Do You Like Google Plus?

If you spend much time using Google, and have actually logged into your account and opted into the Google Experimental project’s +1 button, you may have noticed the intriguing and faded little +1 button appearing right next to each listing in the organic listings from the search engine results. With it’s arrival in March (for search) and more recently in June (for publishers) along with the recent announcement Google’s Plus platform,  we have yet another option for sharing and voting on content.  Not dissimilar to the Facebook “Like”, the Digg “dig”, or the reddit “upvote” buttons, our “vote” in this case now extends beyond just search results in Google.


The Google +1 button premiered back in March 2011 within Google search results with limited fanfare.  Just a couple of weeks ago on June 1st,  Google extended the +1 capability for publishers. who can now embed this voting mechanism within their content.  However, +1 now requires searches to log into their own Google account, go to Google Experimental and opt-in for the “+1 Button”.

In the broadest sense, and assuming wide adoption of this now hidden opt-in button, Google has essentially appropriated the entire web as its own social bookmarking site from which to express sentiment about the validity and relevancy of content it serves to users across its search platform.  It seems likely that this extension of Google +1 to webmasters comes from low usage of the plus one feature in the search results.    It is doubtful that searchers who use the search engine to find their way to good content would then find their way back to a search results page to then upvote that content; and Google’s +1 Button program offers no mechanism for expressing negative sentiment.

We are doubtful that we will see wide spread adoption in the short term, based partly on the new opt-in requirement to a hidden Experimental Project. But in addition to the opt-in challenge, we believe that - 

  1. Publishers and website owners (beyond Google’s esteemed launch partners like Mashable, TechCrunch, Huffington Post and others) will need time to implement the feature in their already busy development schedules,
  2. Users will need time to adopt  it within their search and web surfing behavior, and
  3. Google will need time to assess the signals +1 generates and decide how to apply those signals within their Search algorithms.

Since the days of Google’s massive “Florida” update, the search engine behemoth has been slow to make major updates to its algorithm, testing any updates on sample sets of data servers and subjecting the updates to rigorous quality assurance processes.

How Important Will +1 Be For Search?

If Google can gain widespread adoption with its +1 Button feature, then it seems likely that it is poised to be a significant factor in search engine ranking algorithms, with no other apparent significant usage proposed by Google.  In fact, it’s no secret that Google has been steadily incorporating social signals into ranking algorithms and focusing more and more on those signals as a means to understand relevancy of content.  The sources of those social signals are currently both disparate and out of Google’s control.   So rather than continue to rely on other networks for critical information that can play a huge role in increasing the quality of Google’s core business  – Search Engine Results, by taking control of the mechanisms of expressing those signals would not only help Google with their principle source of revenue, but potentially lower their costs and increase their control.

Therefore, at this point, for an SEO campaign to be complete and to maximize results, it must contain a comprehensive Social component and “opt-in” to implement the +1 Button feature.

To underscore this point…

First, consider Google has gone on record stating definitively that publicly available Facebook data does factor in ranking, as does Twitter “author authority” and re-tweet activity.  And regardless of what the official record indicates, online tests by marketers abound regarding the effectiveness of likes and tweets and a number of other social sentiment indicators are highly correlated with ranking well in Google Results.

Secondly, Danny Sullivan’s recent Search Engine Land article showcases many examples of hard data indicating a very strong correlation between Facebook’s “Likes” (specifically after integrating the like button on a site) and increases in organic traffic. Please keep in mind that this article focused on referral traffic only, but the magnitude of the increases in referral traffic and revenue, if accurate or directionally accurate, builds a very compelling case for integrating Facebook’s “Like” button on your site.

Lastly, and cases in point:

  • Tea Collection saw daily revenues increase by a factor of 10 with Facebook’s “Like” button  (per Danny Sullivan’s article), and
  • Levi’s has experience an increase of 40% in overall traffic due to Facebook’s “Like” button, while before the button less than 1 % of overall traffic came from FB. (per Danny Sullivan’s article)

This study excludes any discussion of the added benefit of a boost in organic search rankings as a result of increases in Facebook’s “Likes”, but that only underscores the dual natured opportunity that Social represents. Ignoring either piece – (i) the referral (word of mouth) traffic or (ii) the SEO component  – companies not incorporating these sentiment-type buttons (ie.: Google +1, Facebook’s Like, etc.) into theier search efforts are leaving traffic, branding awareness, increased rankings, and money on the table.

Enter +1
Obviously, as the newest, possibly most formidable competitor to the Facebook’s “Like” button, Google’s +1 button may wield every bit as much power,  if not more so, in the not so distant future.    Google +1 is arguably destined to represent, assuming wide adoption, the largest set of social data available on the World Wide Web, and it is under Google’s complete control.  Every demographic of every Google account user who decides to push that +1 button is now at Google’s disposal.  Given the emphasis Google has placed on the credibility of recommendations by known contacts, and their overarching mission to serve the most relevant results to users, what could be a more accurate signal to Google for serving those results than actual, personal demographic data for a given user? Not to mention the importance Google obviously places on the behavior of users on social platforms it ‘doesn’t’ own and control (Twitter, Facebook) it’s fairly obvious that +1 behavior data does or will ultimately factor into Google’s algorithms.

Would it impact ad sales for the better?  Is it strickty organic?  Would advertisers pay more for this data, so they can buy better PPC placements and keywords?  We discussed many of these questions in our previous blog post when Google +1 launched back in March 2011, and we are still determining the impact.

Then, there is the question of +1 data being available to non-logged in users. Right now, it’s speculative, but it seems logical and plausible that once +1 moves out of Google Experimental project, and the recent and peculiar “opt-in” requirement, and into the permanent landscape of Google and its algorithms, this could in fact be the next step. If so, the implications of its significance are exponentially greater.

Regardless of the hidden Google Experimental project and the “opt-in” requirement for Google’s +1 Button, there are arguments both in support of being an early adopter, as well as choosing a “wait and see” position.

On the Plus side of early adoption, assuming Google’s algorithms begin to integrate +1 shares as a ranking factor, integrating it in the near term could give your company an edge over the competition.  That is if your site’s content is media rich, edgy, and generally lends itself to social sharing in the first place. Adding the +1 button would most likely make sense.

On the other hand, this isn’t the first Social experiment Google has launched, and so far none of them have been a hit out of the park (case in point – Google Buzz.) Plus, there’s the issue of abuse, similar to “Paid Likes” on Facebook, which could undermine +1 legitimacy as a search signal and ranking factor. If there is any uncertainty in your organization about making the investment of time and resources it will take to implement this +1 feature site wide while ROI remains largely an unknown (for now), then you may want to wait it out.

At the end of the day, Google or not, +1 is still an experiment.

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