vs. the dominant search engine, Google, and the prevailing view is that it is indeed a smart, differentiating play that could hurt the 800-lb. search gorilla. To date, and despite the proliferation of Google services and platforms, Google is not a social network, and they have no way to collect or exploit high-value social information. This is a story that will unfold over time, but there’s much to dig into today as the Bing-Facebook integration emerges. Let’s take a look:
Social Search Features -- “Liked” Results
Bing’s “liked” results feature includes results based on items in the social graph that a user’s connections have “liked” and shared. “Liked” results are unique for every user and a user will only see “liked” results for a search query if someone in their network has “liked” a page or item. Here’s an example with a person searching for “Iron Man 2”, where 2 people in the searcher’s social graph have conducted a similar search, and their “liked” search results appear within this person’s search – thereby providing a unique, personalized perspective to the general search for information on Iron Man 2 that would normally not emerge. So, the IMDB result might add real value for this searcher, whose generic search on Google might have shown an IMDB result in a different way or not at all.
Bing’s new “People on Facebook” section lists search results for people based on a user’s social connections on Facebook. People will see results based on those who are a closest match by name and relationship on their social graph. A person will be able to add another person as a friend on Facebook or send them a message directly from this pane.
Short-Term SEO Implications
At the present time, search results outside of “Liked Results” and “People on Facebook” are not affected by Bing / Facebook’s social search integration. This development has brought no known change to Bing’s search algorithm and Bing will continue to serve its search results in a traditional format, with social results highlighted at different placements on the search engine results page.
Long-Term SEO Implications
Over the long-term it is likely that information from a user’s social graph will be combined with traditional search ranking algorithms to deliver more relevant content to a user performing a search. As this fluid space becomes even more fragmented by cross-platform integration (i.e., Facebook connect; Open ID), social search could very well become a high-value center of excellence for brands seeking higher relevance with people. Investment in search optimization and marketing continues to increase – see Forrester’s projections here – yet, most brands are unaware of how social search may add more relevance to social marketing than any other single marketing tactic.
The Bing-Facebook partnership is another development in a long line of innovations that have turned SEO into a complex undertaking. As search technologies evolve, it is vital that marketers evolve with them to achieve high-ranking search results. But social search is more than a technology – it’s a technique that will require mastery. How brands learn to manipulate social search will be another fascinating chapter in the evolving story of social media and marketing.
The short and long-term implications of social search highlight why it’s so important for brands to build content rich social media experiences that will increase visibility to searchers -- and that will have a strong presence in future search results where socially integrated experiences may very well become the new standard.