SMOs Beware! SEOs Are Moving In!

Posted on November 23, 2011

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.

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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.

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9 Replies to "SMOs Beware! SEOs Are Moving In!"

  • Dino Dogan
    November 23, 2011 (5:43 pm)

    Thats some powerful stuff. Ordinary people dont have to worry about this since google -if they get the algorithm right- will simply find the best person to answer.

    Businesses however, will have to not only become “friends” with people but also become authorities in google’s eyes on a given subject in order to capture those leads.

    I wonder if Klout will play a role in this?

    • Dan Cristo
      November 23, 2011 (9:05 pm)

      I agree. Most people won’t even notice what’s happening. All they see is Google helping them find answers. 

      I think Google would be more interested in something like LinkedIn than Klout. Klout is really a advertising company pretending to measure people. LinkedIn has a special social graph that Google could use to help them better understand a person’s work life.

      We’ll see what happens.

  • Jacob Varghese
    November 23, 2011 (6:12 pm)

    I’ve always thought of SMO and SEO as blood brothers along with email, content marketing etc. A strong tribe. :). 

    • Dan Cristo
      November 23, 2011 (9:03 pm)

      Hey Jacob,
      Thanks for leaving your thoughts. In a way SEO is a brother of other marketing efforts, especially in the eyes of the brand owner. But in another sense SEO is a tribe and SMO is a tribe. They are each responsible for certain tasks and they charge their client accordingly. If Google comes up with the features described in their patent those lines between SEO and SMO will further blur. It’s all the same to the brand, but it could bring some hostility between the two camps when they each think the task of optimizing a social profile falls to them.

      Would love to hear some more thoughts about this particular point.

      • Jey Pandian
        November 26, 2011 (3:40 pm)

        I actually think that SMO and SEO are the same. People who specialize in SMO but do not know SEO cannot say that they do SMO.

        What is SMO? Social Media Optimization. What is the purpose of SMO? IS it to make the social profile more discoverable on the network or or make your profile page stick out more when people go visit? 

        The second half of the previous sentence is not SMO, it is good marketing. The first part of the sentence is SEO.

        Dan or Jacob, what is the difference between SMO and SEO?

        • Dan Cristo
          November 28, 2011 (4:07 pm)

          SMO and SEO are closely related, like Jacob was saying, in the sense that they are both optimizing digital assets on social networks. The difference is that they have two distinct objectives. One wants to optimize engagement, the other wants to optimize rankings. 

          They both have the same goal – drive traffic and conversions – but their objectives are different, therefore their tactics may differ. The question comes down to, “Who is responsible for executing on those tactics?” Is it the SEO company who needs the tactics done so that they can meet their objectives, or is it the SMO company who understands and owns the space?

          Sometimes both objectives can be accomplished by the same group, but more often than not you’ve got different groups involved with different scopes of work.

  • Jey Pandian
    November 26, 2011 (3:31 pm)

    Dan, great patent presentation. While reading this post, I couldn’t but help compare the question and answering ability of Google to Apple’s Siri. It sounds like they are almost identical except Google utilizes its own social graph and Siri – Bing?

    • Dan Cristo
      November 28, 2011 (4:02 pm)

      I think Siri is an interesting topic in relation to all this. 
      Apple has an awesome advantage here, since Siri understands natural language and intent better than anything else out there. Plus, it’s on the mobile device where people are accustomed to talking into, always have it with them, and has additional signals like geo to go off of.

      Apple is also at a disadvantage seeing that they don’t have their own social graph. Bing really don’t have it’s own either, since it borrow’s Facebooks. 

      I could see a day where Apple pays Facebook for use of their social graph just like Bing does. On the other hand, Apple doesn’t like partnering with others, so it’s a long shot to see a partnership like that materialize. 

      I think Apple and Siri is a wildcard here that might be worth digging into some patents to see if they are up to anything.

  • Lauraine lee
    July 12, 2012 (6:52 am)

    Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.
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