October 15, 2010, 4:44 PM

Like it or not

Facebook's Like button will help refine Bing search results.

Lead Photo

Bing’s announcement that it will use data from Facebook to refine searches could make the social network’s Like button even more important for online retailers, and boost the power of personal recommendations for web shopping.

Microsoft Corp., which owns Bing, this week said that consumers who are signed into Facebook and then conduct a search on Bing.com can, as part of the search results, see what products and services have earned the Like recommendation from Facebook friends. For instance, a consumer looking for a restaurant in a specific city, or, say, an appliance to buy, would see if applicable eateries or products had earned the Like recommendation. Bing displays the Like results below the first few search results. The Like results identify the Facebook connections who made the recommendations.

Bing also says it will use Facebook data from users who have enabled public search in their Facebook profiles to narrow searches for specific people, which could help consumers find, for instance, long lost friends who have common names. Bing says 4% of searches are for people.

Bing says it uses 1,000 data points, or signals, to produce search results. But that’s not enough, says Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s senior vice president, online services division. “The signals that engines have come to rely on to help you find what you're looking for are not really representative of human connections and the role they play in making decisions in real life,” he says.  “50% of people say that when making a decision, they take into consideration thoughts shared by others in their circle of friends.”

The increasing role the Like button will play in Bing searches means online retailers need to increase their use of the recommendation tool, says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps merchants sell on eBay and other marketplaces. “Now, the Like button is purely an indicator of consumer interest, but in the future we may see it become strategic to search engine optimization or more of a product review, product recommendation vehicle that is integrated with search,” he says.

Retailers can use the Like button by leveraging Facebook’s Open Graph, a series of plug-ins that merchants can use to weave the social network into their sites.

This Bing-Facebook collaboration will have little immediate impact for online retailing and marketing, says Augie Ray, a Forrester Research Inc. senior analyst who focuses on social computing and interactive marketing. But the deal still is significant because it foreshadows larger changes for online retailing and search marketing efforts.

“It’s another small step in the shift from paid to earned media,” he says. “Paid advertising will always have a place, but the evolution of search engines has already demonstrated how important earned media is. It’s one thing to pay be the top pay-per-click ad on a search results page, but it’s another thing to organically earn the top spot because other recognize you and link to your site. Increasingly, the results we see when we search will reflect the likes, Tweets, comments and rating of our friends.”

Still, Ray cautions that one should not read too much into a Like recommendation, especially in these early days of what he calls social search. “People click the Like button for a huge number of reasons ranging from true advocacy to a desire to get a free bagel or be entered into a sweepstakes,” he says.


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