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14 Why Social Search Is Rotting Our Brain

One of the things that I both loved and hated about the early days of search was that you would inadvertently stumble on to things you didn’t intend to find.

The results were sketchy sometimes and even humorous other times, but you would quite often learn something new quite by accident.

Today, with the reliance and dependability of search, we pretty much get exactly what Google thinks we are looking for – and I think that’s a problem.

The ramping of this idea of “social search” or giving us results based on where we’ve been before, where we are now, who we know and what our friends have +1’d is leading us further down the path where no real learning or discovery is even possible. (And this is not just if you click the social search icon, you can’t turn some elements of this off anymore.)

This idea doesn’t end with search either, it’s in news feeds and personalized results from places like Facebook as well.

The digital and social world has created an entire generation addicted to top 10 highlights, featured news snacks and stuff your friends have pinned.

Look, I know I’m as immersed in this world as any, but I think we’ve gone so far that it’s time to come back a bit – how about a search engine of that would take me to places I’ve never discovered?

I read a USAToday article recently (the original snack publication) that said colleges were concerned with the fact that attendance at college basketball games was down sharply. That seems odd given all the March Madness hype, media coverage and total fascination with being in the game no matter how much the tickets cost.

When the journalist writing the story dug into the statistics he found that most of retreat in attendance was from students enrolled in the colleges, even though in some cases student fees covered their tickets. When asked, many of college students admitted they found the highlights, tweets and video coverage a much better way to consume the content – which makes me wonder if we could just condense everything to highlights and not really ever play the real game or write the real book.

What personalized search is doing is giving people what they want and it’s turning the web, our link to entire planet of ideas and thought, into a tool that ensures we will never receive another original thought again. Into a tool that forces bite sized popular ideas onto our plate. And, into a tool that makes certain that only what our so-called friends purchase, do and say is relevant.

I talked to a researcher recently that said he was studying a group of 20 somethings and one of the questions was to identify how much time they spent online. He had to change the question because they didn’t know what he meant. Their online time was so omnipresent that they could no longer make a distinction between being online and not.

This is not going away and my guess is it will become even more pervasive, because, hey, that’s what we want, right?

Google and Facebook and every other tool that provides information doesn’t really care that you can’t see this going on and to me that’s the scary part. You’re no longer in charge of what you discover unless you take charge.

To me the new master skill is undiscovery of what you already know and this is quickly turning into something you’ll have to intentionally practice as we live our lives more and more fully online.

40 The New SEO is About Relationships and Relevance

Last week Google announced an official update to Social Search – something they’ve been playing around with for some time now. The idea behind social search is that if a Google account user does a search for something they will get the most relevant results according to Google now mixed in with results that Google determines are important from those in your social networks.

The news for anyone thinking about SEO is summed by this statement from Google – . . .relevance isn’t just about pages—it’s also about relationships. Google has officially moved from playing with social search to altering the SEO landscape with it.

While the newly socialized results are dependent upon the surfer being logged in to their Google account, the significance from an SEO standpoint is potentially game changing. As Google continues to advance this type of thinking when it comes to placement of search results it will bring the online acts of content creation, network building and social participation to new heights.

Consider the images below – the first is a search for the term “social media system” while logged out of Google and second while logged in. The results are dramatically different. (Click to enlarge)

Results while logged in

Results while logged out

I’ve been begging and pleading with small business owners for the last five years to create and use blogs, claim all the digital real estate and profiles they could and get active building social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. While this is behavior that has long influenced organic search results in a more mathematical way, social search highlights the direct impact this behavior has in ways that should open some eyes.

The good news is that people that have participated fully in social media, network building and content creation may have just received a very positive jolt in the search game. There is still time to adopt this behavior because it may be years before this social search function becomes fully realized, but there’s no way to deny the need to make online network building and participation a primary business practice.

Now, this doesn’t mean that good SEO practices of link building and content creation around keywords goes out the window – those factors will remain extremely important, but social network participation just got a raise in terms of becoming a ranking factor that isn’t controlled by traditional SEO practices.

Here are a couple unscientific initial thoughts:

  • You can’t play without a Google Profile – if you have one go update it now and add more connections
  • Sharing content from your Google Reader account seems to get high marks right now
  • Twitter results are being adding pretty quickly
  • With Google and Facebook locked in war for social, don’t expect Facebook results to matter as much

You connect accounts that you want to be part of your public profile using the Google Profile tool, but you can also connect account privately through your Google Account. (Google is choosing your networks through the Social Graph tool.)

Results will be spotty and odd for some time now, but it’s still time to rethink your entire approach to SEO.