In an effort to deliver the most relevant search results possible to its users, Bing* has begun incorporating social related content from a number of sources into its search results (primarily Facebook, but also Twitter, LinkedIn*, Quora, Foursquare, and Google+, among others). Although similar in concept to Google’s Search Plus Your World, in which Google pulls in relevant content primarily from Google+, Bing has taken a slightly different approach to how the information is displayed on the search engine results page (SERP). This social integration represents an incredible opportunity for Bing’s growth and user adoption going forward.
Social Results Now on Bing – So What’s Different?
Unlike Google’s ‘Search Plus Your World’, Bing does not combine social content directly into the organic listings. Google has received a fair amount of push back from users who feel that search results are too ‘cluttered’ now that social signals are packed into the Google SERP. Instead, Bing keeps the social content separate and displays three different areas of content on the SERP, so that users can find the answer that is right for them.
Traditional Organic Results
Bing isn’t changing the traditional organic results. Bing explained on its search blog that the new SERP layout is “…designed to help you take action and interact with friends and experts without compromising the core search experience.”
The Snapshot area is to the right of the search results and is designed to provide useful and relevant information about specific queries, such as restaurant phone numbers, maps, and hours of operation. Bing has integrated with companies like Open Table and Yelp, so reservations and reviews can also show up here.
The Social Sidebar is on the far right and is where Bing will pull in its social results from a number of sources including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Quora, Skype, and yes, Google+. The Social Sidebar is divided into four different parts:
- Ask Friends – Pose questions to your friends via notifications and get their opinion on what you are searching for and what listings Bing displays (perhaps a movie review or restaurant pick).
- Friends Who Might Know – This will show you a list of people that may be able to provide a recommendation or give advice based on information in their public profile (where they’ve lived, photos they’ve been tagged in, etc.).
- People Who Know – This section has experts and influencers who have blogged or tweeted about the topic you have searched for.
- Activity – In this section you can see status updates in real time, like Facebook posts, and answer friends’ questions.
Why is this important to Brands?
Bing currently has 15.4% market share of search, which is no small amount of potential customers who will now be exposed to brands’ Facebook content. Community managers for brands will have to keep this in mind for everything they publish through Facebook going forward because it will have the potential to show up in search. Brands will also have to start paying more attention to Bing because of the data that will be available around the correlation between social content and users’ search queries. The opportunity to mine it and strike customer insight gold is too big to ignore. For example, trends will start to emerge around which types of content or commentary on Facebook, blogs, etc. have a higher likelihood of getting pulled into the social side bar (under ‘Friends Who Might Know’, but more important for companies under ‘People Who Know’). This can help inform the creation of content that has a good chance of being viewed in Bing’s eyes as authoritative in a given space.
It’s no fluke that Bing has chosen to roll out its social integration with search now. At the core, increasing trust and relevancy is the primary driver. Nonetheless, the timing of the rollout was a calculated play. It served as a return volley to Google’s announcement of the Knowledge Graph, as well as some certainly appreciated positive media for Facebook that coincided with the timing of the IPO.
Bing’s integration with Facebook certainly gives it a leg up on the competition. Expect them to have a short-term opportunity to steal search market share from Google if played correctly. Could this serve as the long awaited catalyst that pushes Bing into the forefront? Possibly, but only if Bing invests in owning social search as a differentiator and not just another feature. Bing’s partnership with Facebook (read Facebook, 900+ million users) is a huge advantage that Bing must leverage to make it happen. In addition, Bing can integrate and pull in content from multiple social channels and doesn’t have to rely primarily on Google+ (170+ million users). Google’s Search Plus Your World was a huge step forward for social search but it hasn’t made a lasting mark on consumers, as many are still trying to grasp the concept and benefits to them. If Bing can own and educate consumers around the importance of social search and trusted results, it will have a good shot of making a step forward on usage. Even though Google technically led the charge on ‘social search’, Bing is well positioned to introduce and engage a much greater number of people to the concept. If done well, consumers will quickly forget who got there first.
What’s to Come?
Expect the adoption rate for Bing’s social search to be a gradual, long-term shift. Consumers will need time to understand how best to leverage the new features. Consumers will also change their sharing habits over time as they realize that social content is now impacting search results and buying choices.
Also, still unclear are Facebook’s plans for search. Obviously it’s needed; both for making Facebook content easier to find and also for driving revenue. Remember that there was a conversation over a year ago between Microsoft and Facebook about the acquisition of Bing. Though less likely, Yahoo is technically an option as well. Facebook also has dropped hints of an internal play.
Whichever direction Facebook decides, it will push into the search space, potentially making the partnership with Bing a short term one. Bing will need to move quickly if it wants to stay ahead and leverage the current opportunity.
Competitive Landscape for Social Search
Google hasn’t stayed quiet during the Bing announcement and Facebook IPO. Last week, Google launched its knowledge graph, which has huge implications on Search relevancy. However, without an impactful social play, Google will be left out. So, expect a continued push to drive adoption of Google+ (which has grown 88% in the number users since February of this year) and look for Google to start integrating additional social platforms, especially Pinterest, as a means of increasing exposure to Search Plus Your World. Also, expect Google to address concerns over social data showing up in the search rankings. The backlash has been loud enough from consumers and Bing seems to have the answer, but not the following. Google will look to tweak its SERP to get social data to play better with search results.
Big changes are no doubt on the horizon in the search landscape. In the next round of the fight for users’ search queries, expect to see more haymakers than jabs.
*Microsoft and LinkedIn are Edelman clients.
Image Credit: bpedro