August 23, 2011
by Cathy Halligan
Cathy Halligan is the senior vice president of sales and marketing for PowerReviews. Prior to joining PowerReviews, she was chief marketing officer and vice president of product management and multichannel integration at Walmart.com. Halligan also held executive positions at Williams-Sonoma, Gymboree and Lands’ End.
However, it’s important to recognize that the launch of Google+ is not just a run at Facebook — it’s a reflection of the increasing importance the company places on social signals in how it indexes, ranks and presents information to consumers. And despite some well-publicized failures in the past, Google has already had some significant success in social that has eluded the media spotlight.
Google has long been the first choice of consumers who are looking for information online, and it has monetized its search offering well (32% revenue growth to $9 billion-plus in Q2). But more recently, Google is on the path to becoming the consumer’s choice when she is shopping for everything from a refrigerator to a hotel room. What’s significant is that this path is fueled by social. “How so?” you ask.
- Social media, by definition, is the creation and exchange of user-generated content (UGC). Consumers have consistently indicated that the UGC with the greatest impact on their buying behavior is customer reviews. Google values keyword-rich, publicly available UGC and incorporates it into search engine results and into Google properties like Shopping and Hotel Finder.
- Google constantly innovates the user experience, and incorporated the UGC (a.k.a. social content) consumers rely on to make a purchase decision more than a year ago.
- Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) has changed radically, as have the company’s other properties, which are now fueled by UGC/social.
- Execute better than anyone on the fundamentals. Consumers are looking for the right product at the right price, an easy-to-navigate user experience, with a pain-free checkout and fast delivery. Google is not in the retail business, but it is monetizing the way people will find yours. As a result, sites that execute on the fundamentals will have an advantage over those who don’t.
- Increase the quantity and quality of customer reviews. This user-generated content matters now more than ever, including that which is generated via mobile while consumers are in your brick-and-mortar location. Organize reviews into the mobile experience so that they’re easy to find and browse, with at-a-glance summaries highlighting pros, cons, and best uses of a product, in addition to average rating.
Search and social used to be two separate spheres, but those worlds are quickly colliding. While Google is doing all it can to catch up with Facebook, you would be wise to try to catch up with Google as well.
It’s worth looking at the evolution of SERP in more detail to better understand this.
Let’s first examine the Google results for Samsonite Luggage in January 2010, which had no social media integration. (Apologies for the somewhat blurry image.)
Consumers are visual and want to know price, which is why Google incorporated photos of the product and price into ads and its Shopping OneBox. No social elements are incorporated at this stage and likely little UGC was used in determining the search results. Since the consumer relies on customer reviews, she went to the retailers’ site (Amazon.com, Travelocity.com, Staples.com, Gap.com) to get that social content.
In April 2010, Google incorporated customer reviews in many places.
Let’s look at a current Google search result for “refrigerator.”
Google introduced left-hand navigation, making Google shopping one click off the SERP. New value is delivered to the user via local places, product availability, price comparison, and social content. You’ll notice the UGC — customer reviews are included in the Shopping OneBox.
Above is a Rich Snippet in an organic Google search result, prominently displaying a star rating and 97 reviews.
Above is an example of UGC prominently displayed on Google’s property, Shopping.
Launched last month, Google’s newest property, Hotel Finder, prominently displays UGC.
Within a year of Google taking in e-tailers’ reviews, that UGC is fully integrated across Google and impacts search results in a very noticeable way.
Twenty-nine percent of consumers now use Google to read product reviews, or “social UGC,” according to Internet Retailer.
How Does This Affect Your Business?
So what’s the bottom line? Google has found success in social by incorporating it into the elements of its business for which it is the market leader: search and web browsing. The experience that hundreds of millions of people have with Google every day is in fact social – UGC drives the search and browsing experience, and the experience on Google properties like Shopping and Hotel Finder. Google relies on businesses to generate this social content from their customers, which in turn benefits those businesses in the form of traffic to their sites. There are a few important steps that businesses can take in order to continue receiving traffic from Google: