While we recognise that social search is emerging as one of 'the' trends in social media, changing the way that traditional search is functioning, there aren't currently too many players in the space, and even less so, an established method of best practice social SEO.
It's certainly true that many of the best practices developed through more traditional search will still apply (good copy, content structure, frequency of content etc.), social search should still be recognised as its own unique entity. This is true not only due to the way in which search engines function are changing because of social media, but the ways in which we search are changing, with new sites emerging that are developing ways to organise content and promote content discovery in new ways.
Discovery powered by Facebook Likes
One of the most comprehensive social search products I've seen is Likeseter Affinities: a Facebook app that organises content based on your own - and your friends' - activity. It looks like a complete search engine in its own right, much less than an app within Facebook, showing what's emerging in the social search space that is driven from social at the centre of the product, as opposed to finding ways that social can fit the existing product. Likester Affinities shows you recommendations for Facebook properties in a much more comprehensive way than is currently offered by Facebook themselves:
As well as finding content for yourself, based on your Facebook activity, you can also find recommendations for friends which can easily be passed on:
Likester Affinities is one of the most developed Facebook recommendation products, showing just how all that data that Facebook has on us can be used effectively and in a new way to benefit users. But far from just being a way to discover new Pages, Likester Affinities is also focusing on an area that is less explored in social search: not only how it can be used for yourself, but how you can discover content that your friends like.
Growing social currency
This is an area that many brands should focus on, as it is showing how a completely new aspect of search is emerging. While search was once a way for us to discover content for ourselves in the fastest, most efficient way possible, it now also has to function in a way that allows people to find content for their friends.
And brands need to be aware of this because it feeds into what everyone wants or needs online: social capital. By discovering the best content for your friends and passing it on, you are consistently growing your social capital. Being the one with the best links is a big deal online. It not only affects how likely you are to be followed/read, but also how likely your community is to stay around.
This represents one of the biggest, most untapped opportunities for brands that is representative of the next phase of social search. While everyone is busy developing search products that organise the social sharing we're doing in a neat way, the look ahead should be towards the way in which we can equip people to discover new content for their friends, based on increasingly intelligent social data.
If you can do this, then you suddenly become an invaluable commodity to your fans. Social search should not just be restricted to one end user, but should function in a way that is respectful of the structures of online communities. It's not just about what you can discover for yourself, but what you can pass on to others.
This can be implemented through a Facebook app for example, where you can offer your fans an experience they can't currently get elsewhere. Bringing your fans what they want now is one thing. Bringing them what they don't even know they need yet is quite another.
Get smart on analytics
Talk to any seasoned SEO for five minutes and their passion for data is clear. Being a data junkie is a necessary skill, if you are to effectively monitor search trends and activity on your site to find the best ways to optimise activity, follow the traffic and hopefully grab some of it.
The same is absolutely true of social search, though it's probably one of the most overlooked parts of a social search strategy, which is very much focused on the front-facing content and activity. Mike Pantoliano discussed this in his presentation at SES Chicago recently, publishing the extracts of the presentation on his blog.
Here, he discusses the implementation of AddThis analytics into Google Analytics, to improve the social metrics supplied by the more traditional analytics provider. Knowing your social search data inside out is just as crucial in social search as it is in search, though there may be those that take onus with this, as it is a rather more mathematical approach to a social practice.
An extract from Mike's post shows AddThis analytics in action, embedded into Google Analytics to give you a hint of the data available:
This is another example of where brands can hope to get in front of the competition and focus on a lesser-explored area. It relies essentially on combining skills within your organisation. Getting your SEO guys to talk to your social guys so they can combine data and understanding, to ensure your content or social strategy is best placed to benefit from organic traffic.
A role in curation
Just as brands have developed a role now in the curation of content, finding or creating the best content online and offering it to brands in new ways, that role will steadily become more important as social search rises. As traditional search engines integrate social media more and more, or pure play social search services emerge, this will only be useful to users up to a point. Seeing that 'x' amount of people has liked something doesn't necessarily make it relevant to you, by default. Brands will have a responsibility here to increasingly socialise the experience on their website and social platforms, so that the content offered to fans will continue to be of use.
Rather than someone simply seeing how many people, connections or not, have liked a piece of content, brands can provide an extra level of engagement with that content that offers additional, contextual information to the user. They may have liked an article on Christmas baking for example, but which recipes did they go on to download, or give positive reviews to? Being able to offer your fans additional information such as this, instantly adds to their experience and makes the social search result more relevant.