June 14, 2011, 7:37 PM

IRCE 2011 Report: Connecting with consumers on social media can boost search rankings

As search engines tweak their algorithms, social will likely play a bigger role in SEO.

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Search is a fundamental way that consumers access information, said Catherine Paschkewitz, product marketing manager, HP Home & Home Office Store, today at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011 in San Diego in a session entitled “Plugging into social media for higher search rankings.” Increasingly the other major way shoppers access information is social media, particularly on the two biggest social networks—Facebook and Twitter.

That helps explain why Google Inc. sites have the third most unique visitors among U.S. sites in April with 175.88 million visitors, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc. Facebook was fourth with 154.06 million. “If you think about how often you are going online and searching for a product or piece of information or checking what your friends are saying on Facebook the numbers get very large,” she said. “And large numbers are an opportunity to engage customers and drive sales.”

Finding innovative way to interact with consumers on social networks is important, said Mark Carlson, CEO of publishing and analytics provider SimpleFeed Inc., as both Google and Bing have increasingly integrated social media into their search results.

For instance, Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine tailors a consumer’s search results based on his Facebook friends, as well as data from the collective Facebook network. When a consumer conducts a search, Bing will show his friends Likes within the results. Similarly Google earlier this year began making its search results more social by weaving in content that a consumer’s social media connections have created or shared on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Those integrations make it increasingly important for retailers to leverage their social media followers, said Paschkewitz. “People value expert reviews,” she said. “But even more than expert opinions they value the reviews from people that they know.”

Merchants can use innovative ways to draw more consumers to offer their feedback, by, for instance, monitoring topics that are trending on Twitter and inserting their own insights via posts. “If you insert yourself into the conversation in a thoughtful way you’ll see your search results rise. And you’ll also likely see the number of people following you to rise as well. We’re still in the early stages of social and search integrations, but what’s clear is that the search engines value the number of followers a user has. It’s like page rank.”

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