As predicted, search is changing. In fact, search has changed more in the last six months than anytime since the introduction of Google Adsense.
We have seen Google Instant, Google Places, Google Preview, Google with metasearch and pricing, Google dedicated search for blogs and updates and, now, even a Google Chrome operating system.
In my previous post on changes in search I covered the significance of the changes and impact from Google instant. In particular the future it alluded to where multi-destinational and multi-dimensional search will support the consumer need for answers to open ended questions.
In this post I will look at the Google Places (best described here) and the obvious and less obvious clues it gives to the future of search. The obvious impact is the change in SEO and search marketing in general driven by the reduction in the number of first page organic search results spots available to online intermediaries and all but nullified the primacy of TripAdvisor as the number one page on the internet for a hotel (and started a war).
However it is the changes under the page from Google Places that signal a true revolution in how search results will be determined. For the first time (that I know of) Google has changed (with Google Places) the measured authority in its page rank. Thereby changing forever the elements that determine search results and the flow of traffic from search engines to destinations sites.
Under the tradditional (and patented) Google page rank algorithm, rank and thus SEO success was based on the number and quality of inbound links, architecture of the site (ability to be indexed) and the freshness/uniqueness of the content. Crudely the more links and the better the rank of each link, the higher the rank of a site.
Google Places changes this by introducing a new variable. The number and quality of reviews (picture below) for a property are now factors in the page rank for travel searches.
Reviews can be seen as distributed commentary, content and referrals for a web page. By using this as a measure of authority, Google is saving that content and commentary is now up there with links as the currency of search result rankings.
I predict that there are more changes to come in search authority and ranking algorithms. I have been tracking commentary, rumours, start ups and innuendo in the search space.
From this I have identified six emerging (and overlapping) authority criteria that are certain to play a role in search (if not already).
1. The tastegraph
The use of likes, votes and preferences to help draw users toward content or destinations drawn from matching the tastes or likes of the user to others that like the same or similar.
Examples of this are across the web from the like button itself (Facebook) to StumbleUpon, Digg, Google's own search results voting and content specific sites like Last.fm.
2. The sociograph
The recommendations and preferences of people selected by the user as being trusted source of information or advice drive or bias search results.
Where the tastegraph links people and recommendations based on historical behaviour and community links regardless of the relationship between people, the sociograph is above the history of the relationship rather than the behaviour;
3. The memegraph (emerging word)
Where the echoes, community commentary or spread across the internet of a story, idea or meme drives authority and ranking. This includes re-tweets, forum discussions, review positing, link submissions and more.
It says that to "link" to a piece of content is no longer the only way to "vote" or vouch for that piece of content as being interesting, valuable or of note. This will also introduce the notion of authority among tweeters and commentators (see the expertgraph);
4. The expertgraph (new word)
Biasing based on the views of experts. The traditional/old web said that an expert could be determined by the authority of their destination.
A website attracted links and authority because of the content of its writers. This in turn became the destination for those experts to be found and engaged with.
But in the new web, more and more content creators of note (experts) are publishing material and views in places other than on stand alone websites. They are on twitter, in forums, building pages on other sites, submitting reviews etc (Frequentflyer.com.au and Flyertalk are great examples of places to find experts that don’t have their own sites as a location).
New methods will merge for measuring and tracking the authority of a content creator off a website and collating that content or prioritising that content on an aggregated page (much like a Google Places page).
An interview by Danny Sullivan (story here on the Daily SEO blog) has both Bing and Google staff confirming that social user authority (or expertise) is being looked at or used;
5. The contextgraph (new word)
This one comes from Google's search Queen Marissa Myer. Myer at LeWeb (care of TechCrunch) said that the future would be in "contextual discovery".
This is where information is pushed to people based on their search patterns and behaviour. It also takes in the most valuable piece of "new" information in web search - customer location.
6. Genomegraph (new word)
Like Pandora has done for music and Triporati and others for travel - breaking down a piece content or a whole content area into core (or genetic level) elements. Then relating those elements to each other to link and relate content to other content as a means of driving discovery.
[NB: See an article I wrote on Triporati and Pandora]
Google Places has shown that these (and others?) are now in the mix as influencers in future page rank algorithms.
Not all of these will last as measures of authority (or carry the same weight) but if you are in the search business (and if you are in online travel then you are in the search business) then you need to be aware of these trends and determining how important they will be in your future SEO plans.