What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?

Written by Robin WildingJanuary 2, 2011

As the Internet becomes the next great social experiment, the web is responding in kind. The two major search engines, Bing and Google, are both becoming more social and beginning to pick up on social cues. The first step that started the process was the addition of Google’s Social Search.

Social Web 1.0

The first step to the web turning social was Google’s release of Social Search. Social Search allows Google to index certain social aspects into its search results. According to Google, “Social Search highlights content from your social circle to provide a personalized search experience.” Google’s website says that the search pulls its context from the following:

  • Websites, blogs, public profiles, and other content linked from your friends' Google profiles
  • Web content, such as status updates, tweets, and reviews, from links that appear in the Google profiles of your friends and contacts.
  • Images posted publicly from members of your social circle on Picasa Web and from websites that appear on their Google profiles
  • Relevant articles from your Google Reader subscriptions

Social Search is a visible way to see search results that relate to you and your social networks.

According to Internet search guru Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand, Bing has a similar social search that highlights:

  • Status updates and shared links from Facebook fan pages
  • Aggregate shared link data for non-fan pages
  • Re-designed homepage that shows improved trending topics derived from both Twitter and Facebook data

Social Web 2.0

Social searching was just the beginning. This technology released in 2009 is already re-releasing into a 2.0 version. Social searching allows the indexing of social sites however it does not integrate the content, nor does it modify how pages are ranked in Google or Bing.

Through the use of Facebook’s OpenGraph, search engines are learning how to further integrate social cues into your search results, much more sleuth and much less visible. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that this “means the Web can become a series of personally and semantically meaningful connections.” Socially cued searching 2.0 essentially means that if you “Like” Justin Bieber on Facebook, not only will the whole world know, but search engines will cater your search results to Justin.

Google has over 200 algorithms, and Bing claims over 1,000. Both are secrets guarded more securely than the recipe for Coca Cola. The new addition of social cues has undoubtedly added numerous algorithms to the count.

Social media glitterati (and Harvard graduate) Charlene Li has come up with credible theories on Bing’s well-kept secret of the social cues added to their algorithms:

  • Linked Results
    When you are logged in to Facebook, your Bing search will not only turn up more results according to what you ‘Like’, but also what your friends ‘Like’ and friends of friends ‘Likes’.

  • Profile Search

Seeing as 4% of Internet searches are names, it seems only fitting that social cues begin picking up on social profiles. When you search for a name on Bing, instead of seeing everyone on the planet with that name, it will search for your friends, friends of friends, and friends of their friends. Sort of like a Bing 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

The most interesting part of the way that Bing and Google are interacting with social content is the speed at which Bing is surpassing Google.

Another social media guru, Danny Sullivan, points out two interesting facts regarding this. One, is that Bing is able to access OpenGraph information from Facebook easier than Google. And two, that Twitter is indexed significantly more than Facebook. In fact Twitter is leaping ahead of Facebook in social indexing due to its concept of Author Authority, also known as Social Authority.

Author Authority/Social Authority

Author Authority is a term coined by Google, for authoritative people on Twitter who will affect social cues more so than the average Joe. Bing calls this Social Authority.

Anyone considered an authoritative voice on social networks will garner more attention on search engine results. Read: getting your website mentioned by an “authority Author” will increase your search results.

This algorithm lends more heavily to Twitter than it does to Facebook seeing as Facebook has yet to open up to Google. In an interview with Danny Sullivan, Google CEO Eric Schmidt admitted this lack of openness from Facebook when he said “We want our core products to get better because of social information. The best thing that could happen would be if Facebook would open up its network and we just used that information to improve our ads and our search.”

Facebook’s CTO Bret Taylor confirmed this allegation when he told Sullivan, “We have a deep partnership with Microsoft and Bing. The reason we are working with them is a deep respect with the team there. We felt like we were aligned with their vision,” Taylor said.


The current lack of data from Facebook is causing Google to lag significantly behind Bing in social searching cues. But, Twitter has a strong effect on the indexing of both Google and Bing. What this means is that moving forward the online marketing game will be changed. Companies and brands will need to build strong social media profiles in order to still be relevant to search engines.



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