In December, Google began including real-time search results from popular social networking sites in with its regular results. In much the same way as it includes image, video, blog, and news results in a "Universal Search" result, tweets, notices, and status posts from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other sites are now streaming alongside Google's regular search results almost immediately after they are posted.
Being that this real-time search capability is a first among the big three search engines, Google's announcement caused an instant sensation. Google envisions real-time results as displaying not only breaking news but also local information such as traffic alerts, the latest movie reviews, or any other topic that is deemed to be "hot" with social media users. But, it has much larger implications for search marketers because it is likely to affect search results even in sectors not traditionally associated with "breaking news." For example, it is especially relevant to brands that have a social presence because a search of a company's brand name will now likely turn up the last tweet or posting about that company as the No. 1 organic result. That means online reputation management has become especially important these days.
At the same time, fears that the new real-time results will drive regular search results further down the page (having an obvious impact on SEO efforts) so far appear to be unwarranted; based on preliminary tests, it looks like real-time results would only appear in the top spot in a minority of cases in which they are maximally relevant for the search query.
In any case, marketers should not look at this change to the SEO landscape as a complete negative. Instead, they should embrace it as an opportunity to attract new traffic -- particularly for sites that specialize in content that is likely to appear as a trending topic. To be sure, in the past promoting content on social networking sites reached only the users on these sites. It now has a greatly expanded audience, as any Google user can now see this content without being a member of Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site.
To take advantage of the new real-time search results -- and minimize any potential negatives -- here are four fundamental steps for marketers:
- Keep positive messages about your brand or products alive in the online news media. Issue frequent press releases with positive news about your company and create positive viral content related to your brand or product that has the potential to be mentioned frequently on popular social networking sites and even featured in news stories.
- Be active on sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, and Identi.ca. Create positive messages about your brand or products in the online social media sites likely to appear in Google results. Promote positive news stories published on mainstream news sites that result from your press releases or viral content promotions, as well as positive viral content that you created yourself.
- Maintain an active presence in social networking and microblogging sites. Cultivate relationships and interact with influential users to enlist their help in spreading your positive message. In addition, be responsive to both positive and negative mentions of your brand or product to mitigate any negative press that may occur. (Note: This is not a job for an intern. Ensure you are represented on these sites by a professional with social media and public relations savvy.)
- Closely monitor news and real-time buzz sites for mentions of your brand or product so you can react if necessary. That means setting up accounts with Google Alerts, Yahoo Keyword News Alert, and Twitter Alerts and following them.
We don't yet know all there is to know about how the new real-time results will impact Google in vital areas like ranking factors and search users' behavior, but one thing is clear: Brands can no longer afford to leave social media out of a comprehensive marketing program. Google's real-time results simply provide you with the reason to get started.
Adam Riff is GM, search, at MediaWhiz.
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