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This week, both Google and Bing have unveiled similar solutions: displaying search results with commentary from social users who have liked, tweeted, or otherwise interacted with the page. Check out the differences and similarities as these two major search engines compete for customer loyalty and compelling search results.
As of May 16, Bing is integrating the Facebook Like button to return personalized results on any search. Below each search result, an icon will show if the particular URL has any “Likes” on Facebook, and the name and photo of up to three of your contacts will be displayed if they Like the site. Both Bing search results and the new Bing toolbar will let you Like and Share links before you even click on them! Though you purportedly do not need to allow Facebook access, when you click Sign In, a Facebook Connect option is shown that requests to install a Bing Facebook app.
Google's counter came on May 19, announcing that you will see search results from anyone you are connected to on Blogger, Twitter, and flickr, as long as you are logged into your Google account while searching. Like Bing's results, these connections will be shown below the relevant search result, and (microscopic) profile pictures will be displayed beside the names of people you are connected to. Google looks like it will be a little more ambitious about guessing who you are connected to on public sites like Twitter, and will incorporate sites like Google Reader to guess which blog posts will interest you the most, too. However, all of this insight goes away as soon as you log out of your Google account.
How the social integration will be used
Both Bing and Google mention a number of scenarios which would require input from friends. Both offer suggestions from friends about restaurants, travel destinations (including suggesting people who live nearby), and purchases. Even current news articles, viral videos, favorite brands, and movie reviews are mentioned.
Of course, all of this assumes that the general terms you happen to type into search will roughly line up with anything your friends have liked or shared. Bing's solution is to provide users with the ability to Like or Share sites on Facebook directly from the Bing toolbar, once people install it. Google, on the other hand, is still rolling out its +1 button, which will supplement or replace the signals it is collecting from other social media websites.
So, while everyone in the search industry agrees that social input is the future of search, the question remains how to encourage users to make recommendations in the first place.
Facebook vs. +1
Essentially, the social search war is now boiling down to Bing and Facebook vs. Google and its up-and-coming +1 feature.
Will users want to use the ubiquitous Facebook, because they have become so familiar with it? Bing sinks or swims depending on the quantity and quality of links shared on Facebook – and there is no clear answer about whether likes accorded to fan pages will be passed on to the appropriate site, or if websites will need to encourage fans to Like both their Fan Page and their URL.
However, Facebook Likes are more clear-cut recommendations than photos shared on Flickr or links on Twitter, which are the results Google is using right now. Google's +1 button is, in some ways, actually more descriptive as a recommendation (Facebook shares sometimes mean results are terrible, not great) – but will require a Google account. For now, Google's integration of social will depend on how well its engines can extrapolate connections between various user accounts without accessing Facebook.
What webmasters need to know
Though social sharing will help people make decisions about what link to follow from the search engine results pages, so far, it doesn't seem like social sharing will help pages rank significantly higher on either search engine. Though you shouldn't abandon other SEO strategies, it does look like it will be increasingly important for users to Like, tweet, and share both your site's individual pages and the root domain.
Don't forget to use both Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Webmaster Tools to submit recent sitemaps and view analytics. Also, check out the ongoing updates on Bing's Search Blog and Google's brand-new Inside Search blog. Also see Bing's official announcement page (with videos), and Google's Updated Social Search video.