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The Fabulous Collision of Search and Social

The fabulous collision between social networks and search engines is the most important change to the Internet in the last ten years. And it’s changing the Internet forever.

Before the rise of social networks search engines like Google sent their robotic spiders around the Web and indexed Website content. That content was then ranked against keywords, and when we typed a search term in, like “grilled chicken marinade,” Google displayed, in order of importance, links to content that most likely would satisfy my query.

Then a few hundred million of us began creating social messages in Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Yammer, Yelp, Yahoo chat, and on and on. Often our messages referred to content on the Web, by name and sometimes by linking. In fact some sites like Digg and Delicious explicitly ranked Web content, crowdsourcing the function of the Google spiders.

Now when you type “grilled chicken marinade” into Google or Bing or Yahoo you get results that have been influenced by this growth of new social content that the search engines consider when ranking results on SERPs---search engine result pages—as they’re called.

The search engines are taking notice and trying all sorts of things to deal with social content. Google started Google Social, which adds tweets or other social comments from people it knows are in your social networks—your social graph. Bing did Google one better by signing a deal with the closed world of Facebook to bring your (proprietary) Facebook social graph into search results and mining the 500 billion Facebook accounts as part of its spidering, in order to evaluate links to Web content.
So now there are three different ways social networks are re-mixing the way we search the Internet:

  1. SOCIAL CONTENT EVALUATION – As described in the example above, social content is evaluated as part of all content a search engine considers in returning results to your query. If a lot of people on Twitter like Bill Bob Thornton’s grilled chicken marinade, the link to his Website will move up in the SERPs. There’s also what I’ll call the “Doubler Effect,” of people linking to social media posts with a good link in it, exponentially improving the power of the link.
  2. SOCIAL CONTENT RESULTS—Social content is posted by people in everything from Twitter to Yelp to forums. If I can’t get the Bluetooth software in my HP printer working with my Wifi router, I’ll query Google and Google will give me several postings in various sites with user-generated content, including UGC from social networks. Then there’s “browsing search,” that doesn’t even use a search function—it’s just the stuff we peruse and wander into in social content. It’s like when I get onto Twitter just to see what’s happening, and browse through various links I find.
  3. SOCIAL NETWORK SEARCH—Instead of going to Google, I type “grilled chicken marinade” into Twitter search or Facebook search and follow those results. Here Twitter and Facebook are just competitive search engines to Google and Bing.  (BTW, the Twitter search returned six recipies for chicken marinade) Foursquare and Gowalla want to own the location-based search engine business. If you’re willing to give Google your social network log ins, they will push results from your social graph into your SERPs for you.

This introduction of explicitly human-created social content has had a tremendous effect on how we search and how companies like Google steer their business. Algorithms and spiders have to evolve quickly about how they consider social content. But fundamentally this core functionality of search engines, this robotic machine-based consideration of content, can’t be replaced or even supplanted from its primary role.

We human beings don’t do as good and consistent a job of evaluating content as spiders can. Spiders are merciless, they evaluate whatever they’re pointed at and encounter. The scale and thoroughness with which they consider content cannot be approached by mere mortals. The gaps in social content are many and massive. And we human beings can mighty stupid. We get interested or enthusiastic or sarcastic about some things just because other human beings are interested, enthusiastic or sarcastic. Example number one, for right now: Charlie Sheen. Google’s notion of the importance of this “absolute disaster,” places him somewhere below the tragedy in Japan. Not so on Twitter, alas.

And there are “memes,” which are social information trends that grow and usually fade away as we lose interest. Remember “Wolfram Alpha,” the search engine that was supposed to usurp Google a few years ago? (If you can’t, don’t feel bad) During March through May 2009 it was all the rage among people working on the Internet or interested in it. Today Alexa ranks the Wolfram Alpha site 3,130 worldwide. Google is number 1.

So content and links we humans create to share socially is massively re-arranging the landscape of content considered when we use any search function, from typing into Google to following a friend’s link on our Facebook feed.

And you can bet that as I write, evil people in the Ukraine who run “black hat” link farms are trying to figure out how to exploit social content for profit.

Join The Conversation

  • Dec 20 Posted 5 years ago danny11

    Three trends are emerging from this collision: listening, incorporating and social search. Search engines listen to opinions in social media to judge the value of content; they are ahcc incorporating social posts within search results; and social networks like Facebook are becoming search engines themselves. For marketers and salespeople this new landscape is more complex and difficult in which to be seen and heard.

