Google’s +1 – The Evolution of Social SEO

Last week saw the launch of Google +1, a social networking button designed to add a voting system to Google’s paid and organic search results. The initial launch saw the release of phase 1 of +1, a button that sits next to each search result. Phase two is a +1 for websites, a button that site owners can place next to the other social networking buttons so that visitors can +1 the content, in the same way that they currently ‘tweet’ or ‘like it’. Phase 3, yet to be confirmed, could well be the rumoured Google social network.

Google +1

Having taken a few days to digest the impact and implementation of Google +1, I can see the beginning of something very useful, yet at the same time I can see some major issues with phase 1 (the button with the search results).

The evolution of Social SEO

Over the last couple of years we’ve witnessed the rise of Social Media and its increasing integration with the search results. Google +1 takes this to the next level, and when signed in to Google, will allow users to see how popular a result is, and let’s face it, this will be an important differentiator when choosing which search result to click.

The question remains as to whether Google will start to integrate the +1 data into their rankings algorithm. My gut feeling is that if +1 proves to be popular we’ll start to see this as a rankings factor as Google pushes to reduce the impact paid links have on rankings. This is a popularity metric that seems like a logical step in the right direction and as Tom Critchlow points out, will be relatively hard to game.

Popularity: the biggest hurdle

Ironically popularity is +1’s biggest hurdle, we know from Search Engine Land that roughly only 25% of Google users search whilst signed in, which ultimately means that only a fraction of users will even see +1 yet alone consider using it. Taking this a step further, of this 25% only a fraction will have created a Google profile and linked in their social networks*.

Going forwards, I’d personally like to see a non-signed in version that shows me a wider number of +1’s which are not restricted to my social network. This would then give me a true indicator as to how popular a particular search result is. If I decided I only wanted to see the +1’s from within my social network I could easily sign into Google and narrow.

* You need to link your social networks i.e. Twitter and Facebook to your Google profile so that Google knows who is in your social network.

The in-result +1 button

Currently my biggest issue with +1 is the in-results button. Taking just my opinion and those that I have discussed Google +1 with over the last few days, the main aspect that we could not understand is:

Why a user would carry out a search, find the result that answered their query (and in the case of a retail site go onto to make a purchase) and then navigate back to the Google results and +1 the result.

Once you’ve found what you want you just don’t go back to the original results. Yet this process underpins the initial working of Google +1. I may be being a touch sceptical here, but are Google honestly hoping to change how we use the web?

The flip side is +1’ing a result before visiting the website, but why would anyone do that either? You don’t know what the site has waiting for you when you get there. Would you vote for how well a car drives before you actually take a test drive? Nope, thought not.

Google +1

The missing piece of the puzzle is what happens once you leave Google and land on a webpage. Luckily, there is a 2nd phase to the launch, a +1 for websites button.

The +1 for websites button

The +1 for websites button in my view is the key to making +1 a success:

  • The button will be visible for all visitors
  • It can sit next to the other social networking buttons on a site
  • When you click the +1 for websites button, your vote will somehow feed back into the +1’s shown in the search results. I’d assume at some point you will have to sign into Google to actually be able to vote

Google +1

Whilst I see this as key to the success of +1, Google may have a different view as according to Search Engine Land its launch is most likely months rather than weeks away. Google have however created a sign-up page so that you can register your interest and be notified when the button is available.

The delay in launching +1 for websites is interesting. Is it just Google trying to create some stickiness to their results via greater user interaction? Or is it that they’ve just rushed the launch? Which is another worrying sign given the failure of two fairly recent initiatives – Google Buzz and Google Wave.

Not seeing Google +1 in the results?

If you aren’t seeing +1 in your Google results, just follow these simple steps:

 

What does this actually mean?

If Google +1 is successful the two major impacts are likely to be:

      • A change in click thru rates. Currently the top two/three organic results dominate in terms of click thru rate, the +1 popularity rating could change this by encouraging users to spend more time on Google comparing results in terms of number of +1’s and who has +1’d each result
      • Rankings, if Google integrates +1 as a rankings factor then we could start to see a slight change in rankings overtime, but given how some sectors are more social than others this impact is unlikely to either universal or sizable, at least in the short-term.
        Given that +1 only launched a few days ago, only time will reveal the true impact, if any

Read more about Google +1

Search Engine Land

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