Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Circling the wagons. Can Google+ out-connect Facebook?

The Google vs. Facebook battle just got a little hotter. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has announced the introduction of Google+, their newest (and hopefully better than Buzz or Orkut) foray into the world of connections among friends. Or in this case, “circles" of user groups.

But according to Mr. Schmidt, this latest introduction is not an attempt to compete directly with Facebook. "Our social strategy is to take our current products, get users to give us social information and make our current products better," said executive chairman Eric Schmidt, talking to journalists at the Cannes ad festival.

It is obvious that the bigger opportunity for Google here is to harness the data about human connections generated by the social web and apply that to search and even display advertising.

Grouping your connections into "circles".
Google+ is different from Facebook in that you organize your friends into groups, such as family, work, friends, etc. This can be an advantage over Facebook if you want to share work-related information that your friends or family would not have an interest in seeing. Or if you want to share photos of a more personal nature that you don’t want your business colleagues to see.
Another difference with Google is that there are no friend requests. People do not need to agree to be friends with one another and can view updates without sharing their own.

Google + breaks down the Facebook data walls.
Even though search engines now crawl Facebook for links, the data about users and friends inside Facebook is not accessible to outside companies. Google+ could be a huge deal for Google if people are willing to participate in their network. Google+ will give Google a place for users to create their own content but will be searchable and information rich for Google. And you can bet they will monetize that data.

No one is talking about the impact of Google+ on advertising. Yet.
Google executives declined to say how Google+ will affect their advertising offerings, but as people spend more time inside controlled environments such as Facebook and mobile apps, Google loses its power to search and monetize that walled-off content. Google did confirm that +1, an icon launched recently as a counterpoint to Facebook Likes is integrated into Google+. Since +1 will be used as a tool to improve ad targeting, it seems safe to assume that Google+ will be used as a major part of their future advertising strategy, if it succeeds.

Google execs say more information will improve usability of all Google products.
Google executives said that getting social information on their users will improve Google products across the board -- by allowing personalization. Most of Google's most popular products such as search, maps and YouTube do not require a login, which limits what Google knows about its users.

Google+ may have more impact on mobile than social networks.
"It would take a seismic shift for people to take their social stuff to Google," said Deep Focus CEO and founder Ian Schafer, who said that the real earth-shattering use for Google+ is in mobile, not social networking. "The biggest implication for Google+ is mobile," Mr. Schafer said. "For example, for people to be creating content wherever people are and using that to deliver messages to them and close the loop on sales. The promise of Google+ is closing the loop on social CRM."
For advertisers and brands, the potential impact of Google+ is huge. "A connection made with a brand in Google+ can eventually be tracked to a purchase," Mr. Schafer said. "If we can create relevant brand engagements with people and give them an ability to purchase the product at a later date -- whether that's three, six or 18 months later -- this brings us back to social ROI."

I like the idea of being able to control my shared content to selected groups, but I’m not sure I want to stop using Facebook. So, to me, the real challenge for Google+ will be whether people will want to devote more time to sharing given the current time-compressed world we live in. It will be interesting to watch.

What do you think? Is this a brilliant strategy for Google, or will it fall flat?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Social Search is the new SEO buzzword.

Facebook has just announced they have over 700 million users, and this makes them significantly larger than Google as the most popular site in the United States. Google search is now estimated at 250 to 400 million search a day, but did you know that Facebook serves over 150 million search queries a day?

Twitter execs recently reported they their search function is now handling an average of 1.6 billion queries per day, and they recently upgraded with an improved search infrastructure with the aim of making the results as personally relevant as possible. “Our ranking function accesses the social graph and uses knowledge about the relationship between the searcher and the author of a Tweet during ranking,” the company explained. This means that Twitter’s search index will now incorporate dynamic information such as information about the searcher and how users’ interact with tweets.

Search engines have been forced to respond to the tremendous growth of social media. As the demand for real-time search results increased, it became clear that users would no longer be constrained by the limitations of search engines, which have to index sites on the Web before displaying them on their results pages. In December 2009, Google introduced real-time search, which incorporates news results and Twitter updates into search results.

Google's universal search (which displays content from YouTube and other networks) is another way social media content has been brought into search results.

Apart from the incorporation of social media content into search results, social networking sites affect search engine rankings in other ways. On his blog, search marketing guru Danny Sullivan recently posted some interesting answers from Google and Bing on how they are addressing this subject. He reminds us that:
  • Both search engines count referencing of a given piece of content via Twitter as an indicator of authority (apart from the links coming from those references).
  • Both search engines attempt to compute the authority and quality of an author and give that author's tweets preferential treatment.
  • Both track links shared within Facebook.
The emergence of social media as it relates to search results means that an article that a couple years ago generated 50 links might today generate 10 links and 300 mentions on Twitter and Facebook.

Now that Facebook has opened up their pages to be crawled and indexed, you should be looking for new ways to use social media to influence search results on Facebook and Twitter.

Ten years ago, SEO professionals told us that improved organic rankings were all about optimizing page-level elements -- keyword frequency, title tags, and the relevance (and inclusion of those keywords) in on-page copy. Five years ago, Google significantly altered the algorithm so SEO strategists added the importance of relevant inbound links that pointed to your website to their sales story.

Those things are still important today, but organic SEO results these days requires a well-designed and optimized website plus relevant inbound links and a strong presence across multiple sites on the Web.

That’s where social media has become so important to the search equation. A/B copy testing by several groups, including SEOmoz, have shown that the cumulative reach of Twitter can far out perform multiple inbound links. If you are not using social media to complement your search straegy, you are missing a great opportunity. A good search strategy is enhanced by the relevance and broadscale reach of your content, and that makes social media a major indicator of relevance to search spiders.

So how do your clients take advantage of the convergence of social media and search for their business?

Here are four things they can do right now:
1. They should market their content across as many of the major social media outlets as make sense and are likely to be frequented by their target group. The major search engines now factor in how many times their content is shared among Facebook users and retweets among Twitter users. The search engines assign a higher value of importance to a piece of content that is shared by multiple readers. So you need to encourage your clients to broadcast their content on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites that can reach their customers and prospects?

2. They should look for niche sites or bloggers that target the same audience as their prospects. The more places they can find to expose their content and build their web presence, the greater the opportunity for search spiders to find them and assign a higher PageRank. And they should always encourage the readers of their content to pass it along to other interested parties. If they can build a network of engaged followers on these social media sites, they will move up in the search rankings and stand a better chance of being found when someone searches for a keyword that includes their content. Be sure they have links to their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (if they serve B2B customers) pages on your website. Make sure you are helping your clients understand that they should also let their customers know they can engage with the brand via social media.

3. Encourage your clients to start testing Facebook’s PPC as an alternative and/or complement to Google pay-per-click. The Self-Serve Facebook Ad Tool allows you a lot of opportunity to test alternative visuals, headline and body copy. Use analytics and attribution to determine the effect of the impact on organic search traffic and continue to test until you find the best combination of ad message and targeting.

4. Keep a close eye on the progress of Promoted Tweets as Twitter continues to make strategic acquisitions to boost its advertising technology. The recent addition of AdGrok (similar in concept to Google's AdWords) and the purchase last year of Smallthought Systems, maker of a cloud-hosted Web analytics application, could finally give Twitter a legitimate revenue tool to create a self-sustaining business. Analytics software is critical to evaluate the efficacy of online advertising campaigns and make adjustments accordingly.

Both search and social media are here to stay, and the ever-increasing interdependence between these channels should be seen as an opportunity in any business category. The strategic use of both channels can result in increased marketing effectiveness, and now is the time to take the lead in getting your clients on board.