Google: rich social search and the anticipation game

Google: rich social search and the anticipation game

Google’s first results page has come a long way since the company launched 17 years ago. When we first started using that rather clever search engine, the page it threw up with a very simple affair. A typical search in the early days might have thrown up something like the following:

Google - Rich social search and the anticipation game 3

But take a look at what a search for the term “British Airways” brings up now.

Google - rich social search and the anticipation game 2The first obvious thing (labelled 1) is that Google no longer just searches web pages any more. In fact if you type in an airline name, the second tab is likely to be labelled “Flights”, which takes you to Google’s Flight Search. Not content with having a link to it, content from Flight Search is now also shown on the first page of results (2), showing sample fares from dates two weeks hence. You can even add in your origin and destination in the boxes too.

The first search results proper (3) look very much like they used to but are now supplemented by the key subpages, something Google calls sitelinks. You can find out a bit more about sitelinks here.

If you’re a business that appears in the news, it is common to find links to news articles in various publications on the first page of results (see 4). This can be highly annoying if you are a company that is suffering a crisis – a customer service disaster or, worse if you’re an airline, a crash.

If you are a well-known brand, a link to your Wikipedia entry (5) will almost certainly appear on the first page of results.

What’s this at 6? This is something new (or not so new). As of last week, Google has started adding Twitter results to its search pages. If you search for a celebrity or brand with a big Twitter profile, its most recent tweets will now appear on the first page of results. The tweets are scrollable too and you can use the arrows to click through the most recent.

This is not the first time that Google has indexed tweets. It did so for a couple of years from 2009 but then they disappeared. During a call with investors to announce its Q4 results earlier this year, twitter said that it had signed a deal with Google with the goal of driving more traffic to Twitter, particularly from those people who are not yet users of the microblogging network. Google, meanwhile, wants tweets to make its information as up to date as possible and also to get yet more information on what users are interested in.

Note that this is not the only appearance of social networks on this page. BA’s Facebook aand YouTube channels both appear in the first page of results (7).

Note that icon links to the airline’s major networks also appear in the right hand column (8) at the bottom of what is known as the Knowledge Panel (9). The information in this panel comes from what Google calls the Knowledge Graph, a combination of a number of sources including Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook.

If you want your brand’s logo, contact phone numbers and social icons to appear here, you should point your web developer in the direction of this forum.

The clever thing about Google these days is that different types of search yield different types of results pages. A search for New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, for example, reveals large numbers of results with star ratings linke=ing to Google reviews, as shown below:

Google - rich social search and the anticipation gameNote that there are also links to the hotel’s Google+ page and a price dropdown, which gives access to Google Hotel Search results.

The hotel’s Knowledge Panel is also much richer in detail than BA’s and includes links and more information from Hotel Search.

Google - rich social search and the anticipation game 4What all of this points to is how important Google thinks social media is in search, something you ignore at your peril.

It also shows that Google is getting better at anticipating what you want. If you search for an airline or hotel, the likelihood is that you want information on booking or a review. Travel brands need to think carefully about how that will affect their digital marketing strategies, particularly SEO.

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Mark Frary is co-founder of Travel Perspective, a social and digital consultancy working with travel companies and tourism organisations to create successful marketing campaigns He is an author and writer specialising in travel, social media and technology. He writes regularly for The Times and has written for many other publications including the Evening Standard, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Express, Food & Travel, ABTA magazine, the easyJet magazine and Teletext.  Mark also gives expert advice to leisure and business travel companies on their social media and communications strategies and is the co-founder of Social Travel Market, an annual conference on the use of social media in travel at World Travel Market. He is the author of seven books including The Origins of the Universe for Dummies and is currently working on a biography of the ski pioneer Erna Low. Mark lives in Ampthill in Bedfordshire, UK with his wife and three children.

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