Last week I listened into a webinar hosted by Search Marketing Now on the subject of real-time search, featuring Rob Garner of iCrossing. As is often the case with these things, I walked away bristling with new information, and some interesting insight for PR.
Real-time search (“RTS”) is the immediate inclusion of information from social networks in search results. Like traditional search, RTS is based on crawler based algorithms – the search engines actively go out, find information on web sites, and index it. But there’s a new twist. Search engines are also bringing in content from the human driven social layer. Google in particular is adept at integrating content from the social layer. This is real-time content – Tweets, comments and other interactions. And it’s changing what search engine users see in their search results – which is driving change in human behaviors.
Sources of real-time content
First, we next need to understand the range of content produced by the social layer. Though Twitter is a major source of content, search engines incorporate content from a wide range of sources, including:
- Forums: Millions of people connect and communicate about specific subject matter on forums and discussion groups. Commentary from public groups is available to search engines.
- Microformatted data: Reviews and localized information is now interpreted and indexed by search engines. Part of the “semantic web”, this sort of information is particularly useful to mobile users, who are often using search to aid on-the-spot purchase decisions.
- Comments: User commentary on blogs and online publications.
- Video and photo sharing sites: Millions of new images and videos are uploaded daily to sites like Youtube and Flickr. This content is imminently search engine friendly.
RTS is undeniably very fast, surfacing topics form social networks within seconds of their appearance. And Google is currently the best at delivering social results within search results, integrating social content deeply within search results. Users often see an array of results – images, maps, user generated content, news articles and web site links – at the top of the search engines results page. And the real-time content from the social layer delivers unique and credible perspective to the user.
However, simply Tweeting an item doesn’t guarantee visibility for that content within the search stream. With the glut of chatter, Tweets, posts, comments, images, videos and links uploaded every minute, search engines have to be very selective about what appears in real-time results. Delivering useful content to their users is, after all, central to their business plans.
In the context of real time search, trust and authority are the key to getting visibility in search engines. In order for the engine to display content from the social layer at the top of the search results, there has to be a tremendous amount of trust for the engine to rank a site within seconds. So how does a search engine decide what source of information to trust? Simple. It looks at what we can call “social relevancy” – the degree of social influence of the person(s) who originated the content. Interaction is how content gets noticed by search engines. Interaction with content by influential people is how it gets to the top of the search results heap.
Just as there are key elements to building a web site’s visibility in search engines, specific social factors contribute to overall content visibility in real-time. An easy way to think of this is to consider the parallels between natural search optimization and how real-time search pulls information from the social layer:
Parallels Between Natural Search Optimization and Social Layer Content
Domain authority = Handle authority (it’s a tertiary domain!)
Content freshness = Blog or microblogging freshness
Inbound links = Followers, friends
Quality of links = Auality of followers, friends
Inbound vs outbound links = Ratio of followers to people followed
Contextual relevance = Themes of twitter user content.
In terms of SEO and what content search engines serve up to users, this is a big shift. Fact is, the social graph has taken a massive bite out of the link graph, and is in many cases dominating search results.
A new imperative for communicators: real engagement.
Developing true engagement of an audience – specifically, inspiring your audience to interact with your content – is critical to building online visibility for two reasons, according to Garner:
- If you attact on bird, you get the flock. Get key people to notice your information, and they will spread the word within their networks, and beyond.
- As this happens, you pick up positive and powerful search effects along the way.
Rinse and repeat.
Opportunities for PR:
Optimize your social network – This means building connections to and interactions with the influentials in your realm. Doing so is more important than ever, because whenever these folks advocate on your brand’s behalf, the message is amplified exponentially.
In the moment publishing: If you are tuned into what your audience is talking about at the moment – down to the keyword – you can plant messages into the conversation stream – if you’ve developed a credible social presence and have social relevancy.
Rethink content – microformatted content can be as visible and influential as a white paper (or even more so.) Tactics you can employ include:
- Tweeting – different cues in a tweet inform engines. If someone with authority RTs your tweet, it becomes a signal that search engines pick up.
- Publishing via blog
- Commenting upon and rating posts
- Social bookmarking – Digg, Delicious, etc.
The timeframe? Now.
Overall, marketing now requires a higher level strategy that considers search and social in context of all marketing. Savvy PR pros will keep these factors in mind as they develop plans.
The web has evolved into a real-time networkd environment. It fluid, acting like a living organism rather than simply a set of connected nodes of information. There’s a live aspect to everything that is going on online, and signals resonate quickly – within minutes or even seconds. So what does this mean to communicators? Your audience is agile. Attention is fleeting. Your approach to communications needs to be the same. Your audience is always present online. Are your messages? Is your organization?
In addition to requiring fast workflows, constant listening and lightning-quick processes, an agile approach to communications includes developing a constant and ongoing presence. I think the days of building awareness for a specific campaign or message are close to over. Building ongoing awareness through trusted and valued interaction will be how organizations generate attention.
Authored by Sarah Skerik, VP social media, PR Newswire