Social search & the future of SEO: Insights from Bing at #SESNY

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by Brafton Editorial
How does social fit into the worlds of SEO and search? Bing's Duane Forrester and Catalysts' Dan Cristo highlighted the major changes in the industry at SES NY.

Social search is a serious topic of discussion. The SEO world, and search in general, has moved away from link building as a stand-alone practice, and many online marketers see the future in Page Likes, Retweets, +1s, pins and Channel subscriptions. At SES New York, Bing’s Duane Forrester talked about search engine’s continued efforts to reward sites for creating great user experiences – through content marketing and intuitive user designs. In the same session, Dan Cristo, director of SEO innovation at Catalyst, spoke about how social cues and interactions influence online behavior directly and indirectly. He highlighted some notes on the impact Google+ members searching the web for content – a subject Bing steered clear of.

Fueling Google+ (and other networks) with fresh, quality content is a critical first step to leveraging the network for search visibility. “It’s not just shared content, though,” Cristo noted. “It’s the actions and interactions you and your social connections make with web content that determine SEO value and page results.”

How Google+ can impact Google SEO … and beyond

SEO boils down to two things: Relevancy and trust.

He reported that SEO boils down to two things: Relevancy and trust. Why do social cues and recommendations matter so much to search engines? Cristo hypothesized it’s because certain queries just cannot be answered by the web – no matter how intelligent crawlers and developers get. But these questions CAN be solved by friends and family. For example, consider the query, “Who should I vote for?” The web can offer a bevy of results suggesting who Cristo can vote for (no matter the election), but his social connections likely have similar views on politics, and can point him toward the right direction. If these people have made their own leanings clear online, that’s where search engines come into play – technology allows the categorization of data based around these interactions.

He referenced a quote from ex-Googler Eric Schmidt:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top verified results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

Cristo said, “Every strategy has three distinct elements: Goals, Objectives and Tactics.” All of this hinges on a website’s ability to create high-quality content – brands have a responsibility to produce content that engages their audiences. This will inherently boost website conversions, and subsequent interactions and social shares will tell marketers MORE about their customers.

On to insights from Bing!
Everyone knows social is important, but HOW important?

Bing’s Senior Program Manager Duane Forrester expanded on the value of social listening and how it plays into search. He compared today’s social SEO market to that of traditional SEO ten years ago. Metadata, title tags, etc. were once the gold standard of SEO, but now they’re the base line. The reality: If there is a big collection of people talking about a person, search engines are drawn to the person or site to try and understand what all the fuss is about. Unfortunately, the technology to truly hone in on these conversations and chatter remains in infancy.

Forrester covered some statistics that showed how imperfect search is today:

  • Imprecise results – one in four searches delivers successful results.
  • Refinements – forty-two percent of sessions require refinements.
  • Lengthy tasks – forty-four percent of page sessions last a day or more.

“We want to showcase the things that interest people. Is your voice in demand?” – Bing’s Duane Forrester

Keyword research tip: 

Forrester paused, and focused on the term “sessions.” He asked, “How many of you focus on queries, and not sessions?” Many SES NY attendees raised their hands. He continued, “A query is a single action, but a session is a collection of related actions that take place over time.” Sessions help brands uncover search behavior patterns and highlight points that compel internet users to convert.

“As social media influences sessions, brands begin to understand more about their customer base – who they thought were their customers, might actually be inaccurate.”

It’s essential for web marketers to evaluate a variety of data throughout social listening, especially in conjunction with SEO and search. Review semantic search trends, research patterns and consumer personas. The more companies know about their prospects, the better they’ll do long term…obviously.

Real relationships for social search

Search has changed, and so have internet users. New devices demand different search experiences and make community connections around SERPs easier, even on the go. Brands must consider voice, picture, gesture and sound display – as well as connections with constantly searching audiences that can bring them closer to top of results on smaller screens. Bing and Google continue to build a universal world of search, and companies must immerse themselves in the culture because the ROI and benefits are really real – but only when the connections are meaningful.

Companies must immerse themselves in the culture of SEO and search because the ROI and benefits are really real – but only when the connections are meaningful.

“Autofollow is not your friend,” he said. When Bing sees that a user is “following” thousands of accounts, it doesn’t give the impression that a person is actively consuming and engaging responses from the followed accounts. On the other hand, those who have a lot of followers reveal in-demand voices. Instead of trying to artificially create a high-volume of contacts, nurture real relationships to build a following.

While Forrester suggested that Twitter data is not a direct ranking signal, Bing works with third parties for more social data to determine people’s intentions.

Forrester outlines why social matters for search:

  • Signal of topical authority.
  • Real-time engines want fresh content, fast.
  •  Integrated social signals influence click actions.
  • Social signals remain only a few thousands of signals for organic ranking.
‘Social is all about the psychology of human beings’

Every online marketer understands quality content is essential, but Forrester challenges this notion just a bit. “If there’s not a good user experience or social campaign to amplify reach and compel people to share, the media won’t float to the top of SERPs.”

How does Forrester advise listeners on creating a better search experience? “Take money out of SEO, paid search, and put it toward usability testing.” He continued, “If you really want to attract search engines, amaze your customers with quality content.” This content must inspire social chatter, and to better understand what drives more conversation, a company’s social team must be connected to various departments, so insights can fuel results.

He advised marketers that personas are a great way to personalize content. “People are actual human beings – not just ‘users.’”

‘Content: It’s what people search for’

Forrester reminded marketers that great content is what SEO is really all about. It’s the glue that drives relationships for social influence on the web.

“Is your content quality? You don’t know – that’s up to your audiences,” he said. Quality standards are something marketers can work toward. Attempt to put good, editorial, polished information and ideas out there – but people decide what quality is, and search engines follow what people want.

People decide what quality is, and search engines follow what people want.

Forrester capped his session by talking about the importance of share of voice over keyword reports. SOV shows continuous growth, and it paints a more realistic picture of search and social ROI. If a professional works hard to make it to the first page of SERPs for a specific keyword, that’s great – but the only place to go from there is down. Companies must advance how they measure their web presences’ success to show long-term results.

What’s the deal with social and search?

Social listening can be a shallow practice. Companies may hear what their customers say online, but they rarely respond effectively. More, brands often overlook how to leverage what they pick up on Twitter and Facebook. Cristo and Forrester both presented cases of why social will become an even greater asset for companies, and it all relates back to the user experience.

Quality content is the cornerstone for your internet marketing agenda, but don’t stop with written-text – social media and other engaging information are all part of the content experience that amplifies branded products and missions.

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