Social media dominates online activity, and now has a growing impact on search. Search engines are constantly changing their algorithms to make their search results more relevant for users, and social search is another way for them to do so. By annotating results that users’ social connections “like”, the online search experience is more personalized and trusted.

Recently, Google officially rolled out its social search worldwide, and Bing announced “Friend Effect” – search results derived from the web’s IQ (its existing rankings factors) and opinions of people that users trust most. Some of the social signals included in Google’s search results include content shared or created by friends, content recommended by friends using its +1 button, and articles similar to Google Reader subscriptions.  Some of the social signals included in Bing’s search results include content “liked” by friends on Facebook, popularly liked content, and content shared by popular brands and companies.

Google’s search engine is still the most used search engine in the world; however, Bing’s partnership with the leading social networking site, Facebook, has the search leader at a disadvantage in social search.  Unlike Google, which is limited to data that is public on Facebook and other social networking sites, Bing has access to the Facebook’s private data and is better able to personalize results based on the likes of the searcher’s social connections.

With Bing currently appearing to have the edge over Google in social search, I thought it would be good to share some of the tips that Bing shared for businesses hoping to optimize their websites for social search. According to Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager of Bing’s Webmaster Program, the following items are things that businesses should consider as search becomes more social:

  • Quality: Create unique, interesting and useful content.  Deploy the like button smartly across your content so that customers can express their sentiment to help you show up better in search.
  • Trust: Work on getting trustworthy sites linking to your site.
  • Popularity: Being popular helps. While quality of your inbound links matters more, having a number of trustworthy links pointed at your content helps, too.
  • Timeliness: Practice frequent updating of your sites or blogs.  Visitors like to know your site is current.
  • Simplicity: Make it easy to Like and Share content.  Enable functionality which encourages visitors to share your content.
  • Share: Include links in updates via your own social spaces.  The perceived quality of your posts increases when you include links to relevant, useful content.
  • Relationships: Seek ways to encourage trust-worthy people to share your posts and content.  Avoid spammy clumps or groups who randomly “Like” things.  Organic is best.
  • Frequency: The number of people “Liking” what you said/shared in the last minute, hour, day, week is easily seen by the engines.  Work to increase your influence.
  • Change: Be prepared to turn on a dime, and for the flash mob as new things go viral.  Focus shifts quickly today, so be ready to take advantage of shifts as they occur.

Searchers are only able to use Google’s & Bing’s social search features by signing into their Google and Facebook accounts, respectively. Those who are not signed in do not see social search results, but I anticipate that it will not be long before a majority of searchers opt to see results from friends whose opinions they trust. We’ve already seen several cases where the first page of search results looks completely different if you’re signed in to the related service.

So, if you’re looking for your car dealer website to rank well in search results that are increasingly influenced by social factors, refer to the guideline above to see what you are currently doing right and/or what you should be doing. The more likes and shares you get, the better your results will be across the web. Think about it – wouldn’t you rather do business with a company that was recommended by a friend?