Performics POV: Microsoft/Facebook Social Search Implications & Opportunities

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Performics POV: Microsoft/Facebook Social Search Implications & Opportunities

Microsoft and Facebook recently announced a new partnership that brings “liked by your friends” results to the Bing search engine results page (SERP).  Bing searchers will see search results based on what sites their friends have liked via the Facebook “Like” button.   For instance, if a user searchers for a car model, they’ll see the regular search results for that car, as well as a “liked by your friends” section on the top of the SERP.  This section has links to sites the searcher’s friends have liked, as well as those friends’ Facebook profile photos.  Thus, Bing is giving search a layer of qualitative community sentiment on top of its quantitative algorithm.

Users will be asked if they want to link their Facebook account to Bing before integration is enabled and users can also disable the feature at any time.  This voluntary sharing should ease privacy concerns.  Data will also only be shared from Facebook to Bing, not vice versa; so a searcher’s Facebook friends won’t see what that searcher is searching for on Bing. 

Search Implications

Bing search results can now be personalized for the searcher, and those personalized social results now show on the top of the SERP.  This could have big implications for SEO.  For example, if a searcher queries “pizzas in Chicago” and one of the searcher’s friends “Liked” a certain pizza restaurant, that restaurant will show at the top of the SERP—seemingly without any natural search optimization.  And that pizza restaurant could be a small business jumping ahead of a big brand with a large search marketing budget.  However, scale may be a problem.  For instance, there are many reasons why the “Liked” pizza restaurant may not show on the SERP, such as:

  • All the searcher’s friends have privacy settings in place without Bing-Facebook integration
  • The searcher would likely have to have a high number of Facebook friends—including a high number with the propensity to click “Like” buttons—to get a representative sample large enough to influence a Bing search, especially for generic terms
  • On the other hand, size of friend networks could dilute results, especially if friends have the propensity to “Like” many pizza places for a variety of reasons (i.e. Papa John’s runs a basketball promotion or Domino’s has a funny commercial).  It’s uncertain where the pizza place would rank if the searcher’s friends have liked many pizza places.

And even if the “Liked” pizza restaurant does show on the SERP, it may not always be in the best interest of the pizza place.  For instance, if a searcher sees that one of their friends—who they know happens to have horrible taste in food—liked the pizza place, that searcher could go out of their way not to eat there.  In other words, not everybody likes what their friends like, especially if they have a large network of friends.

Search Opportunities

The big SEO opportunity—especially if Facebook and Google reach a similar agreement—is to get as many “Likes” for your product/service pages as possible.  This means adopting the “Like” button on your pages, as well as encouraging your customers to “Like” your products, perhaps by offering incentives.  Brands need to add Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol tags to their site to incorporate the “Like” button (or other Social Plug-ins) into their Web pages. 

It also means that a brand’s social reputation has yet another outlet on the SERP.  We’ve seen social conversations make their way to the SERP with Google real-time search.  Now “Likes” are on the SERP and the line between search and social continues to blur.  Because of social’s influence on search, a brand’s search team must coordinate with the social media team to build social communities, create brand advocates and monitor social reputation.  These communities, advocates and reputations don’t exist in a vacuum. 

At this time, we don’t feel that Bing has enough data to display “liked by your friends” results for many searches.  The success of the feature will depend on:

  1. Searcher adoption and comfort with the Bing-Facebook integration functionality
  2. Web sites’ adoption of the “Like” button
  3. Web users’ propensity to click the “Like” button

We do, however, believe that searches that display “liked by your friends” results are extremely valuable—perhaps even more powerful than Google product or seller reviews—because social media has the power to sway decisions, especially as searchers conduct product research.  Bing’s creation of a search network of people that the searcher knows and has things in common with can help the searcher make purchase decisions.  “Liked by your friends” results will probably get more click-through; however some of these clicks may be unqualified out of curiosity of what a friend likes, especially the first few times a searcher sees these new results.

If the Bing-Facebook feature scales, it could be a game-changer.  Because Google and Microsoft are in a constant innovation race, scale is possible.  Bing currently only has 30% of the market, but if Facebook integrates with Google, distribution of the “liked by your friends” feature will be much wider.  At Performics, we’ll pay close attention to natural search traffic on Bing over the coming weeks to see if the Bing-Facebook integration is influencing traffic volume.

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