A beginners guide to: Social Search (part 1)

In my last post, I introduced you to personalised search. In the second of this series of articles, aimed at helping you understand the latest developments in search, and what they mean for your digital marketing efforts, I’m turning my attention to social search.

What is social search?

Google’s social search feature allows you to see search results from friends and others in your social circle, as determined by your network of contacts. Social search helps you find content created and shared by people you know and trust.

For example, if you searched for a particular hotel, reviews written by your social contacts may appear more prominently in your search results, assuming they have stayed at the hotel in question and written a review about it. This information is then included in your search results allowing you to read reviews from people you trust. In turn you can make a more informed decision on whether to book at the hotel based on this information.

In order for social search results to show up you must be logged into your Google account. Once logged in you will see these results appear at the bottom of the search results page, in a section labeled’ “Results from people in your social circle for name” as shown in the example below:

As you have to be logged into your Google account to use social search the results are custom tailored to individuals, therefore no one but you will see your social search results because those results are presented according to your network of friends, colleagues and contacts.

However, people connected to your contacts (that you may not actually know or be connected to directly) may show in your search social results, since Google assumes a connection of sorts.

So now you’re probably wondering how Google determines your social circle is in order to produce relevant results from only people you know. Well, people who make up your social circle are gathered from:

  • People you’re connected to through social services that you’ve listed in your Google Profile, such as Twitter and FriendFeed
  • People in your Gmail contact groups and Google Talk chat lists
  • Websites you have subscribed to in your Google Reader account

Therefore, social search makes it easier to find relevant, public content from your social circle, such as the following:

  • Websites, blogs, public profiles, and other content linked from your friends’ Google profiles
  • Web content, such as status updates, tweets, and reviews, from social services that your friends have listed in their Google profiles
  • Relevant articles from your Google Reader subscriptions

Why has social search been introduced?

The aim of Google social search is to help you find more relevant content from your broader social circle. So with the new social search feature Google has taken further steps to improve the relevance of search results for individual users. Our results are already increasingly being tailored thanks to the recent universal roll-out of personalised search but social search means we can also opt-in for them to be tailored still further.

The introduction of social search also has to be considered in terms of the broader changes in online behaviour we have witnessed in recent years. In buying products, services, booking holidays, restaurants, choosing a local dentist and just about anything else that involves parting with cold, hard cash, web users look for recommendations, referrals and reviews to aid them in their decision to purchase. And in doing so, who’s word do we trust more than anybody else? The people we know of course. So Google is extending the familiar features of websites such as Trip Advisor, where customer reviews, often from people we do not know, dictate our decision to book a hotel…or not as the case may be.  But instead of relying on reviews from people we may not know from Adam, social search allows us to see information from people we are likely to share more in common with and therefore who’s word we trust. Clever eh?

In Part 2, I’ll be looking at the impact this has on your digital marketing efforts. Until then…

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