Participatory Search: Bing’s Social Search Enhancements & Advertiser Implications

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Participatory Search: Bing’s Social Search Enhancements & Advertiser Implications


Bing threw the latest punch this week in its ongoing battle against Google to socialize search.  On Bing, searchers who sync their Facebook accounts can now see personalized search results based on their friends’ opinions.  Bing’s enhancements—which come on the heels of Google’s launch of the +1 Button—showcase Microsoft’s powerful partnership with Facebook.  Bing’s search engine results page (SERP) now highlights “Liked” results from people in the searcher’s Facebook network.  For instance, the below search for “Threadless” shows that three of the searcher’s friends “Like” Threadless:

ScreenHunter_05 May. 17 11.04 
Bing is also using “Likes” as a ranking signal for natural search results, pushing sites “Liked” by the searcher’s friends higher in the natural results.  Thus, each searcher can see different, highly-personalized results.  Even if a searcher doesn’t have friends who have “Liked” results for a particular query, Bing will surface collective Facebook opinions from the entire Web.  Other enhancements include the Bing Travel Wish List, which allows people to compare trips with Facebook friends; and Shared Shopping Lists, which allow people to build, compare and discuss shopping lists with Facebook friends.


Both Bing and Google have been squarely focused on socializing the SERP to make it more relevant.  When a searcher sees that other searchers—particularly their friends—have “Liked” a certain result, that result is perceived as more relevant and will garner more clicks.  Everyday, people are exposed to an overwhelming flow of advertisements.  The social SERP is unique in that it allows searchers to break through the clutter.  Highly-relevant search results—those recommended by friends—float to the top and stand out with friends’ pictures and the Facebook “thumb” symbol.  It’s easier for a searcher to find exactly what he’s looking for with some help from his friends. 

Bing’s enhancements continue the trend of giving searchers more influence over a brand’s SERP goodwill.  Brand owners still control their paid search ads and can optimize their sites to rank well in natural search, but participants—by “Liking” certain pages—are now influencing whether a result gets clicked.  For a brand to create the ideal SERP, it must understand that it needs its customers’ help.  An ideal SERP is the result of a mutual investment between the brand and its customers.  To get more “Likes” and subsequently more Bing visibility, brand owners must encourage participants to not only buy their brands, but join their brands.

Strategies for Encouraging Participation

The key to influencing Bing’s social SERP is encouraging participation at the source—on Facebook or with the “Like” button associated with your own content.  The more people who “Like” your brand or content, the more likely Bing searchers will see the Facebook-enhanced results.  Advertisers should:

  1. Encourage Sharing: Whether it’s a blog post, video, Facebook post, promotion, or email blast, ensure that the content is available to be shared.  Persuade the activity by making the process easy (include the Facebook “Like” button within the content).  Be sure to place the “Like” button in a relevant position—don’t place it at the top of the content; instead, place it at the end, guaranteeing that the visitor has read or enjoyed the content first.
  2. Create Likable, Sharable Content: People will “Like” content such as coupons, deals, contests, polls, humorous videos or informative articles.  These “Likes” will help propel your highly-sharable content to the top of the Bing SERPs.
  3. Organize Participants: Use methods such as Facebook Engagement Ads to encourage participants to “Like” your Facebook Page.  Brands can not only gain fans directly through Facebook Ads, but they can also gain fans indirectly; many Facebook users will be influenced to “Like” a brand once they see that a friend has “Liked” that brand. 
  4. Focus Reach and Attention on Influencers & Advocates: While you may garner thousands of fans, only a handful will be brand influencers.  Pay special attention to fans that spread the word, link to your content, and comment on posts.  The more personal attention they’re given from a big brand, the more likely they’ll continue sharing, commenting on, and linking to your content.
  5. Create Two-Way Conversations: Don’t merely listen, and don’t merely thank participants or answer their questions.  Use the information your participants provide to guide business opportunities and growth.  If several customers are suggesting a service you could add or a product you could improve, consider their advice.  They’re more likely to “Like” your brand if you’re paying attention to—and considering—their feedback. 


Of course, Bing is relying on users to sync their Facebook and Bing accounts so that they can see Facebook-enhanced results.  Many users may have privacy concerns, and some may want control over exactly what they share out to the SERP.  But if privacy concerns can be allayed, the social SERP will catapult search to a whole new level.   For instance, people could actively share gift ideas, shopping lists and purchases through Bing Shopping with Facebook friends, and this sharing could influence search results.  And Bing—with its Facebook partnership—is well positioned against Google in social search.  Unlike Bing, Google has been unable to take advantage of Facebook’s wealth of data and user information.  Google’s +1 Button requires users to adopt a new button, while—in Bing’s case—users have already adopted the “Like” button, in droves. 

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