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Search gets social – integrating updates from online connections into search results

In late 2009 Microsoft fired the first silo in the battle to make search more social by announcing deals with both Twitter and Facebook to include realtime status updates in its Bing search results. Google followed suit by announcing a similar deal with Twitter for its own real-time search, and by introducing a feature it called ‘Social Search’ into its main web-search offering.

What does social integration into search mean for search marketers?

On the surface, having recommendations from a search user’s online social connections appear in the standard web SERPS may seem like bad news from a search marketer’s perspective. It means that there is yet more content competing for those limited spaces on the first page of the SERPS for any given search term. Then again, if you are creating compelling, useful and… That word again… relevant content for your target audience, the stuff that is being recommended in those social search results could easily be yours.

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The Knowledge Graph and conversational search

The Knowledge Graph was officially launched in May 2012, and has significantly changed the SERPs and the way that users process and digest information. It displays information in entities rather than on a query level. Google understands that when you search for ‘Brad Pitt’, for example, you could be looking for information about his past or upcoming films, his biography, or his date of birth, so it shows you all this information based on what it determines is your intent.

Looking forward

Both the increasingly widespread adoption of high-speed internet access in the home, and the ever-increasing capability and market penetration of mobile digital devices, are opening up a slew of new digital media opportunities for marketers the world over. The rise of social networking sites, and the wordof-mouth and viral marketing opportunities that they offer, may in time dilute the prominence of SEO and paid search advertising in the digital marketing mix.

Likewise, as ever-increasing numbers of web users develop a ‘feel’ for where they need to go to find the things that they want online, or access branded content directly on the move through dedicated smartphone applications, they are likely to rely less on search for certain things.

As the ways that we interact with the web change, though, search engines are developing to move beyond strings of text typed into little boxes. We reveal so much about ourselves through online search, and Google is increasingly using our data to become less reactive, less keyword driven, and instead to be able to anticipate our needs before we are even aware of them. Search is becoming smarter, more conversational, and more context-aware.

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Last word

While the significance of search may wane for a proportion of people and for certain applications over time, given its current level of importance for both internet users and digital marketers, the propensity of major search engines to innovate and adapt, and the fact that new people are going online and discovering the value of search engines every day, search looks certain to remain a cornerstone of digital marketing for some time to come.

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