Posted by on Nov 23, 2011 in Featured, Google, Innovation, SEO, SEO Industry, social media | 9 comments

Yesterday I held a very special webinar for our SEO group at Catalyst Search Marketing . The webinar was the first in a series entitled, “Patent Watch” where we dig deep into recently submitted patents from Google, Facebook and others. This particular patent was called, “Social Search Engine” and submitted by Google late last year. The patent talks about how Google is taking search beyond documents into the social space, therefore SEO must follow them there.

The Basic Idea

People used to ask Google all their questions. Now they are turning to their friends on Facebook and Twitter for advice. A question like, “Where can I get great sushi in New York” would likely be better answered by a friend in NY than a search engine, and this patent addresses that.
Google is really great at searching web documents, but web documents fail pretty hard with natural language queries seeking a subjective answer. People are best equipped to answer those types of questions, therefore Google needs to index people.

“Google needs to index people”?

That’s weird, right? Well, not really. Google already knows a lot about you; your searching habits, your contacts, what you blog about, etc. But what they don’t have is a fully-fledged social graph. You know, the thing we helped Facebook build by inviting all our friends on to their platform which they now make millions selling our data! *takes deep breath… slowly exhales*.  It is that social graph that Google wants, err, needs in order to find the best person to answer certain types of questions. Let me give an example.

I love listening to music.

When I find a good song I drop it on repeat and abuse it for several days until I’m sick of it. Then I find a new one. Needless to say, sometimes the music industry is crap, and I need to dig deep to find great new music.

Does this happen to you too? If so, we must be friends, and friends listen to each other, right? So be a good friend and subscribe to my RSS feed or drop your email in the box to the right so you don’t miss my next post.

Have you ever asked your friends on Facebook to recommend some new music for you? Yeah? And do you ask Google to recommend music for you, too? No? Me neither.  Why? Because we know that Google doesn’t really know what we like, but our friends do. Here is an example:

Obviously this is worthless. Now what if I asked this on Facebook? (*Note* I removed all personal information and friend connections from Facebook two years ago, because they Facebook is a bunch of pirates. So I’ve asked my collegue, Ryan Fortin, if he would ask his Facebook connections instead.)

The results on Facebook are better, but it took a half hour for two answer from one friend to come back. Not to mention, you probably don’t want your mom recommending music to you. You pretty much just wanted to hear from friends with similar music tastes. This is EXACTLY the problem Google is solving with this patent.

The Solution

Google has invented a system that helps you find the best people to answer your question. You type in a question like, “Any movies worth seeing this weekend?”, and Google analyzes your social graph to see who can best answer your question. It’s got to be someone you know, and they need to be online when you ask. If would be great if they like talking about movies, and for this particular question they should have a lot of the same cultural interests are you.


Google found three of your friends who match that criteria. A little window pops up for your friends saying, “Hi Bob, Your friend, [name] would like to ask you a question about movies. Would you like to answer?” Bob is happy to bestow their latest movie going experience with you, and Google instantly returns the answers from several friends ranked by order of relevance and quality.

Google used to index documents to bring you answers. Now they are indexing people to bring you answers.

The Application

If you do traditional SEO for clients, you know they want their web pages to show up #1 whenever someone asks a question related to their business. When their site shows up on the top and the searcher clicks through, your clients have an opportunity to convert that user. The same holds true on social networks.

Users are asking tons of questions on social networks, and your client should want to be the one that gives an answer. In doing so they have an opportunity to convert the user, and just like traditional SEO, those who understand how the system works can optimize a client’s profile, relationships and actions to improve the likelihood that they will be selected to answer a question, and how high the response rankings. This isn’t social media optimization, it’s still search optimization just taking place on a social network. SEO is evolving in multiple directions and Social SEO is a major one you won’t want to ignore.

If you’re not already following me on Twitter, my mother highly recommends that you do.