Every time I write a post about a Google search update, it is always focused around things Google is doing to improve the way users can find relevant content quickly and easily. This post is no different. Just a few days ago, Google began rolling out an update that is taking social search to a new level. There have been many updates over the last few years in an effort to unite social and search, and we can only assume many more updates will come with the growing popularity of social media.
With this most recent update, if you are logged into your Google Account you may begin to see listings shared by your connections within the organic search results. (In the past, data from social connections was limited to the bottom of the search results.) These new social listings will be denoted with an additional line added to the listing, telling you which of your connections shared the link. As the image found in this Search Engine Land post shows, the listings from social connections are often given a higher importance.
This seems to make sense in that if one of your friends has shared a link related to your specific search term, you would likely be more interested in that link instead of one that does not have an “endorsement” by a friend or connection. Keep in mind that any listings as a result of this social search update will be specific to you (as your connections are going to be different than the next person looking for something similar). Google has access to tons of information on the web and these social search results can be pulled from your connections on sites such as Twitter, Flickr, FriendFeed, Picasa, Gmail, your Google Contacts, etc.
Other things to keep in mind are that you must have your social accounts connected to your Google Account. If you don’t link your social accounts in any way to your Google account, or if you are not logged in to your Google Account, you will not see these social search listings. Google will even assist you in connecting your social accounts if they find accounts that are specific to you (such as through the same usernames, etc). This way you can then easily link them to your Google Account.
There is a way to currently see who you are connected to through Google’s social circle page. You can build these connections by associating your social accounts with your Google Account as mentioned above. It will be interesting to see how this change to search results influenced by social media will evolve over time.
Social media channels have proven to be great marketing tools for companies, but measuring success can be difficult. You may be working significant hours each week to enhance your company’s social media efforts, but how can you be sure that you are tracking everything as optimally as possible?
First, it’s important to mention that social media success is not necessarily going to be visits to your website or immediate purchases of your products from social channels. Success can also be measured by engagement with fans or followers and the conversations held within the channels.
That said, there are times when you’ll want to drive traffic to your own website or blog pages from channels such as Facebook and Twitter. When doing this, you will want to make sure that you tag those links for Google Analytics (GA). For basic instructions on how to tag links for GA, please see the blog post title, Yes, Google Analytics can track that, too!
If you are not familiar with tagging for analytics, you should read the above post first, because in short, you will not be able to successfully track social media visits if you are not going to code all of the links for Google Analytics first. At this time, Google Analytics depends upon those query parameters to know what referral information to write into the GA referring cookie (the __utmz cookie).
Below are a few examples… Here’s a hypothetical tweet on Twitter:
“Social media made simple from #morevisibility!!! http://bit.ly/1jiXS ”
Of course merely reading the tweet will not show you anything in GA (although it may provide value in terms of the information tweeted) but a visitor clicking on that bit.ly link will show you the following in GA (you can click on the link to get the full effect):
This is because, as you can see, there are no query parameters at the end of the URL once you get to our website’s homepage after you click the bit.ly link. The path that a visitor takes looks like:
Twitter >> Bit.ly >> MoreVisibility
Since bit.ly is merely a re-direct to MoreVisibility, Twitter isn’t credited with the referring information.
Another example with a different bit.ly link:
“Social media made simple from #morevisibility!!! http://bit.ly/f4Bfqg”
A visitor clicking on this second bit.ly link will show you the following in GA:
Campaign: January 2011 Tweets
Content: Social Media Made Simple
This is possible due to the query parameters at the end of the URL after you’re redirected to our site. The path that a visitor takes is still:
Twitter >> Bit.ly >> MoreVisibility
But since we added the query paraments into the bit.ly shortening tool, it will show twitter as the source in Google Analytics, social-media as the medium, and so on, when clicking on that bit.ly link.
Last example: Same tweet, only this time we are not using a bit.ly URL:
“Social media made simple from #morevisibility!!! www.morevisibility.com”
Now, if anyone clicks on this link you will see the following in GA:
twitter.com is now the source and the medium is a referral because that is a link on Twitter’s website that someone clicked on to get to the website. The path would obviously not contain bit.ly because we did not shorten the link this time:
Twitter >> MoreVisibility
As many of you knowTwitter only allows 140 characters per tweet. Almost any page other than a homepage will use up quite a bit of valuable space, so that is why shortening links can be helpful.
Facebook does not have quite as strict restrictions on character counts, so you could use the actual URL (without Google Analytics tagging) and it will show up as a referral in GA.
Browser-based apps vs. desktop-based apps are also something to consider. If it’s a desktop-based app (one that you actually install on your PC where you don’t use a browser such as Chrome or Internet Explorer to control), then any clicks on links without GA query parameters will appear as direct traffic. If the links are tagged with the GA query parameters, then the traffic will appear with the source / medium combination that you have used in the query parameters.
Browser-based apps (ones that you log-in to a website and are using a browser to control) could appear as referrals from that website that you’re logged-in to, like Hootsuite.
So as you set out to track your social media efforts, it’s important to understand the intricacies of tracking and the ways in which this traffic may appear in your Google Analytics.
It used to be that starting a social media presence (creating a Facebook pages with customized tabs and a Twitter account for tweeting coupons and new products) was the big thing for online retailers. But as many have already immersed themselves within these channels, the next big trend that we see may be a broader use of social sign-in services. Social sign-ins enables customers to log-in to a website using their social media log-in credentials, such as Facebook, rather than registering with that site separately.
There are benefits of social sign-ins for the retailer and the consumer. Social sign-ins provide retailers with access to information that they wouldn’t have access to if users were to simply create a new registration on their website. If someone logs-in to an ecommerce site using their Facebook log-in, that retailer would then have access to information about that individual – their likes, preferences, etc. – which they can then leverage for customized offerings. For the retailer, the goal is to have higher average order values, repeat customers, fewer returns, and an overall better user experience. As you can imagine, it would be very difficult to capture all of the information people have shared on Facebook through a regular website registration process.
From the consumer perspective, it relieves the need to memorize one more log-in and password (as if we don’t have enough already). But on the other hand, many are already weary about their privacy throughout the internet, and as a result, online retailers must tread lightly to make sure that the consumer does not feel that their privacy is being violated.
While social sign-ins is not brand new, only a handful of ecommerce websites have implemented this capability. A report from eMarketer states the 18% of online retailers have implemented social sign-ins for their visitors by August 2010. However, another 18% reported were in the process of implementing one, and 32% planned to implement one in the next 12-24 months.
As the social media landscape is ever-evolving, it will be interesting to see how quickly online retailers adopt social sign-ins. Also, as more and more people are becoming aware of how their information is shared online (seen with many Facebook privacy concerns), it is still yet to be seen just how open the majority of consumers will be to using these social sign-ins.