The evolution of Facebook's search engine has once again brought the intersection of social and search into the headlines. Powered by Microsoft and a semantic web vision consisting of Facebook's enormous user base and the open graph protocol, the potential can't be ignored. But while there is plenty of controversy, there is little clarity for online businesses on how to comprehensively optimize their own sites for all of the traffic-driving capabilities that bridge social and search.
How search taps into social
As the chart below illustrates, there is little doubt that social networks have become an important source of traffic for online businesses, requiring specific optimization strategies.
Source: Compete, April 2010.
And while social networks are leveraging their assets to make semantic search a reality, the familiar search engines are also looking at social as the future, evolving their algorithms and structures to incorporate social information
The benefit for online business? Increased traffic. The benefit for people? Greater relevance and a more personalized web. At the end of the day, it's about discovery -- how people find where to go on the web -- and the winning companies will be those that are able to deliver the most relevant, personalized discovery experiences.
So where do social and search intersect today? And how can online businesses use the tools available to socially optimize their own sites for increased traffic? What are the other benefits? Let's take a look.
Channels of traffic for on-site social optimization
Let's begin by looking at the three sources of traffic, or channels of discovery, for which you can socially optimize your site:
- Traditional search
- Social network search
These differ significantly in terms of social influence, search intent, and volume driving potential. The following graphic plots the three types based on those differences (credit goes to Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, for the inspiration):
Feeds are live streams of activity shared on social networks and across the web by someone or something with which the user has a relationship.
Feeds enable passive discovery and facilitate the transfer of information from one to a highly interested and relevant many. The majority of traffic coming to websites from social networks is the result of people clicking on an item they see in their feed -- an item shared by someone with whom they have a relationship.
Feeds as a source of content discovery are characterized by 1) low search intent (the person viewing the items is not necessarily looking for that content or any content in particular; the item was pushed to them) and 2) a high degree of social influence -- meaning that the item is viewed as worthwhile by a person or entity to whom they are connected. Feeds can also drive a large volume of traffic, as noted in the first chart.
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