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Google's Search Results Get More Social; Twitter As The New Facebook "Like"

google-social-logosYour friends’ activity on Twitter, Flickr and elsewhere — but for now, not Facebook — will soon be a lot more visible in Google’s search results, including having an impact on how pages rank. Google has announced an expansion of its Google Social Search results that’s beginning to roll out today on Google.com. Here’s a look at what’s new:

Social Search Blended Into “Regular” Results

Prior to today’s announcement, Social Search results — which Google introduced in October 2009 — only appeared at the bottom of a search results page or after clicking the “Social” filter in the left-side column. Now, you might see them mixed anywhere in the search results.

For example, if you’re connected to Google’s Matt Cutts and do a search for “climbing kilimanjaro,” you might see a blog post that he shared through a service like Twitter or Google Buzz quite high on page one.


Social Connections May Boost Pages

In some cases, Google will simply be annotating results with a social search indicator, says Google’s Mike Cassidy, Product Management Director for Search. Google’s traditional ranking algorithms will determine where a listing should appear, but the listing may be enhanced to reflect any social element to it.

In other cases, the social search element will change a page’s ranking — making it appear higher than “normal.” This, I should add, is a personalized feature based on an individual’s relationships. The ranking impact will be different based on how strong your connections are, and different people will see different results.

In some ways, this is a further extension of Google Personalized Search, even though it is separate from that.

Social Search Now Includes Shared Content

Notice in the screenshot above how the first result has annotation saying “Nundu Janakiram shared this on Twitter.” Previously, Google’s Social Search only used content that was created by people in your social circle. If they wrote a blog post, that might appear. But if they tweeted someone else’s blog post, that wouldn’t. Now, what people share is included.

Cassidy says there’s a “significant increase in coverage” because Google is now using content that your circle has shared socially. That might include sharing that happens on Twitter, in Google Reader, on Quora, and many other sites you and your contacts have listed in your Google Profiles. But right now, this doesn’t include Facebook likes. More on that in a moment.

Results Can Be Both Social AND Private

A new Google Account setting allows you to add social networking accounts to your Google Profile while keeping the connections private.

In other words, your social connections won’t be shown to the public on your Google Profile, but those connection can still influence your search results. The new tool also shows accounts that it believes belong to you, too; both functions are shown here:


You may see this account connection tool right on the search results page, too, Google says.

Who Gets Social Results – And Can You Turn Them Off?

Google says it’s launching the new Social Search today on Google.com in English only, and searchers should begin to see the changes within the next week.

If you’ve never linked your Google Profile to any of your social networks — and you don’t make use of any of Google’s own social features, such as Google Reader, then you shouldn’t see social results appearing in your listings.

If you have linked your social accounts, you might wish to see “regular” results that haven’t been “socialized,” so to speak. You can only do this by logging out of Google. Otherwise, there’s no option to disable them from being blended.

Facebook “Likes” Not Included, For Now

NOTE: The portion below about Facebook and usage of Twitter was written by Search Engine Land editor-in-chief Danny Sullivan, who has focused on these area more.

Bing gained a lot of attention at the end of last year when it added “Facebook Liked Results” — a way for those searching at Bing to easily see what their friends liked on Facebook in response to a search, along with general search results from across the web.

Despite Google’s wide expansion of Social Search, the changes don’t include any Facebook “Like” activity, even if you’ve added your Facebook page to your social profile.

Why not? Cassidy said generally:

This is just the beginning, and we’re going to be doing much more to improve the comprehensiveness of Google Social Search.

Can Google Even Get Facebook Likes For Search?

Google does have a deal with Facebook that provides it with data about what happens on Facebook fan pages. Google can tell if someone likes those pages within Facebook, as well as comments left on them or status updates from the pages themselves. This is how Google began showing Facebook Page status updates in Google Realtime Search about a year ago.

However, Google doesn’t receive Facebook data that happens on personal Facebook walls in the way that Bing has been getting from Facebook since late 2009 (if that wall data is shared by their owners with “everyone”). Google also doesn’t appear to have access to non-Facebook pages that people may “Like” across the web.

Even tiny Blekko has access to Facebook Like data, for those who choose to link their Facebook accounts to Blekko. Chances are, Google still isn’t offering this because it objects to some of Facebook’s terms and conditions for having access to the data. The articles below go into more depth about that issue:

Tweets As Surrogates For Facebook Likes

For whatever reason, Google’s search results continue to lack Facebook Like, giving Bing an advantage on that front — though not one that’s proven to attract new searchers to Bing in any great numbers.

In lieu of Facebook Likes, Google’s clearly moving ahead in a different direction, using sharing that happens at a variety of other non-Facebook services as a form of Facebook Likes. In particular, Twitter stands out. What people tweet has turned into an easy way for Google to get “Like” data into its search results — “Twitter Likes,” that is.

More Information

Like movies? Google’s got one to explain the new social search that you can watch below:

For more about Google Social Search, Google Realtime Search, Bing’s Facebook Like Results and related topics, please see our past stories below. And hey! Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter and start improving your own search results by having us as part of your social network!

Also, consider attending Search Engine Land’s upcoming SMX West search marketing conference this March 8-10 in San Jose. Our Social Signals & Search panel features both Google’s Mike Cassidy and Bing’s Paul Yiu discussing how their search engines are making new uses of social data. Socially Yours, SMX West! covers all our search-meets-social sessions. Don’t miss it!

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