Search has been evolving for years, and it looks as though its really starting to enter a new era entirely. While search and social media may be two different animals, it is becoming more clear that they're directly related, and will continue to be more mixed into one another.
We're already seeing search engines attempt to place some kind of ranking on social updates. For example, we've already know that search engines take things like follower quality into account in how they rank tweets (see more on that from Google and Bing).
There has been a lot of talk of Facebook "likes" and Twitter retweets taking the place of links. Nobody's saying that links are dying exactly. There is obviously plenty of room for link sharing on either of these services, but in some ways these kinds of sharing are replacing links in many cases. Before Facebook even announced its plans to take over the web, WebProNews talked with Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz about how Twitter is "cannibalizing the Web’s link graph":
Now that Facebook's Open Graph and social plugins are devouring the web, suddenly liking is taking the place of linking in some speculative scenarios. We talked about some implications Facebook's initiatve has for search in a recent article.
While I dont' think anyone specifically saw the Open Graph stuff coming too long before it was announced (maybe somewhat in the days leading up to it), it's really still reflective of what we've known for some time. The way people are obtaining information online is diversifying. I feel like I'm beating a dead horse (as I've written about his repeatedly, but it's just what the big picture is about. Google's real competition isn't coming from other search engines. It's coming from different avenues of information access.
The biggest threat to Google the search engine (as opposed to the company, which offers a lot more) is people not having to rely on the traditonal search engine. While I don't think Google has anything to truly worry about in terms of losing users, it has to worry more about users just not using it as often, because they're getting their information from apps...from friends via social networks...even when they're not necessarily at Facebook.com itself, but on any given site or app, via things like social plugins (Twitter has its own @anywhere platform, and we'll probably see more ways networks are penetrating sites. Hell, Google already has its Friend Connect and Buzz...I would not count the company out in expanding into more of this kind of stuff).
Style Coalition CEO Yuli Ziv has an interesting article at Mashable about "5 reasons Google and Search wont' Dominate the Next Decade". Her reasons include:
1. The search process is inefficient
2. Mobile GPS Eliminates the need for location-based search
3. Social Matching Could Create Valuable Connections
4. Content Recommendations to Replace Search
5. Suggestions Will Be the Core of Our Shopping Experience
She elaboraates on each of these of course, and some of them are debatable, but really, the diversification of how people obtain information has already begun.
Facebook likes may not translate to better Google rankings, but so what? They may translate to a better Facebook ranking. After all, the more people that "like" you brand, the greater the visibility within Facebook. With over 400 million users and counting, and Facebook expanding its presence, that means more visibility period, and at a more meaningful level of personalization. It's not about choosing between likes and links. Both are ideal.
WebProNews recently stopped by comScore's New York offices, and had a chat with search evangelist Eli Goodman who made some good points about where search is headed, and how not only the technology of search engines changes over time, but the habits of users, and the relationship between the two.
As far as optimizing for search, it seems pretty clear that social and mobile will continue to play larger roles. It also seems clear that if you want social success, you need to work at your relationships with others within your networks. Look at Twitter's Promoted Tweets strategy around "resonance." Look at tools like Trst.me, which uses a PageRank-like strategy to score Twitter users.
Look at the implications of Facebook likes. Regardless of what Facebook chooses to do with this data itself, they're already being utilized in other places, like in search via OneRiot. The whole point of Facebook's Open Graph is to connect the web. It stands to reason that Facebook likes will be of influence in plenty more places.
The point of all of this is, it's not just about getting links anymore. Links will always be of use, but social interactions may equal them in importance, and in some cases may be of greater use to your visibility, and ultimately getting people to your site, your content, your store, or your shopping cart.