Search Might Not Be Moving Into Social, But Social’s Moving Into SERPs
The intersection of search and social
Bloggers and marketers alike have cast predictions that the wave of the online future would be a more streamlined merging of search and social. Many assumed that Facebook’s next big move would be into the search arena, by launching their own search engine or by bringing in one of the search giants, Google or Bing. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite. Bing has furthered their partnership with Facebook and begun incorporating “Like” data into their search engine result pages (SERPs), and Google has increasingly integrated real time updates within their search results, pulling from Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz. The convergence of search and social is actually occurring within SERPs.
The future of SERPs: A social hub for users
In a sense, social is turning search on its head. Search engines are innately built as an entry point for users to conduct a search, then link to other sites that offer what they’re looking for, clicking away from the search engine. Users don’t live on SERPs; they do, however, go to social networks and stay on those sites for a record-number of hours. Social is changing this, though. The new features Google and Bing have rolled out over the past year suggest search engines are moving in a direction that will encourage users to access them less as an entry point, but more as a social hub where they can conduct all of their online activities–the ultimate “homepage.” With over 500 million active users on Facebook today, Google and Bing are acting on the assumption that the biggest draw for online users is social networking. By offering users a more social search experience, Google and Bing seem to be hoping users might briefly click away to visit Twitter or Facebook, but will start to spend more time on the search engines themselves.
To date, Google and Bing have launched and experimented with numerous social search enhancements, all of which aim at giving users social results directly from the SERPs. Both Google and Bing have developed features to show users content shared by others or their by own social networks, such as Google’s “Shared By” links, which denotes the number of users who have also shared a link, and Bing’s “Liked Results”, which givers users a snapshot of content their friends have “Liked” on Facebook. Features like Google’s Realtime Search offer users a step beyond native tools like Twitter Search (which only dates back one week) for uncovering Twitter conversation threads from beginning to end.
Additionally, we’ve seen an increasing number of advancements toward integrating ratings and recommendations within SERPs. For example, Google’s Place Search automatically highlights reviews from sites like Yelp and CitySearch high on the page, and with social developments like Google Hotpot already seeing integration with Google Maps and Places, it likely won’t be long before users start encountering reviews and recommendations in the form of “Likes,” Shares, RTs and mentions from their social networks interspersed within their search results.
Google and Bing want your social networking hours, too
According to a recent TNS “Digital Life” survey, users spend more hours per week on social than any other online activity. By socializing search, Google and Bing seem to be hoping users will start spending some of their social networking hours on search engines instead of just Twitter and Facebook. In the last year, we’ve seen both search engines optimizing their main homepage and properties (i.e. News, Shopping) to meet a more social user behavior, by making SERPs more interactive, actionable and integrated with users’ social networks.
For example, Bing’s recent integration of Facebook social data into SERPs offers users more actionable pages, such as the ability to “Add as friend” or “Send a message” using Bing’s new Facebook Profile Search. Additionally, Bing has built features into Bing Shopping, allowing users to create a shopping list from Bing and share those products directly with their Facebook Wall with just a couple clicks. Google appears to be cooking up something comparable with their latest social endeavor, Google +1, based on a recent photo leak, illustrating a “Share” option at the top of Google News.
With Google’s and Bing’s tendency to integrate universal search results (e.g. video, maps, social) into SERPs, we will likely begin to see social results from these properties pulled into the main Web results.
Google and Bing: from search engine to discovery engine
Google and Bing are changing the very foundation of search to account for social. Instead of search, many of their recent enhancements have focused on user discovery. In fact, Google’s Marissa Mayer stated last week that the search engine’s focus is shifting to “contexual discovery”–the ability to find results you’re interested in without having to actually search.
Traditionally, users have gone to search engines to search. When it comes to social media, however, users typically visit Facebook and Twitter to discover information about their friends or content that their friends recommend, not to search for friends or content. The social stream (e.g. Facebook’s News feed and Twitter’s Timeline) is a discovery-based feature that users spend a great deal of time on to uncover information they’ve custom designed and filtered, so as to provide the information they find most interesting to them. Google, especially, realizes that users want information to be preselected for them–more so than having to search for it. Hence, their move to become more than a search engine, but a discovery engine, as well. Google and Bing have realized that a big part of achieving this will require using social context to appeal to user interest and social networking behavior.
Social search, its business potential
By creating a socialized search experience and encouraging greater user engagement and interaction within SERPs, Google and Bing are clearly looking to get users to spend more time on search engines. Other than adapting to the growing movement toward a more social Web, what might be their business incentive (aside from growing search market share)? Share your thoughts with us!