Social Search Propels Bing, Will Hurt Google

by Charlene Li

Microsoft’s Bing.com search unit announced today that it is integrating Facebook’s social graph information into some parts of its search results. This is the long-awaited “social search” that I’ve been talking about and waiting for for years.  I was briefed by Adam Sohn from Bing.com this morning. [Update: Danny Sullivan has an excellent deep dive into the new offerings from Bing, as well as implications for SEO and Google.]

Search algorithms have used different types of “signals” like location to figure out what it is that the person is trying find or do. By integrating Facebook’s social graph and the “like” data generated by Facebook members, Bing is adding social signals to its algorithms.

In a nutshell, Bing announced two new features that take advantage of this new social signal: Liked Results and Profile Search.

Liked Results

When you are signed in to Facebook (more on what exactly that is later) and do a search on Bing, you have the option of seeing search results that take into account what your Facebook friends have “liked.” For example, if I’m searching for “restaurant Napa Valley”, I’ll see the 10 blue links that Bing’s search algorithm normally delivers. But I’ll also have the ability to see results that have been “liked” by my friends as well that also match the query.

It’s a way to highlight search results that your friends have liked. The fact that many of my friends are wine-drinking parents who may have dragged their kids along for a wine tasting tour means that the Liked Results are going to be just slightly more relevant to my particular situation.

Where it gets interesting is when the Liked Results don’t show up in the first page of the search engine results page (SERP). Bing then suddenly becomes much more relevant because it is personalized to you because of your social graph. Sohn explained to me that in the future, they plan to include what they call “algo annotation” that will show the signals that are being used to rank the result. For example, you’ll be able to see how many friends liked a particular link. There’s also the possibility in the future of showing not only likes, but also check-ins, photos of food and people, or reviews from friends associated with a particular restaurant in Napa.

Profile Search

About 4% of searches on Bing are name searches, amounting to about 1 billion searches a month. The problem is if you’re looking for a particular person — especially if they have a common name — it’s hard to differentiate. By tapping into your social graph, Bing looks at your friends, your friends’ friends, and your networks to return results that have greater “social proximity” to you. These search results will also appear as a separate module.

Privacy and Permissions

The key to making all of this work is that the person using Bing is logged into Facebook and thus gives permission for Bing to tap into his/her social graph and data. Bing is taking steps to make sure notifications are clear and require explicit opt-in. Over time, the notifications will cease to pop up, because the assumption is that the user will no longer want the notifications to appear after repeated acceptances.

Even if you are not logged into Facebook in another tab but have clicked on the “Keep me logged in” check box, you’re setting your cookie to sign you in for a set period of time, which is approximately two weeks right now. This usually isn’t a problem — as long as I’m the only person using the computer. But on a shared computer — like the one that’s in my kitchen — I am frequently inadvertently logged in as my husband and have done things such as accepted friends and Liked items on his account!

Now with search being impacted, I’ll have to make double sure that I’m logged in (or not) when using Bing.

Surfacing social graph information like photos and check-ins will raise even further the cries around privacy and permissions on Facebook. For someone who has set their privacy settings as completely public — and is careful about not putting up private items — this isn’t a problem. But most people are much more nuanced about this, maybe posting photos from an evening out that will now have the possibility of being taken completely out of context.

I believe that having social data in search results will lead to some inadvertent and potentially embarrassing and explosive situations, which in the end will curb people’s appetite for sharing socially. In the same way that college students realize that Facebook posts and photos will follow them into their professional careers, Facebook members will be more circumspect about posting when they see their friends’ social information showing up in general search results.

Power Shifts With Social Search

The rise of social search means that the people using it — and the companies who know how to leverage it — will have an advantage over those who don’t leverage social technologies. There are three major implications:

  1. SEO will lose relevance. Search engine optimization (SEO) — where a Web or content person tweaks a web page to get higher SERP positions — will lose effectiveness as search results become more influenced by social signals. While a company could potentially manipulate “likes” for an item or Web page, marketers can’t SEO your friends. The result: better search results for people who leverage their social graph, because the search results will include more relevant data.
  2. Socially connected people will make more money. If I have a great set of friends, I’ll be able to make better decisions because of more relevant search results. People in my network will start noticing the benefits of likes from their friends and be motivated to be more socially connected as well. It’s the classic network effect, but rather than be driven by purely social incentives, there are clear monetary ones as well — getting better deals, finding things faster, etc.
  3. Bing’s social search hits Google right between the eyes. Google has recently been making noises that it wants access to Facebook’s social graph, calling for the company to be more open. That’s because Google realizes that unless it can harness social graph data, it will be relegated to traditional algorithmic search based primarily on the information on the Web page itself and scrapping what social data it can. You can see some of Google’s early attempts at social search at https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/introducing-google-social-search-i.html.

Because Microsoft’s Bing is the privileged search provider on Facebook, it enjoys special access to the social graph and data that no one else does. That’s going to be a huge competitive advantage in a social-driven world, where users and marketers (and their search dollars) will flock to the search engine that performs.

Does it seem unlikely that Bing could unseat Google? It’s happened before. Remember that Yahoo used to be the search leader until Google came on the scene because of its new approach to search. So look for this new phase to come with significant changes.

52 thoughts on “Social Search Propels Bing, Will Hurt Google”

  1. re #2: “Great” is in the eye of the user — in other words, if my FB friends are great surgeons, then I may profit from an improved judgment related to surgery. If they are great stock brokers, my searches related to investment may benefit. It’s all about the feathers of the birds the user tends to flock together with.

