Google & Facebook Will Change The Search Landscape Forever

In the next 12 – 18 months I personally feel the search landscape will change more drastically than we ever seen before, Google has already begun to roll out multiple changes and the failed buy out of Groupon clearly shows the direction they would like to take their search engine.

We also have Facebook firmly knocking on the door and making their intentions clear in terms of how they see their own search share growing.

These two web giants have one thing in common and that is they are both trying to make search more specific, Facebook with their like system and unparralled social data and Google with their local business data and new places results.

Let’s just take a look at the two strategies in a bit more detail before I get to my point;

Google Places and Local Search

Google updated what was known as ‘Google Local’ to ‘Google Places’ in April this year clearly stating;

Millions of people use Google every day to find places in the real world, and we want to better connect Place Pages — the way that businesses are being found today — with the tool that enables business owners to manage their presence on Google

Everybody knows Google’s main algorithm is failing, the search results are becoming flooded with spam websites regurgitating content from Wikipedia and other authoritative hubs, I only posted a few weeks ago about the spam levels in the SERPS and Rand Fishkin just a week ago.

The fact is it is getting worse and Google seem defenceless against it, so what do they do?? They bring in full page Places results.

So now you have to be a genuine business, with an address and local references if you want to be on the first page for a local term.

Can it be manipulated? Yes, certainly but it’s not as easy as spending £50k on anchor text links.

Not only have Google rolled this out on ‘local’ searches, such as ‘restaurants in london’, they have also rolled it out on broad terms such as ‘hotels’, ‘cars’ and even ‘flowers’.

These changes send a clear message to those of us involved in search, Google is going to become more and more focused on the intention of the search not just the words within it, moving closer and closer to semantic results that up until now have been a bit of a red herring.

You then have to consider rich snippets, which are literally a form of Facebook ‘likes’ but from a business perspective and even more recent than that Google have admitted that tweets and other social signals play a part in the ranking algo.

The Facebook Challenge

As we all know Facebook now gets more traffic than Google and potentially has more leverage, potentially…

Their strategy at the minute seems to be a fairly straight forward one, using like data to rank websites, Google has ‘link bait’ and Facebook has ‘like bait’ and let me tell you there is huge potential in ‘like bait’. A test recently drove more than 25,000 visitors to a fairly basic story after a ‘like’ base had been built up. So don’t just ask people to link any more, ask them to like!

When you combine this like system with all the data Facebook has on our interests, friends, conversations and recommendations you can easily being to see that a Facebook search engine could be phenominal.

Of course they have obstacles to overcome such as ‘like’ spam and the general intention of those who surf Facebook but the raw potential is unquestionably there.

The Point

My point is simple, these two search engines, in my opinion, are the future and will dictate the general flow of traffic around the web for years to come. On top of this they both have relevance in common, they both want to guide us to the most specific information, products and resources possible.

Both search engines will have the intention of the user in mind, so if someone searches for flowers are they wanting to buy flowers? Are they wanting to view images? Are they wanting gardening advice? These are the questions we need to start asking ourselves as search marketers, how do I link my site with the correct intention.

In SEO particularly it tends to be a quick scan of the keyword tool and then implementing an optimised but dry web page, then we build links.

In my opinion we now have to start asking the following questions:-

  • Will I need a business address?
  • How do I get people to review my products?
  • What demographics am I targeting and where do I find them?
  • Do I provide a solution, information or both?
  • Are people discussing us socially, if not how do we get them to?
  • and of course…..

  • Am I developing a brand

So if you sell cars, where do you sell them from? Do you have positive reviews and feedback? Are people referring to and talking about your service? These are the things you need to start worrying about.

Directories even the biggest out there like Yell are going to to struggle as these changes are fully realised, why would Google send traffic to Yell when it has 10 local business listings with endless positive reviews? Why use a middle man?

The changes will also have an impact on content empires like ezine articles, this impact won’t be anything like the directories thanks to long tail search queries but it will certainly be felt as Google switches to a more intention focused SERPS.

Whether were working for clients or working on our own sites now is the time to build a business not just a website.

If you have a content rich website, what added value do you offer?

If you have an e-commerce site, how are you getting reviews?

This for me is the future, ‘like bait’ as well as ‘link bait’ and ‘social recommendations’ as well as ‘commercial reviews’, as we move through 2011 it will become more prominent and into to 2012 it will be a must.

SEO has always been about evolution and staying ahead of the curve, however these changes are coming thicker and faster than ever, are you going to be ready for them 🙂

As awlays thoughts are welcome 🙂


is the CEO of Branded3 a Search Marketing Agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in Search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

9 thoughts on “Google & Facebook Will Change The Search Landscape Forever

  1. Hey Tim

    Was passed on your blog from a Q&A answer from SEOMoz, must say been reading for about 1hr+ today, loving some of your posts, including this one.

