A Big Change In SEO – Welcome Social Search

Ladies and gentlemen, Google Hotpot has gone live. For those who aren’t familiar, Hotpot is the recommendation side of Google Places, allowing users to rate and review businesses and various locations. With the introduction of Google Places back in October, we saw a major shift in the way search results were presented, going from the traditional organic results and merging with Google Local to become Google Places. This resulted in a blend of traditional organic results and local Places. And as anticipated, Hotpot links will now also appear in Google search results.

Hotpot project manager Lior Ron posted on Google’s official blog and had this to say, “Hotpot is really going places: to a Google search box near you and around the world.”

Hotpot will also be available in 38 new languages, including Korean, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Chinese.

As we saw with Google’s recent launch of Google Maps for mobile, Hotpot has seamless integration. The video below demonstrates the power of Google Hotpot:

Google will be moving slowly with the merging of Hotpot recommendations into the search results, which isn’t surprising considering how inconsistent the new Places is. In the short-term, the presentation of businesses in organic results won’t change too much; you’ll be able to see your friends’ ratings and recommends with Places listings. No biggie. If you wanted to sort Places that are recommended by your friends, you’ll have to navigate to the “Places” link on the left side of the search results.

Oh, and in order to see recommendations by your friends, you need to be logged into your Hotpot-linked Google account. This could become a big problem when it comes to search engine ranking for a few reasons, but the main one is measurability. If search results are based primarily on social aspects, they will clearly be different for everyone, though hopefully only slightly throughout many niches. If you’re in a more competitive niche, you need to start planning now!

We’ve been following Hotpot since it launched last year, and even then it was apparent that search results were about to get more social. After all, Google wants to return results that are most relevant and helpful to a user. Yelp and Facebook Places are still big, but they’re not Google big. People search on Google, period. By connecting a user’s search with reviews and recommendations by friends, Google is absolutely embracing the relevance that both location and social media provide.

From a ranking and SEO point of view, companies need to be engaged with social media now more than ever. Here are a few short-term actionable items:

5 Social Search Must-Do’s

1) Get engaged on your Twitter and Facebook fan/business page if you’re not already. This will become a branding exercise, however you can also post content from your company blog (you have one, don’t you?) to drive traffic to your site. Building that social awareness will become even more key within the next 6-12 months. Here’s a helpful Twitter tip on how to approach this.

2) Start getting reviews on your Places page. If you have a few, get more. The more exposure you can get, the better. Reviews on multiple 3rd party sites not only helps your ranking, but it helps build credibility and increases exposure.

3) If you’re a business who pulls in most of your clients through local traffic, you will need to alter your SEO strategy if you haven’t already. Make sure your Google Places page is properly optimized (no keyword stuffing), verified and linked to your site. Change your website title info to include your local keywords and adapt your SEO strategy to put more emphasis on those local keywords (Toronto Chinese Restaurants) – anchor text is always your friend.

4) Consider creating a section on your site to encourage users to leave a review on your Places page. This can easily be done through a graphic on the sidebar, a rotating banner, or even in the footer of a blog post. Additionally, consider using your customer email list to send an email linking to your Places page – this can be a very direct and highly effective approach. To sweeten the deal, offer a product or service discount for their trouble, or even some sort of contest.

5) Engage. This is more important than ever. You need to start planning for the future now, and getting engaged throughout major social media channels will not only help your reputation and branding, but it will add value to social search of the future. Don’t focus on what Google’s doing now, focus on what they will be doing in the long run. Remember Google Boost – it’s coming in a big way.

In the near future we will be doing a comprehensive post on changes you need to make to your SEO and social media strategies, but the list above should get you thinking. Remember, not only is Google placing more weight on social media backlinks and authority accounts (forget NoFollow/DoFollow for social), but search is becoming more social in itself.

If you have any questions or ideas, please leave them in the comment section below!

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