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April 4, 2011

Thoughts from the Search Desk: Google +1

Social media scored big points yet again last week as Google announced the new +1 feature to its search listings. Essentially, this is their response to Facebook’s “Like” as it integrates social signals into their search results.  Searchers will be able to select a +1 button listed next to paid and organic search results (and in the future can be placed by webmasters next to content a la Facebook connect) for listings deserving of positive feedback. Why is this important? It indicates Google’s continued transition toward weighting personalization and actual user feedback into their results beyond algorithm based indicators such as inbound links.  It is also a direct counter move to Microsoft’s Facebook integration into their Bing search results.  Yet it moves one step further in enabling +1 on both paid and organic search listings.

At this point distribution of +1 is extremely limited (less than 1% of searches) but will expand over the coming weeks. Initially, my thoughts surround a few topics.

  • How should advertisers respond? The bottom line remains the same. It’s rather simple actually – create value for the customer. Provide relevant, fresh content and a quality user experience and you will be liked, +1nd, retweeted, friended, shared and rewarded.
  • Paid search: For advertisers we’ve relied on CTR as a measure of relevance, adding the +1 feature will help provide insight into consumer perceptions of messaging. Advertisers will be able to leverage this data in their search copywriting. As for other measures, according to Google, Quality Score will not be impacted. Campaigns should therefore be monitored for performance variations as the +1 buttons are distributed more widely.
  • Organic Search: Google’s evolution toward personalization is a good thing in my opinion and should be encouraged. Yet, whenever they make changes to their algorithm there are always those that are going to try to beat the system. We can expect a whole new suite of black hat SEO tactics to surface. While I certainly do not condone these antics, they should be acknowledged and monitored.

Some general items to note:

  • Google +1 is currently available only by the opt-in method by using the Google Experimental link: http://www.google.com/experimental/index.html
  • A Google profile must be activated. Full +1 functionality will be available when a user is logged into a Google account; When logged out – users will be able to see the total of +1 votes without the user names
  • Search Results:
    • Paid Search:  All Adwords listings will get +1 buttons. Advertisers will not be able to shut them off; quality score will not be affected.  Advertisers should monitor impact on CTR.
    • Organic: +1 feature will influence search engine rankings based on activity within an individual’s social network
  • Reporting: Google Webmaster Tools will be able to provide stats behind both organic & non-paid listings
  • For Webmasters: +1 buttons (similar to Facebook “Like” Buttons) next to content are expected to roll out within months and should be added to content
  • Privacy: By enabling the +1 feature, Google will take note of the following: Gmail/Google chat contact lists, Google Contacts, and people you follow on Google Buzz/Google Reader
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  • Seth Berman

    Nice post Stephen. I especially appreciated the tip on how to opt-in to use +1. I was wondering if that was possible.

    I think there’s something else going on here though. Google has figured out that they can’t just start a social network like Facebook and expect people to join. But what they do have is more users than anyone else. By requiring its users to create and activate a Google Profile, I think they are using +1 as a backdoor to building users for whatever social network they eventually create.

  • Stephen Anderson

    Seth, thanks for the follow up. You’re definitely onto something. Google has a long history of stumbles in the social space (Search Wiki, Knoll, Wave, likely Buzz). This smells like a bid to leverage search (what they do best) to also kickstart a social program. Is this the death of Buzz or just a defibrillator? Time will tell.

  • Pingback: Google’s +1 Feature and Tim McGraw: I like it. | KatelynStokes.com

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