The New Google +1 Button - What does it mean for Searchers, Webmasters and Advertisers?
What is Google +1?
Essentially, the +1 button is the new social recommendation tool from Google. Google describe +1 as shorthand for "this is pretty cool" or "you should check this out." The principle behind the button is that it's easier to search the web and find relevant results when someone you know has already found and rated a website before you.
The +1 social group is made up of your Gmail contacts, the people you follow in Google Reader, Buzz and will eventually (so we are told) include contacts from sites such as Flickr and Twitter too.
How do searchers use the new +1 button?
Searchers need to have a public Google profile. If they click to +1 your site; the recommendation is visible in their profile and in search results. All +1's are public, i.e. you would see their 'vote' counted in numbers - the voters name would only appear if the searcher 's profile is set to public and the person searching is part of their network on Google.
Where has Google +1 been rolled out?
Currently only US searches in English have +1's, and only a 'very small percentage' of websites will be given the +1 button to begin with. The idea launched on 28th March is still an 'experiment' however it seems very likely that it will roll out globally eventually and to all elements of the web, i.e. SERP's, PPC ads and webmasters will be able to add a button to individual pages of their website.
Once you are able to have buttons on individual sites – the clicks or votes for that website or page will also be visible on the SERP's and this may attract a number of websites to adopt the button.
What is the benefit of the new +1 button to searchers and advertisers?
Google engineer Matt Cutts was quoted in a SearchEngineLand post as saying:
"The primary benefit is that search gets better. It gets better in the user interface immediately, and we'll look at it as a potential signal to improve search quality as well. I find social search extremely useful, especially with the recent updates. This change continues the evolution of social search, and it's a natural progression to improve the search experience".
Google were also quoted as saying:
"We're committed to making the web more people-centric, and we've been gradually giving people new ways to share things and interact within our products. This is just another example of how we're centering [sic] our products around the millions of people who use them every day".
Why introduce +1 buttons?
Essentially it seems Google is looking to develop their social media offering and compete with the likes of Facebook by adding 'social layers' to their searches. Google's public reasoning is that it helps with the relevancy of search results.
Google rely on people trusting their results because they are the biggest authority on the web. However, not everyone trusts the results they are presented with – they are not always the best possible listings for that person individually – Google's algorithms approach search results in a more generic way by looking at content and also at the number of backlinks (always deemed as votes for your site). This is a completely technical process and the new +1 system encourages more human interaction in search.
Sites such as Amazon, eBay and TripAdvisor all rely on social sharing - it is something we are well accustomed to. Whether it's a product review, or seller feedback – people make decisions every day based on the votes of confidence given by others, be it from peers, friends or even complete strangers. Google's algorithms give the best results for the query, but only a human can tell if the website is actually 'interesting' or 'cool'.
Why would Google introduce this now?
If Google is looking at social networks and feeling a little green with envy then one can better understand the introduction of the +1. Recommendation data that comes from Facebook 'likes' currently for example is hugely valuable to Google and they obviously want to collate their own data to help benefit the overall search experience. With the volume of content in Google massively outnumbering the content on any social network, it won't be long (if the +1 takes off) before Google has more data than its rivals. This in itself is an exciting prospect for advertisers on Google.
Google always works to keep its search engine results relevant and spam-free. The latest dramatic updates to its algorithm all work to deter spam and penalise those cheating the system. Google is of the opinion that +1 social cues will provide additional information on the quality of websites, in effect getting a more human editing system for results.
+1's also gives Google a new insight into how searchers are connected to each other. Currently Twitter provides some information on this to Google but the main authority in this field, Facebook does not share data with Google. +1's allow Google to see more direct connections and build their own data profile of social networking online.
How does +1 affect SEO / Organic Search Rankings?
At the moment it doesn't, well, not yet anyway. Google are interested in using the data but have been vague on whether they are incorporating it in to their algorithms and are yet to commit publicly on this topic.
For organic listings Google ranks sites according to data which reflects the sites popularity, for example; time spent on site, bounce rate and backlink profiles. This methodology, particularly in more recent times, has had its downfalls. Links are open to being abused as we saw in the JC Penney story and thus Google may just be trying to add new dimensions of measurement into their algorithms.
It's possible that Google believes the use of +1 voting between friends is a new and improved way to count the popularity of a site. It's a new approach and one which they believe is less open to spam because friends don't tend to purposely spam one another.
The message from Google is hinting that if you get more +1's - you will get more traffic.
So will Google +1 affect Paid Search (PPC)?
Yes it will – you can also now have a +1 button next to your paid search adverts from Adwords. PPC is not usually an area you would expect to find votes of confidence but this is actually where it may be more useful for searchers and advertisers. There will be no way to turn off this feature for PPC either so get used to the idea!
+1 votes are said to help click through rates, however I question that that will always be true. Those adverts with no votes will surely be likely to have a lower CTR than before the +1 was introduced and less clicks than those adverts with masses of +1's.
Regardless of how this pans out – one thing is for sure; it might impact on conversion rates because the people who clicked your ad already have a bit more information about your site before they click and thus they are likely to be more serious about that click. A bit like having a site review of a product, a +1 simply gives the searcher a good idea of what quality of site they might reach when they click your advert. If you look at it in the most positive light possible, +1's might reduce gun-ho click throughs, meaning you spend less and hopefully gain more from what you do spend on.
Banner and display advertising is also on the list for development and Google +1's will be allowed on the content network in the near future as we understand it.
Google have said that +1's are likely to form a small part of Quality Scoring for PPC - to what extent it will affect QS is yet to be determined.
In addition, paid adverts that have been +1'd will be visible in your Adwords account allowing advertisers to optimise their selections of advert text for PPC.
Will searchers see different results from other people if they engage in +1ing websites?
Yes, Google have already enabled searchers to use the data from their +1's to personalise their search results. Much in the same way that you see results on Google now that are bias to what you have previously searched and clicked on (unless you use a clean browser of course) then +1's will also affect a searchers results listings.
How can I get more +1's for my site?
Realistically the answer to that is you must have a good website with lots of useful and unique content that visitors are interested in and which makes them want to share their enthusiasm for. There isn't a short cut.
Some webmasters have already considered the many less than ethical techniques they can use to cheat the Google +1 system. For example; by running an offer which says 'click +1 to enter the site' essentially railroading the user to +1 the page. While this is not expressly forbidden so far, it is very poor practice and circumvents the main purpose of Google +1 which is to share content people genuinely like.
Personally, in time I believe Google will identify and penalise such behaviour as it goes against their main philosophies. Cheating Google and using their developments to boost your own profits unethically is never ever a good idea. The debate over how the +1 can be misused goes on, however Google imply they have measures in place to stop this. We can but wait to see what happens on this front – no doubt someone will abuse the system for their own benefit when it is rolled out so watch this space to see how Google tackle it.
Finally, why on earth did Google call it +1?
This is a question I am increasingly confused about. Oddly, Google chose a name that couldn't be searched in their own search engine! Type in '+1' and the plus symbol is ignored in this context (because of the Boolean search logic). This means that ultimately you search '1' and the results do not include the +1 button! If you want more information about +1 type 'Google +1' in the search box.
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Sorry but you can't +1 my article from this page just yet, but you can from Google.com if you have signed up for the experiment!