Why Social Media Is Not Ruining Search Results

It’s snowing in New York City today (that’s right – it’s the blizzard “of the year”) and I love it because tonight, I can enjoy my hours of web surfing completely guilt-free. Judging from some of the tweets I’m reading, Liz Lemon and I are in good company tonight.

Now if you’ve been trolling the web like me, you may have stumbled across a post on Search Engine Land that talks about how social media is ruining search. The author talks about how search engine results pages (SERPs) should return both relevant and timely results – with an emphasis on relevance, while acknowledging that timeliness has it’s place – for example it helps consumers determine that a product is out of stock on an online retail site. However (the author argues), user generated content is not always authoritative and compromises the quality of search results; and for that reason social media should not be included in SERPs.

I respectfully disagree. Here are three good reasons why.

1. People are inquisitive and like to know what others around them are saying: I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it again – users care deeply about what others are talking about. Hence the rise of the social network. And why testimonials are wildly successful for businesses. People tend to trust what others – even complete strangers – have to say about products and experiences and this is the basis of Word of Mouth (WOM) Marketing. Now that search has revolutionized how users search for information and navigate across websites and has become the de facto water cooler for the web, why wouldn’t social search (i.e. real time or near-real time online conversations) be integrated into search engines?

2. Search engines will get better at relevance: Both Bing and Google have now integrated real-time search into their results. This means that users can view mentions across Twitter, blogs and (in the near future) Facebook in their search results. Both search engines have publicly acknowledged that there is a certain time lag between the time a user posts this content and when it actually displays in search engine results i.e. the search results are actually near-real time and not real time. Take a search for “avatar” – if I do a Twitter search, I’ll see results that are about 30 seconds old.

However, on both Bing and Google there is a delay of 1-2 minutes as the search engines take some time to process the results in order to weed out duplicate content and spam and identify the most relevant tweets posted by more authoritative accounts…in addition to other undisclosed factors. So these results are timely as well as somewhat relevant. The expectation is that relevance will get better with time as social search algorithms become more intelligent.

3. Search engines have made social search opt-in rather than opt-out: I also like that in most cases, both Bing and Google give users the option to include social search in their search. So if you search for “avatar” on Bing, by default you will not see the Twitter stream in the results. You would have to explicitly opt into seeing social results, as documented in the screenshot below.

Google makes an exception for popular trending terms such as “tiger woods” that are included in the search results by default.

Good night all!


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3 responses to “Why Social Media Is Not Ruining Search Results

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