    🙂 nmw

  2. Good article.

    I only disagree at the “SEO will lose relevance” statement.

    Because the concept of SEO is not to “tweak pages” to get higher positions. SEO is optimizing the visibility of a Website in SERPs. So, SEO work may become more Social. But SEO is not becoming less relevant because of this change. In fact, I believe it’s probably the opposite.

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  4. I think this is great, but I see one big problem, Google. While they do not have the access that Bing has, Google is the search engine that everyone uses. Around 65%-70%. Bing only has about 6% to 7% of the market. I know Microsoft and Yahoo are together, so that is another 20% of the market, but it is still twice as small as Google’s market. Google also keeps growing in popularity, while other search engines are shrinking. I don’t think this is going to take off till Google gets behind it.

  5. charlene,

    valuable review, as your perspectives usually are. one thought to add is that facebook will likely not allow any partner — in this case, MS / Bing — to retain exclusive “rights” to the social graph for very long. no data to back this up. as such, since Bing bought their way in to this initially-exclusive deal, facebook could provide google equal or potentially even more valuable social graph access as a phase II of enabling true social search. of course we’ll see how it all plays out, but it is doubtful that google will allow its heart to be ripped out without a very innovative and interesting fight.

  6. Hitting Google where they least expect it. And who would have thought it would be Microsoft? If it works as well as positioned, this is a major leap for relevancy and trust in search. Now we’ll see what concerns are raised by privacy watchdogs.

  7. I completely agree with the fact that this decision of using Facebook graph has caught Google dumb founded. Given that Google has been struggling to make a mark in social media domain. Orkut and Bing are two classic examples of Google’s failure and desperation. It does seem to capture a bigger bite out of Google’s user base. A very intelligent and calculated move by Microsoft.

  8. I think this going to have huge implications for Facebook privacy and social sharing. I don’t know if this will have much of an impact on Google…not until we get to the point where people are saying “Bing it”. Great post. Shared with my social graph! 🙂

  9. “SEO will loose relevance” + “Socially connected people will make more money =
    “Social Network Optimization” SNO

    Like any system if there is money or advantage to be gained, some one will be optimizing that system. Corporations are going to try and become your friend. Link exchange will be evolved into friend exchange.

    As a related thought, the rise of SEO did not have an effect on the amount of junk mail or telemarketer calls I receive, so I think you are right in saying “relevance”, but I don’t think that the magnitude of SEO will decrease.

  10. Google tried this a year ago: https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/introducing-google-social-search-i.html

    Long before that (2006), Eurekster was doing “social search” and catching a lot of buzz — awards from Red Herring and AlwaysOn. So were others, including Scour, Wink, etc.

    Did they turn the search engine world upside down? No.

    Why not? Because it’s fundamentally flawed to think that I’m going to be most interested in the same things my friends are. While it’s true that people tend to know other people who are somewhat like themselves, at least in a few high-level demographic and psychographic profile data points, humans are far more diverse and complex than this mistaken assumption allows for. Furthermore, so are the friendships we build, especially in the virtual Babylon of Facebook. My friends are all over the world, ranging from starting artists to multi-millionaires, and running the entire length of the political and religious spectra.

    Plus, frankly, I’m smarter than most of them, at least in terms of knowing what I’m looking for.

    Forget social search. What I want is a search engine that learns MY tastes, not one that tries to impose my friends’ tastes on me.

  11. But certainly Bing has a fair chance but extracting lion’s market share from Google is a distant game. But there are certain areas which will keep me fixated to Bing for a while. Here are some cues from the 21 days of Bing experience:

    1. Bing image search is an improvement over Google image search. But it still behind Flickr or Photobucket in terms of scale. But at least Bing scores on this vis-a-vis Google. +1 for that!

    2. I’m a big fan of multimedia. For me, audio with video does the trick in terms of engagement and interaction. So Bing definitely scored better than Google in terms of video search. For example, check this and this and see the difference. Here, I’m not talking about the search quality. More or less, both gives enough content to munch upon. It’s more about user experience, interaction and usability. Bing has visual stimuli and logical paths that direct users to results that don’t require knowledge of hidden functionality, and don’t require sophistication in Boolean search logic which may be the case for Google at times for enhanced search results.

    3. Bing scores lesser if we talk about real-time, may be because of recent inclusion of “show options” features and real-time updated news feed. seo marketing

  12. Pingback: Google Fights Facebook, Microsoft in Social Search | Mr Google

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  15. “SEO will lose relevance”

    Really Charlene? You’re discrediting yourself when you make statements like that. Social is just one signal. It’s not the end all be all of search — you are overvaluing social in the context of search. Might write a response on my own blog if I decide to play into your linkbait.

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  20. I have started writing a comment but it went on to become too large.. so putting an excerpt here and rest if you want you can read on my blog!
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  22. Hi Charlene,

    Very nice post, and very interesting points that you’ve raised. This just goes to show that Google should have bought into Facebook when they had the chance. However, I still don’t believe (at this stage) that Bing’s algos are advanced enough to take away too much market share from overall searches.

    I suppose to some, it would be advantages to have personalized search results, but to others, it may not provide them with exactly what they were looking for. Only time will time, I suppose. Thanks for the insights =)

    Dwad

  23. Pingback: Bing Social Search: SEO and Google Implications? : Online Social Media

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