  • rohnjaymiller's picture
    Apr 14 Posted 6 years ago rohnjaymiller

    Arnold:  My point was that a search engine based solely, or even primarily on social content won't perform the exhaustive exploration and indexing that spiders will.  The long tail of information searches is very, very long, and past a certain point no humans will comment or pass along a link to that content.

    I clear agree with your point that social media content is being spidered and taken into consideration, both as a means of ranking non-social content, and as content to be ranked itself.  These are my points #1 and #2.



  • rohnjaymiller's picture
    Apr 14 Posted 6 years ago rohnjaymiller

    I was referring to Facebook itself being a closed system.  Thx-RJ

  • Apr 10 Posted 6 years ago TradeSparq (not verified)

    The problem with Google is that it's an algorithm with no soul. This allows the system to be gamed, and it doesn't matter whether it is with or without social. See the flap with JC Penney...

    At its core, Google search is a directory. The amount of content is so numerous and yet, there are only 10 positions on the first page. Social and Web 2.0 have an opportunity to disrupt and offer more relevant results, specifically, results that are connected to people I know or to my data/profile.


  • Oscar Del Santo's picture
    Apr 9 Posted 6 years ago Oscar Del Santo

    Congratulations on a brillian post Rohn. You got all the fundamentals right. The future is social!

  • arnoldWaldstein's picture
    Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago arnoldWaldstein

    Interesting post.

    This threw me off:

    "But fundamentally this core functionality of search engines, this robotic machine-based consideration of content, can’t be replaced or even supplanted from its primary role."

    Are you saying spiders will be spiders? Google has made public the fact that data from Twitter which it's licensed is being taken into consideration in rankings. Not sure where you are going with this. I'm interested so pls clarify.

    I honestly see  this very differently. There are two factors happening:

    First and most important, social data is becoming fast the superset of the spiders themselves. As more social data gets made part of the rankings race, more and more the robot will feed the social referral based reality of the world not the other way around.

    And second, the big war of Google and Bing may be lining up again now that Bing has the massive social data pool from FB.

    But for my clients at least, the most important thing is to help them figure out what to do 'now' as a key to the decision making on what tasks and what investments they need to make to help drive traffic and what kind of team they need to do this.

    My thinking on this, which I just wrote the other day is here:

    "Coming to terms with search in a social world" @

    Important stuff to noodle through for all business owners and marketers today.

    Arnold Waldstein



  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago JulieV

    "Bing did Google one better by signing a deal with the closed world of Facebook to bring your (proprietary) Facebook social graph into search results and mining the 500 billion Facebook accounts as part of its spidering,"

    Just curious, is "proprietary" referring to the creator of the content or to Facebook?

  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Danny Skarka (not verified)

    I teach SM so I gave this a try before passing it along. While I agree that this is possible, I was not able to duplicate it. I even tried the example shown. In Google or Bing, I still see results from standard webpages, especially foos sites. Nothing from a social site showed up.


    While I look forward to seeing the merge, and I believe it will happen, I don't see it happening to any degree as yet.

  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Adrian Walker (not verified)

    Search and Social -- what's next?  Executable English -- Social Media for Knowledge Capture and Question Answering in Executable English over Databases.  It could become the next big thing after Twitter and Facebook.  And, it's free.

    Imagine government and other web sites answering an open ended collection of English questions, and also explaining the answers in English.  Imagine government folks and citizens socially networking, Wikipedia-style, to continually expand the range of questions that can be answered.

    The approach starts from the observation that data by itself is necessary, but not enough, for many practical uses of an intranet or the Web.

    What's also needed is knowledge about how to use the data to answer an ever increasing number of questions -- such as, "How much could the US save through energy independence?".

    There's emerging technology that can leverage social networking for the significant task of acquiring and curating the necessary knowledge -- in the form of Executable English.

    You can Google "Executable English" to find this, or go directly to  Shared use is free, and there are no advertisements.



  • Apr 8 Posted 6 years ago Gordon Wright (not verified)

    Point 3 has repeated text, FYI.

  • Geri Stengel's picture
    Apr 7 Posted 6 years ago Geri Stengel


    As the recommendations of real people increase in importance so, too, does the need to write for people, not spiders. If content isn’t good enough to pass along to your friends, it won’t matter what the spider finds in the meta tags.



  • Apr 6 Posted 6 years ago sdolukhanov

    How close do you think we are to a "universal social search"? A simple search engine that you put one keyword, with or without quotations, and it searches the ENTIRE social web (In REAL TIME!) including forums, blogs, rss feeds, public profiles; any and all publicly accessible information from real time social web users?


    Sergei Dolukhanov

    Director of Marketing, EvoApp

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