In December, Google began including real time search results from popular social networking websites Facebook, Identi.ca, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku and Twitter in with regular results. In much the same way as they include results from image search, video search, blog search and news search into a universal search result, tweets, notices and status posts began streaming alongside Google’s regular search results almost immediately after they were posted. Yahoo also displays results from Twitter, but there is a substantial delay between posting and display.
Social search capability is especially relevant to brands that have a social presence. When a user searches a company’s brand name, they will likely encounter the last tweet about that company as the No. 1 organic result. That makes online reputation management paramount.
The most obvious effect of these added results is to drive regular search results further down the page which has an impact on SEO efforts. Current queries show the real time results appearing in varied places on the search engine results page. However, based on preliminary tests, these results would only appear in top spots where they are maximally relevant for the search querym so this is unlikely in most cases.
Although there may be potential negatives behind this change in the SEO landscape, there are also opportunities for attracting new traffic through these results, particularly for Web sites that specialize in content that is likely to appear as a trending topic. In the past, promoting content on social networking sites reached only the users on these sites. It now has an expanded audience as any Google user can now see this content without being a member of Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site.
At present, it is unclear precisely how Google chooses which terms will display the real time search results. Industrious social media power users were already working hard in an attempt to game the system right after Google’s announcement, but there was little indication that they were achieving any success. Our preliminary observations show that, for the most part, any post that is relevant to the search term will appear in the real time search box but only if there is one. What triggers the appearance of the real time search box in the results is still not clear. It has been suggested that there is some threshold of activity that must be met but it is also apparent that there are filters that prevent artificial trending topics from appearing. Possibly, there must also be an accompanying “buzz” on other news sites to corroborate the trending topic.
As these new results become more prevalent in Google search results, we will be monitoring their impact on the nature of these results with respect to ranking factors and in particular, how they affect searcher behavior.
No matter what the outcome may be, it is clear that social media can no longer be ignored in a comprehensive marketing program. Creating a social media presence for your brand to cushion any impact of ranking reductions and take advantage of the new opportunities afforded by real time search should be part of the plan now.