In the final part of a series of questions asked to contributors to Econsultancy’s SEO Best Practice Guide, we’re focusing on social search. 

We asked a number of SEO experts whether the intiial ‘frenzy’ around social search last year was justified, and what developments they think will be significant in future. 

Rishi Lakhani, Search Marketing Consultant

Justified? No. Necessary? Yes. We knew that Google was going to take social signals into consideration, and being prepared for the action those signals have on the SERPs was a necessity.

Personally I think that these signals are not as important as the Search Quality team think they are. People will “like” or “retweet” anything as long as it entertains them. Is that a mark of quality? Maybe. Or maybe we are all quickly becoming court jesters whose only aim is to please the population, which in turn pleases the “king” (AKA Google). 

In terms of value from social beyond search? There is value. But there is a lot of room for us to develop and understand what those values are. I see Facebook for example as an engine where I can connect with a brand’s fans regularly to get real time information, research, content ideas, connections. I wouldn’t want to use it to sell.

However, some brands take the selling to Facebook and seem to do well. Is that the right decision? I don’t think so, not in the long run. 

Would you build your bricks and mortar business in someone’s back yard, knowing that if they sell their house, you wouldn’t be able to transfer it across to your new premises?   

Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director, bigmouthmedia

A large percentage of people who christened themselves social media or social search gurus in 2010 have shown that their personal claims were unjustified. That said; the industry wide enthusiasm may have been a little unfocused but it was entirely appropriate.

Google and Bing ramped up the importance of social quality signals and connections integration through 2010 and continue to do so in 2011. Google’s search results are showing social recommendations with increasing frequency and these really do impact on click through frequency.

One easy prediction to make is that Google will ramp up its social networking efforts. I suspect Google Profiles will play a larger part in this and I have to wonder whether we’ll see an early spate of faked profiles causing brands problems.

Has your business claimed its Google Profile?

Kelvin Newman, Creative Director at Site Visibility

As an industry we like to whip ourselves into frenzy whenever anything new materialises, despite all the fuss, when the dust settles there’s always something new to be thinking about.

There’s no question though that social signals are going to become an ever bigger part of how the algorithms work. This is no surprise to anyone.

The challenge now is to understand what really will be influencing results and how can we act to try and create campaigns which do a good job of ticking these boxes while still achieving everything else possible with a effective social strategy.

Lee Colbran, SEO Director at Fresh Egg

Frenzy would be a little strong, but social search is going to be one of the biggest factors for SEO in 2011 and beyond. IF you ignore it, your SEO efforts will suffer.

Teddie Cowell, SEO Director at Guava

The frenzied excitement around social search is justified, but a lot of it is a knock on effect from the hype around social media in general and ideas about how social search will work, rather than actual proven results.  

I will say it again, social search has the potential to revolutionise how we find information online, but it is still incredibly early days for all the engines in terms integrating and experimenting with social signals, and I don’t think anyone has delivered an optimal solution for social search yet.

Alex Moss, Search Marketing Consultant, Pleer

Yes it was. With the launch of Google +1, it can be seen that the connection between social networking sites & search engines to websites themselves is becoming closer and closer.

Even looking at adverts on television now you can see the brand is reaching out for people to follow them on Twitter or Facebook instead of giving people the brand’s URL directly.

Lisa Myers, CEO of Verve Search

Usually when a frenzy like this happens it all calms down and we all realise it was just a molehill, but in this instance I think the frenzy hasn’t been loud enough.

Social and Search is becoming very closely intertwined, you can just take one look at Google’s development in this field, Google +1, to know that it’s on cards. But more so, and the reason it should be on every Online Marketer’s, and especially SEOs, mind is the impact social have started to and will have on search engine rankings.  

SEOmoz’s Search Engine Ranking factors 2011  revealed that most SEOs in this survey agreed that social aspects are beginning to form a major part of the search engine algorithms, especially Google’s.

Facebook Shares was believed to be the single most powerful influencer on rankings apart from links. So if you are serious about your rankings but haven’t yet started “dipping your feet” in the social sphere, you better get to it!

Jack Hubbard, CEO, Propellernet

Social Search can probably be defined in a dozen different ways.  In the context of SEO, here are three significant points are:

1) Social signals give search engines an infinitely broader range of authority clues than simple hyperlinks, so the term “link building” should be replaced by “advocacy building” to be all encompassing.  

2) Social content gives search engines a much broader range of content types to work with to maximise the usefulness or the search experience for customers. So SEO content development activities need to become more diverse.  

3) Google uses all social signals links, likes, tweets, reviews, news, blogs, reviews, ratings, etc when analysing content and authority. Social marketing success can therefore be best measured by SEO performance.

Search is both the KPI and gateway for Social.

Will Critchlow, founder and Chief Strategist, Distilled

I absolutely love getting social results in with the regular results. When someone I know has shared a link, that link is exceptionally likely to get my click. I’m excited to see this kind of human element grow our profession into a more well-rounded marketing discipline.

With the acquisition by Google of PostRank, I have to imagine that we are going to see an ever-increasing impact of human behaviour on our search results.

Nichola Stott, Director, theMediaFlow

I’d expect to see more sophisticated use of social search results by query term, as the engines get greater amounts of user data and learn more from the results feedback (in the form of result-interaction and CTR).

What I mean by this is that we should expect to see better use of social results as we learn more about the types of circumstance when the nature of a fresh query would be better served by such.