Bing’s New Social Sidebar – FAQs

Bing social results sidebarIt’s been a week since Bing announced its new Social Sidebar – a complete overhaul of how it presents search results, relying heavily on data from the searcher’s Facebook account. This development seems nicely timed to benefit both Bing and Facebook – can it possibly be a coincidence that Facebook’s IPO is today?!

We’ll get into the big picture side of things next week but, for now, let’s address the basics. What does this mean for the searcher? In the SEO community, there’s a tendency to forget the user experience is what counts. Our SEO course and social media training teach the importance of creating content that people will want to share. If what people share is important to the search engines then it’s important to us too!

With that in mind, here are the most FAQs about Bing’s Social Sidebar from the last week:

What is Social Search?

Let’s put it into context. Google introduced Search Plus Your World earlier this year – and pretty much had to duck for cover because of the impression that ‘Your World’ meant ‘Your Google Plus World’. Whilst it did sort of seem like some people missed the point of Search Plus Your World, we also wondered if it was some kind of attempt by Google to push people back onto the floundering Google Plus.

The idea is that search results are presented differently than if you weren’t logged in, based on activity in your social network. Looking for flights online? You might be presented with comments friends had made on which flights they had enjoyed or otherwise. You might be more likely to see results that your friends had +1′d on Google Plus.

Bing’s been showing some social results for a while, with snippets from your Facebook account being interspersed with search results.

What does it look like?

Social results now appear in their own column on the right hand side. This column is split into:

  • Ask friends
  • People who know
  • Friends who might know
  • Activity feed
Bing's social side bar

What are the functions of the social sidebar?

The sidebar features are covered in depth on Search Engine Land, but here are the very basics:

Friends who might know – Gives you results from Facebook of which of your friends have given signs (likes, photos, etc.) that they might know something about what you just searched for. This section also lets you ask those people a question about the subject, on Facebook, in just a couple of clicks.

Ask friends -  With the ‘Ask Friends’ search box, if you don’t get the result you wanted from your search in Bing, you can post it on Facebook to be seen by the people that Facebook judges would be interested in the question – and who can be the most helpful to you.

People who know -  This searches the web for people who might be an expert on this subject. It brings up results from the web, Twitter (which Google can’t access), LinkedIn – and even Google Plus. These results are not personalised for the searcher.

Activity feed – Simply a feed of questions made by you and others that utilise the Facebook-Bing connection.

Are there any social signals left in the core SERPs?

The social results from Facebook that were mixed in with the main results page have been moved entirely to the sidebar.

The only visible social signal on the core results is an unobtrusive indication of activity and trends –  thumbs up appears when your friends have socially shared something, and an upwards arrow when a subject is particularly active (trending).

When will it be rolled out worldwide?

At the moment, Bing’s Social Sidebar is only available in the USA. I wanted to try it for myself but it turns out you can’t just trick Bing into thinking you’re in the USA. I did change one setting and it asked me this:


When I said I did want to check it out, it instantly connected to my (logged in) Facebook account – and presumably at this point realised I was not in the USA…there was no sign of the social sidebar after that.

I suppose it’s a good sign for Bing that I wanted so badly to try it out…but bad for me that I just can’t find any information on when I might get the chance!

What if I don’t want Bing looking at my Facebook network?

I was surprised that it connected so easily – at no point was I asked if I was happy for Bing to start searching my Facebook data, or prompted to re-enter my password for permission to connect to Facebook.

A quick check of my App permissions on Facebook says that I have previously authorised Bing to use my Facebook data – and confirms that it has accessed this information in the last 24 hours. The only way to deny Bing access seems to be to remove the App from my Facebook settings altogether.

What if I want to use it – but only sometimes?

You can toggle the sidebar on and off with one click.

Does it give a better search experience?

This is totally up to the individual preferences of the searcher. The general consensus from the vocal web/search community is that separating social results from web results gives a better search experience, so it gives Bing a clear usability lead over Google.

As Jon Mitchell said on readwriteweb, “It disentangles the many kinds of information we get from search instead of mashing them all together.”

Will the new social sidebar mean people leave Google for Bing?

Well, we’ll discuss that next week!

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Aaron Charlie

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