What Google +1 Means for Digital Marketers and Google’s Future

Google +1  is the critical priority of the year for our friends at Google. Accordingly, they’ve invested their most prized asset in this effort: space on every single paid and organic search result.

(To get a quick explanation of +1, see the video below.)

Why So Much Urgency?
I see two large drivers for the urgency behind this launch, which makes this akin to Apple launching a new iPad.

Google is Desperate to Be a Social Platform
Google has tried a series of social initiatives: starring results, blocking results, side-wiki and Google Buzz, but none have achieved mass success. Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare and others have cracked the code on the social Web 2.0 networked world. Google is still the hub of Web 1.0 webpages. But the social graph lives on platforms that others control, and that’s a threat to Google.

Google Seeks to Restore Integrity to its Search Results via Social Markers
As I noted a few weeks ago, crappy organic search results are a threat to the value position of Google’s paid results. That’s the lion’s share of their revenue.

Google has been off inventing cars that drive themselves and devices that could replace television networks, but along the way they let SEO gamers lower the integrity of their organic search results. Adding social signals to the search formula is a step away from factors that SEO gamers control, such as link farms and exact match domains.

This Beta Is Still Half-baked, But It Deserves Your Attention Now
The rush to release the beta is evident, as all the elements in +1 which take place off the search engine results pages (SERPs) aren’t yet ready.  That’s too bad, because without them, +1 fails; that’s why its a beta.  After all, the purpose of a search page is to get people to content, not to survey them to see if they like what’s described in the search result.

The place where +1 will fly or fail is on the websites of potentially millions of users who will install the +1 button. Yet, just like the iPad2, if you’d like to add a +1 button to your website, “there’s a line for that.”

The other missing element is the special tab in your Google profile that shows people what you’ve +1’ed.  This may be soon to come, but until it does, this beta isn’t very social. Once people can Tweet and link to their list of +1s, and promote the program on their own sites, it will be legitimately social. For the time being, this is just a design shift on SERP pages, and a glimpse of what’s ahead.

In the Long Term, Google +1 Is Promising to Marketers
This promises social proof to validate firms’ search results. Further, there’s the potential of future influence on natural search engine rankings or the quality score of ads (SEO agencies, start your engines).  And if profile pages become social hubs, marketers can gain additional awareness and traffic through social sharing on these.

+1 Is Also Promising to Google’s Future
1. It gives searchers a reason to use Google when they’re signed in, rather than anonymously. This means Google can build richer records of individuals’ use of search and better target ads.
2. It expands the public use for the Google profile page, which can be built into a future social networking play.
3. It is an answer to Facebook’s Like button, which is already on about 2 million websites.
4. It is an innovation that moves the public spotlight off Google’s struggle with link farms and SEO gamesmanship.

Unanswered Questions and Unintended Consequences

Will This Initially Decrease Conversion Rates?
If you follow the UsefulArts Twitter feed,  SEO pro Andy Komack @akomack raised the question of the unintended conversion distraction that Google+1 introduces.  Currently the +1 box is a distraction from the core purpose of search pages: channeling traffic to content.  If a social opportunity interrupts the search experience, click-throughs could in fact decline. This might change over time, but I agree with his concern.

How Will Participation Change Search Engine Results?
Will sites with the +1 box on their pages gain an advantage in SERP rankings? Will sites with more +1s move up in rankings, or end up paying less for PPC placement?

Bold Prediction: This is the start of Google the Social Network
I see this as a move in a more expansive social play, in which Google will combine its Profile Pages, the +1 Button, Google Buzz, Google Chat, Google Phone, Gmail and its RSS Reader into an integrated social network. I suspect we will see these point services substantially repackaged into an aggregated offering. What do you think?

That’s my take on this now day-old initiative.
I’d love to hear your view, so please comment away here or email me your take.

Post update: April 1, 2011, 9pm: after an instance of the +1 button was found “in the wild” running on a non-google website, Google announced it would withdraw the public test of the button. All information in this post continues to be accurate – and this illustrates again Google’s urgency to accelerate this launch while attempting to manage marketers interest in this initiative. (details)

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    July 18, 2015

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