Social Search Surges Ahead With or Without Traditional Players

Imagine if every time you searched for a restaurant or a hotel or a yoga studio online you had your friends to walk you through the search engine results, pointing out which places they’d recommend and which they’d skip. This is the power of social search and it’s gaining ground quickly.

Last month Google announced it was elevating search results that were shared publicly by friends you’re connected to through your Google accounts. Formerly, these results were grouped together at the bottom of the results page, but Google is now recognizing that, “…relevance isn’t just about pages—it’s also about relationships.”

That’s good news from the world’s most popular search engine, but Google is still behind the curve.

These results are still only pulling publicly shared information and only tapping into what is a limited network of Google contacts, in most users’ cases. The gold mine of data is on Facebook where users share hobbies, interests and most recently – and most importantly – “Likes.” We’ve written about the value that Facebook “Likes” efficiently deliver to friends and marketers across the web on our blog.

So when Facebook and Bing announced a partnership last fall, and other search engines geared toward social search (e.g. blekko) came on the scene, they’ve started with a tremendous advantage over Google. They’ve also opened a huge channel of social commerce for restaurants, retailers, sales professionals and anyone else trying to attract consumers on the web. Facebook has done a better job than anyone of cataloging what people like, but has not (until now) provided many good ways to engage people when they are looking to buy.

When a person searches for “new car” on Bing, it’s a good bet that he or she is or will soon be in the market for a car. And if he/she clicks on an ad, it’s an especially good bet. As “Likes” begin to influence which pages appear in search results, they will begin to attract high-intent traffic and drive real commerce.

As Tech Crunch’s Michael Arrington commented recently:

Facebook has more than half a billion users, and half of those log on every day. These people spend 700 billion minutes on the site and share 30 billion pieces of content. Links are being shared and people are clicking “like” to vote for that content … Imagine what Google could do with all that data and you start to understand why social is so darned important for them right now.

Whether Google successfully plays catch-up or not (we suspect they will) remains to be seen, but social search will grow with or without Google. At we’re doing our part to help consumers use social search to find sales professionals they can trust to guide them through the most important purchasing decisions, such as buying a house, getting a mortgage and investing their money. There’s also a big upside for these professionals to leverage their social media presence.

When we search for sushi restaurants or Vegas hotels or hot yoga, it’d be great to see the places our friends have visited and liked at the top of the results, but more importantly when we search for realtors or mortgage bankers or financial advisors we want to see the people our friends trust on top.

As Mike Cassidy, a Google product management director overseeing Social Search, told IDG News Service last week, “recommendations from friends are among the most powerful in the world.” The search services that best harness and showcase those recommendations will be the destination for social commerce.

Author: Nathan Labenz is Co-Founder of the startup Stik, a Facebook app that provides a way to find recommendations of service professionals, leveraging the social graph to connect businesses and professionals with new customers.