Move over Google. There’s a new search in town.
Live search’s the name and finding data online in real time is the game.
New options for combing the Internet to find up-to-the-minute information and recommendations on websites, blogs, and social networks are lessening the stranglehold major search engines have on the search process.
Two practitioners of live search are Bing, the revamped search engine Microsoft rolled out in June, and Twitter. Google and Yahoo are countering with improvements of their own that take the public’s growing fascination with social media into account.
Search engines new and old use proprietary mathematical formulas to crawl websites and return results, which explains why your company’s pages may rank higher on one compared with another. Even though they’re all a bit different, small businesses don’t need to do custom search engine optimization (SEO) work for each and every one — it’s not worth it, says Danny Sullivan, a search engine expert and editor of SearchEngineLand.com.
Here’s what else you need to know to navigate the new search landscape:
Ten years ago, people used search to find information stored online. Today they’re just as likely to use it to make a decision, like what brand of smartphone to buy or where to go out to dinner. Microsoft retooled Bing to be better at providing results for decision-based queries, says Melissa Powell, a Bing senior product manager. Microsoft research found 30 percent of all queries dealt with travel, shopping, health, or location, so Bing was designed to bring information from those categories to the top of a results page, Powell says. The company also partnered with information sources such as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic so when you search for health data “You get it from a trusted source instead of a sea of blue links from TrustMeJoe.com,” she says.
Bing’s redesigned results page includes a left-hand column that displays related results and a list of a user’s older searches show up in a left-hand column — upgrades to the interface made based on how people actually search, Powell says.
Small businesses can use the discussion forums on Bing’s
An early example of what those apps could look like is BingTweets.com, a mashupMicrosoft created with Twitter that fuses search results from both services. Bing is also powering search on Facebook. “Folks spend a lot of time on Facebook and this makes it easy to search where you’re spending time,” she says.
You might not think of Twitter as a search engine. But more people are using it to ask questions and get answers from their network of followers. “It’s the lazy way” to search, says Sullivan, the search engine expert.
Twitter’s taken several steps to play up its search function. The network’s Search window now has a prominent spot on a user’s main page — in the right-hand navigation column under their @replies and Direct Messages. A new Saved Searches function lets you perform a keyword search once, hit a “Save this search” button and store the search term under a Saved Searches link that opens to show a constant stream of real-time comments on the subject. Twitter also redesigned its front page to emphasize its search capability, listing the most popular search keywords at any given moment across the bottom of the page.
By using keyword searches or hash tags — another popular Twitter device for tracking what people are talking about — a small business could follow conversations happening about their product, service, or industry. If you’re a business that rents houseboats you could follow people asking about houseboat vacations and reply to one of their comments with information they could use in planning a trip, Sullivan says. While the majority of Americans and small businesses still don’t use Twitter, “there’s an incredible adoption rate,” he says.
None of this means small businesses should stop caring how their companies show up in Google and Yahoo searches. Live search may be in the spotlight, but Google’ still No. 1 and coming up with its own innovations to keep it that way. That includes improving localized search and mapping tools, and integrating video into search results, Sullivan says.
Google and Yahoo now search blogs, so if your company doesn’t have a blog, it’s a good time to start one, Sullivan says. “Companies are rushing toward Twitter and forgetting what a blog can do. If someone’s searching on a topic you could have your blog show up in the search results.”
Over the next few months, Yahoo plans to roll out a redesign of its Yahoo Search results page. New search tools will let you limit results to certain type of content – only videos or message boards for example – or restrict results to Yahoo partners or other sources you know and trust. Another advanced search feature will figure out what you’re searching for based on your past queries.
As search engines evolve to cover all kinds of content, small businesses do too. If search results are expanding to cover things like video, companies need to make sure they’ve got something that’ll show up in results.. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Even posting a short clip from a webcam onto YouTube on a subject you know about is another way to ride into the top results on Google, Sullivan says.
Many small businesses don’t realize Google, Bing, and other major search engines have local listings. Your company will show up in searches regardless. But if you go into the search engine’s index and fill in additional details and keywords it could help push you up in the results, Sullivan says.