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:
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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