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Social Search: The Next Big Thing

Kevin M. Ryan
Social Search: The Next Big Thing Kevin M. Ryan

The user's choice of keywords often baffles search marketers. The oddest combination of terms leads to product or service consideration and ultimately a pattern begins to emerge indicating audience behavior.

The search world as defined by keyword selection, and content optimization for natural (a.k.a. organic search) or search engine advertising (a.k.a. paid search) is changing before our eyes. Every search site or agency provides assistance with keyword selection and there are a multitude of tools available from third parties like Wordtracker.

Finding the right combination of cost, content, keywords and messaging is the Holy Grail of search marketing. What if keywords were indicative of communities? What if people like you began to define what relevancy meant? What if keywords began to equal communities and audiences in real time?

Communal search
Social or community search has evolved from early attempts to aggregate search engine results into a one-stop location for searchers to view top results from Google, Yahoo!, MSN and other search sites. The initial idea failed to achieve mass adoption because each aggregator did not provide an answer to the following question: Why should I use one site to see the same top five irrelevant results for the phrase "tea bag?"

The latest attempt to make search a more relevant and ultimately more fulfilling experience for audiences is the social search model. Social or community search often combines the best aspects of aggregated search results from top search destinations and combines them with a communal twist of lime.

Searchers can now view what their neighbors or like-minded individuals think around the world. Independent providers like Eurekster, Rollyo and Collarity are offering new ways to rank sites and deliver search results according to how each audience segment might perceive them.

In short, a whole new way to connect websites to keywords is emerging. The industry is poised to move beyond simple keyword tagging methodologies and popularity ranking systems.

One man's tea time is another man's tee time
The real struggle for connecting the dots between keyword messaging and content lies in the effort to uncover user intent. Going beyond keyword selection and the obvious (sometimes painful) obsession site owners have with constantly monitoring their own site's ranking will take some work, but the initial pieces are already in place.

Keywords may eventually uncover user intent or behavior but current systems require analysis of multiple keyword variations and the eventual scientific guess can be determined.

Search 1: Tea Bag
Search 2: Green Tea
Search 3: Green Tea Health Benefits
Search 4: Healthy Japanese Green Tea

In the search examples above, we uncover the searcher's intent. He wanted to buy some green tea for its health benefits. He visited many sites before returning to the search box and each search brought him a bit closer to what he wanted. His fourth and final search led him to a purchase point.

It is important to remember that four searches leading to a purchase is optimistic. Often users conduct dozens of searches and site visits before initiating and completing the purchase process. Additionally, a different user following the above keyword path may have been looking for a tea appliance.

Our collaborative future
One social search technology is seeking to separate want and desire into a community-based offering. Software and service provider Collarity includes data from major search engines while placing a community emphasis on results.

Collarity has another technology (currently offered in beta) that groups keywords into relevant categories based on audience activity. Keywords are entered into Collarity's discover engine and results for communities are instantly delivered.

Entering the keyword "tea" into the discover box will provide options for website discovery, community discovery or even keyword discovery. Keyword discovery provides immediate insights into user intent with profiles of each segment's search activity and the words they use.

Users can immediately be directed to tea-related appliances, health benefits pages or places to purchase. Other like-minded individuals provide examples of sites visited and relevant categories.

The idea is this tool is simple; by connecting user intent with site visits and evaluations, the process of finding what you desire is much simpler.

Closing the loop
Why haven't big search sites implemented social search technologies? Well, Google Suggest and other related technologies provide keyword suggestions as you type them. However, a sound strategy for targeting consumers currently demands a presence at every keyword level.

In the "tea bag" search example above, an advertiser selling Japanese Green Tea would have to be purchasing each keyword set relating to tea, coffee or anything even remotely relevant to the search process.

The neat little side benefit for search sites is additional ad revenue. Users click more on what they may intend to buy in the absence of what they really seek. Social search functionality such as the one offered by Collarity threatens to dismantle the "buy every keyword to close the loop" strategy.

Instead, users will be offered results relevant to similar audiences thereby closing the loop with less search activity and of course, less ad revenue in the short term.

Old search habits never die; they evolve
While one side argues that inefficient search leads to users discovering brands or products they may not be seeking, the community side will argue that by delivering content like-minded individuals want is a better, more succinct way to connect with a product or service.

The downsides of group mentalities are ever present, but it seems to me that every step toward delivering a better user experience is a positive step in the search evolutionary process.

Make no mistake; social search is the next big thing in search. It may not be the end-all-be-all but the wheels have already been set in motion to help social search change the way we seek and find on the web.

Additional resources:

Buy Japanese Green Tea Online

Kevin Ryan is the Chief Executive Officer of Kinetic Results. Read full bio here.


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