    I totally agree for my own websites, and client websites, seeing some huge changes and things are definitely moving in a totally new direction. The biggest change I have saw I would say, is the change in showing “inner” pages now instead of the typical homepage.

    Keep up good work

  2. Hi Robert,

    Nice to have a referral from SEOmoz community 🙂 Glad your getting some use from my rants.

    The inner pages switch is an interesting one and doesn’t seem to be consistent across all sectors, its making link building difficult and even knowing how to structure your site becomes a little more difficult. Google has been viewing sites from a domain level for a very long time, however historically it has been difficult to rank an internal page for a competitive term, not any more!

  3. Hello Tim,
    I have a question, how would Google go about knowing if something is a review? I know you can leave reviews using Google places and business listings however how else can this be measured. So in general do you believe that directory listing sites will get hit by this algorithm update? Most my websites are informational sites and directories targeting local terms. Example: “Maltese Dogs for Sale Detroit”. What should I focus on in terms of SEO for these directory sites in order to adapt? They don’t have a physical address however many of the directory listings have links to local businesses. Thanks!

  4. Hi Aaron,

    It’s difficult, when it comes to local now you really need to be on the money. If you are listing businesses the first step would be to make sure the addresses are on your pages, if you have a section for states or cities I you need to make sure you display and address for those areas, I would consider contacting friends in eacharea you target and ask to use their address for the purposes of Google local verification.

    A few clients we know are investing in virtual offices, however this can get expensive. If you don’t have physical addresses it is going to be a long drawn out process but it will be worth it in the end.

    In terms of Google picking up reviews, I think they will use social discussions and of course reviews on their own sites and other authoritative websites. I also think Google will look for local references, local business directories, forums and discussions linked to the area you are targeting. Everything is a little wooly at the minute but Google are definitely showing us what they are moving towards.

  5. On the Facebook test, did you have any goals to measure success apart from traffic ?. What I am interesting in, is did that traffic just read the story and leave, or did it complete a task like downloading PDF, Signing up to something – anything that will contribute to the success of the site.

    I still feel Facebook has a long way to go before taking “search” traffic from Google. The number of people searching on Google continues to grow month on month. This is a positive trend for search people.

    Also, although Google/Bing have admitted to looking at signals from search, I feel most SEO consultants are early adopters of social technology because it helps to spread links. SEO’s took over Digg in the early days because they seen the benefits of getting viral content out there, which had a direct impact on search rankings. Any SEO worth their salt will already be paying attention to social in markets that are applicable to those areas i.e. Insurance is a hard product to socialize.

    User behavior on social platforms is still a lot different to that on search. That’s why I asked about the Facebook traffic. I can see Facebook driving huge amount of traffic (and have done) to news, entertainment stories etc. But can it produce high conversion rates for all those other industries i.e. if I want to get a new pair of curtains for my kitchen, am I likely to go on Facebook and ask my network or just type a search into Google.

    All the stats (especially in Europe) point towards search remaining strong for particular markets, but more people spending time on Facebook, because that’s where they hang out etc. Search is used most when you need to find something. Facebook is used to kill some time.

    No doubt Facebook has the user base + technology to come up with a great search solution based on social metrics. But there are tonnes of markets out there, which will produce no social signals, because they are not interesting. What is Facebook going to do about them ?

    Interesting times.

    Thanks Tim

  6. Hey Tim

    The above comment (of mine) doesn’t even make sense in relation to your post 🙂 . I am totally jet lagged and for some reason went on a Facebook v Google rant.

    Please ignore the above and I agree that we as search consultants need to have a hollistic strategy, which builds a brand that serves our user base, with social + search being pivitol to this 🙂

    Ok, coffee time !!!

  7. Hi Kieran,

    I fully understand your point on Facebook and trust me I am far form a convert just yet but I see the potential.

    I can’t really talk much about the tests I have been doing as they are part of a much bigger project, however the test was to see how easy it would be to build a network, old school affiliate marketers would use PPC to build email lists and to some degree they still do that, we have taken a different route and are using the facebook like system to have direct access to everyone’s wall. So create an offer, get them to like and watch it grow virally. From a standing start we have over 3000 like’s in under 4 weeks and are able to reach thousands more with updates.

    Advertising has always been about reach, in my opinion Facebook will be the next platform to leverage, just like Google is…..

    As far as Facebook being a search engine I am still torn, you hit the nail on the head with intention and unless Facebook can change surfing trends they are going to struggle, having said that if they get it right Google have a lot to be worried about.

    As it stands any good SEO or Marketeer should be using both SEO/PPC and Social Media to leverage their products and services, Google dominate search, Facebook dominate social media and I can’t see it changing any time soon.

  8. More and more people nowadays are using the web, to quickly access information or to make purchases or make enquiries… More and more people nowadays use the net and with the internet being on mobile phones, it’s a whole new ballgame. I completely agree with what you said, and it do also think the search landscape will change more than ever before, and probably this year. The internet has become very big and with facebook and google dominating that space, people better watch out.

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