Practical Ecommerce

Bing Social Search: Are ‘Likes’ the New Links?

Organic search revolves increasingly around personalization, delivering relevance not just to a searcher’s literal query, but also to the implied intent, geographic location, and historical preferences.

Earlier this month Bing took another step toward integrating Facebook’s social data into the personalization mix by launching “Liked Results and Facebook Profile Search” in its primary web search results. Bing discussed the launch in its blog post “Bing Gets More Social With Facebook.”

What Do My Facebook Friends Like?

Based on the premise that a Facebook “Like” is similar to a quickie recommendation, Bing displays links to the content that an individual searcher’s Facebook friends have “liked” in the search results, with the friends’ photos. For example, if a searcher is looking for information on a new car on Bing, that searcher might see the regular web results enhanced with a “liked by your Facebook friends” module. That module would feature links to the relevant pages the searcher’s friends have “liked,” alongside the Facebook profile photos of the likers. The combination is a double whammy of implied recommendation and visual focus, sure to increase click-through rates to those results.

Bing and Google have both been dabbling in social search, but until this announcement enhanced Facebook results were primarily corralled in the Bing Social vertical search results. This launch introduces “likes” and other Facebook data into the primary web search results, with the goal of including Facebook data with each search result.

For an in-depth review of Bing’s new social search features, read “Bing, Now With Extra Facebook: See What Your Friends Like & People Search Results” at Search Engine Land.

Does Social Search Affect my Ecommerce Site? 7 Common Questions

We’ll focus here on the search-engine-optimization implications, and common questions, of Bing’s new social features rather than describing the features themselves.

  1. Does Facebook data now influence Bing search rankings?

    No. But Facebook data, such as a user’s Facebook friends liking a particular webpage, may trigger an additional “Liked Results” module to display, featuring that user’s friends’ liked pages.

  2. What do “likes” impact?

    These liked results can influence click-throughs from the search results, because a friend’s Like is considered a form of recommendation over another result that hasn’t been liked, such as, “Oh, Susie liked that, I should check it out.”

  3. Are likes the new links for Bing?

    No. Facebook likes are being used as an indicator that an individual user may also like a particular web page based on the fact that that individual’s Facebook friend has liked it. Links are a non-personalized indication of a web page’s value. The more links, the more value that page theoretically has to more people. Likes are valuable only to an individual connected to the liker. If a page has a greater number of likes, then it could theoretically be thought to have more value to more people, but the data isn’t being used in this manner yet.

  4. Is SEO dead?

    No. As with other forms of personalization, the core results that get personalized are still based on traditional SEO factors. Site structure, content and links still matter. Bing states that its algorithm is based on 1,000 such signals. Optimizing for those signals is a practice that morphs continuously. But the act of optimization that is SEO lives on.

  5. Why can’t I see Bing’s new social search features?

    Most searches for most users do not trigger the new Liked Results and Facebook Profile Search features. The rollout began in the U.S. on Oct. 13, and many even in the U.S. are still receiving the prompt at the top of the page that introduces the new features and allows the user to opt out. There is no way to manually enable the feature.

  6. Is this a big deal for my site?

    The maddeningly typical answer for SEO is, “That depends.” With the like button now being used by more than two million sites, Facebook boasting 500 million members, and Bing doubling its market share this year, it’s tempting to jump right into planning an SEO and social marketing strategy to capitalize on this development. But stop and think: Does it matter for your site?

    If a site draws enough organic search referred traffic and revenue from Bing, and if that site’s audience includes enough Facebook members, then yes it’s a big deal. How much is enough? That depends on the site’s competing resources and goals. If 5 percent of the traffic comes from Bing and the site focuses on business-to-business sales of safety materials, then the number of visitors that would be influenced by Facebook data in the search results to choose between the site and a competitor’s is probably so small that it’s not worth spending a lot of time on. But a site should see this as an opportunity to influence click-throughs in Bing’s search results if it sells maternity clothing, has lots of fans and affiliates that use Facebook and that “like” things, and if the site receives 15 percent of its traffic from Bing.

  7. What should online retailers do?

    First, make sure it matters. Check your site’s analytics for the percent of traffic referred by Bing. Next, assuming your site or business has a Facebook page, check Facebook for the latest “like” count. If Bing currently sends an insignificant amount of traffic, it could be that the site’s audience typically searches other engines or it could indicate a need to optimize more heavily for Bing. Hopefully your team already knows the answer to this question. If the site already has an engaged audience on Facebook, then Bing’s new features may be a driving factor for the importance of optimizing for Bing. If the site has no significant organic referral traffic or revenue from Bing and no real Facebook engagement, consider the possibility that the marketing budget may be best spent on other campaigns.
    If targeting this combination of Bing and Facebook users makes good business sense, implement the “Like” button. Let fans like the exact pages that the business wants to show up in Bing’s social search results, whether it’s the home page, the blog, individual product pages, the category pages, and whatever makes sense for that site. If Facebook fans can’t “like” a page, it won’t show up in Bing’s social search results.

Summing Up

With the “Like” button in place, trumpet out to the world the fabulous new ability to like the site. If users don’t see it, they can’t click it. Put a blurb in your email newsletter. Make it a temporary feature on prominent pages. Talk about it on the site’s Facebook page. Offer an incentive to “like” that is similar to the incentive for signing up for an email blast. Consider creating a Facebook application that will also contain a liking feature. Make it fun, make it rewarding beyond the act of just clicking a button. Treat the launch of the site’s like button similar to its news. Remember, to increase the possibility that a page will display in Bing’s liked results, that individual page has to get liked.
It goes without saying, then, that fans need to have a reason to like that page by having great content, informative resources, pretty pictures, funny videos, obsession-worthy must-have products. Similar to link building, “like building” requires great content.

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Jill Kocher
Jill Kocher
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