by Mike Phillips
Google’s days of dominance may be drawing
to a close. Attacks are coming from all
sides — Microsoft launched Bing, WolframAlpha
promises an entirely new kind
of search, Yahoo!’s innovating at a feverish
pace, and even Mapquest reinvigorated
its battle with Google Maps with an iPhone
app. But perhaps the biggest threat to
Google — and search overall — is the
meteoric rise of social media.
Earlier this year, for the first time in history,
Facebook overtook one of the major
search engines in terms of unique visitors.
And it won’t stop there. According to Compete.
com, Facebook’s traffic is up more than
250 percent this year, with about 113 million
visitors in May 2009. That’s only 20 million
visits behind Yahoo! and 30 million behind
Google, whose traffic grew 2.7 percent and
7.5 percent in May, respectively. And Twitter
has grown over 1,000 percent in the past year,
with its traffic totals coming within 9 million
visits of Ask.com.
Users are beginning to make more meaningful
connections on the Web, and rely on
those connections for their informational
needs. Search is no longer the only means to
locate relevant information online. While the
three search giants are constantly finding
ways to tailor results to the individual user,
those same people have the option to simply
tap their network to find exactly what they
need. Businesses and people can be found with
a simple search on Facebook, where much more
information is available than in a Google search.
Recent Facebook usernames make this process
even easier. What’s more, the “results” on Facebook
are much more interactive and entertaining
than a standard search engine results page.
Twitter is an interesting phenomenon.
While the majority of Twitter users and their
followers are complete strangers, the information
shared is hyper-targeted. You can follow
just about any topic you want and what you'll
get in return is timely information explicitly
tied to that topic. Both media and many businesses
choose Twitter as a channel to break
news. Search a topic by hashtag on Twitter and
you will see the most recent news available —
often sooner than on major news websites. And
with the impending release of an advanced
Twitter search function, you can see a new way
for people to find information, and a legitimate
threat to the big three.
What does all this mean to the
Every serious business should have a presence
on social networks. All of these connections between
users, businesses, even topics and ideas
can be likened to a form of semantic search. Or,
Businesses need to make their connections
meaningful. On Facebook, the information
presented and shared needs to be relevant to
the industry. For example, a local car dealership
should stay away from posting a video on
their wall about the latest American Idol winner
just because they think it will bring visits.
That doesn’t hold relevance to the brand, the
audience or the industry.
When following others on Twitter, those
connections need to be relevant to your industry,
brand or ideas. It gives you the best
chance to be seen by your target audience, and
to make the most meaningful connections
with other businesses and consumers.
Many might argue that the more connections,
friends and followers you have, the better.
And that might be true for total visits in the
short-term. But as users begin to use these networks
as information portals and as search
evolves to include the semantics of connections
and their shared, relevant information,
positioning your business as a valued member
of that community, and as a provider of that
information will set you up for success in the
evolving world of the Web.
Finally, let’s not forget that just about everything
on the Web is capable of being indexed.
Search giants are not going away and users will
continue to use them. But they will be forced
to include results from social networks. Just
like Page Rank and incoming links provide authority
on Google, a user’s meaningful connections
and relevance to the topic will
undoubtedly be taken into account in the future.
Keep this in mind when employing your
social media strategy. Use relevant keywords
on your Facebook wall and Twitter updates.
When you shrink links, use services like cli.gs
or bit.ly that allow you to modify the link to
include a keyword or two. And use images and
videos to provide multiple points of interest in
Social media is not just fun and games. It’s
turning into serious business. And it’s a part of
your business whether you like it or not. Don’t
just get involved; use strategies, and all the
lessons you learned on the Web.
Is saying "Hello to Social" merely a theoretical concept? Senior Editor Mike Phillips
conducted a social experiment and created @ChicagoHotDog on Twitter. A few weeks
and hundreds of hot-dog-loving followers later, the Twitter handle is highly active
generating targeted clicks and even a respectable position on Bing.com. Search
WebsiteMagazine.com for "Chicago Hot Dog" to learn more about the project.