Google has done a lot for work on Social SEO in recent times and their new innovation, Google +1, is a continuation of that.
The premise is simple: Google +1 allows users to recommend links to “friends, contacts and others on the web”. This can be either from search results pages or directly from a website.
By clicking a +1 button you are voting for a website or giving it your approval. On first glance this may look pretty much the same idea as the Facebook ‘Like’ button, but its affects could be much wider reaching.
Google released this video to introduce the +1 button:
Google Plus 1 in Search Results
When a Google user searches while logged into their public account, a small grey +1 button appears next to each search result. When one of these buttons is clicked it turns blue. This indicates that the user has recommended the link, or +1’d it.
A record of all the links that a Google user has recommended appears in the new +1 tab of their Google account. These links can be set to either public or private. If set to public, people in that user’s social circle can see that they have recommended the link.
Google Plus 1 on Web Pages
It is also possible to add a +1 button directly to a web page, in much the same way as you would a Facebook ‘Like’ button or a Twitter ‘Tweet’ button. This button allows visitors to recommend a link directly from the web page itself.
Google has now launched a page to generate the code for a +1 buttons.
Google Plus 1 and the Social Circle
A user’s social circle is comprised of direct connections through their Google account and products such as Gmail, Google Talk, Contacts, Reader, Buzz and so on. It also contains connections through third party networks such as Twitter and Flickr.
A link that a someone recommends is visible to connected people in their social circle. Similarly, the links that connected people in the social circle recommend are visible to the person themselves.
So, for example, if 25 people have recommended a link, including 3 connections (friends x, y and z) from a person’s social circle, they would see something like: 25 people have +1′d this site including friend x, y and z.
How Google +1 could affect Click-Through Rate
Logically, links in search engine results pages (SERPs) with a good number of +1 recommendations are likely to experience an increased click-through rate (CTR). On the basis that something popular is likely to be higher quality/more interesting/more relevant than something that is not, high numbers of +1’s are likely to influence the links that searchers click.
More importantly, if a friend of someone searching Google has recommended something, it is likely to carry even greater significance in influencing the link that the searcher will click on.
For example, someone searching for a restaurant to visit will see that one of their friends has recommended a particular restaurant. This restaurant may not be in the top position in the search engine rankings, but because the person trusts the opinion and judgement of their friend, they will be more likely to click through to that restaurant’s website.
How Google +1 could affect SEO
Google has already done a lot of work on social SEO. This is becoming more and more visible in search results through the higher positions given to links shared by people in the social circle of the searcher.
For example, if I search for blog posts about eCommerce, Google displays a recent article written by someone in my social circle right at the top of the search results.
It’s a fair bet that friend’s +1’s will have a similar effect on search results.
Google +1’s influence may end up being wider than the social circle, though. According to Google…
“Your +1′s can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search.”
The “and others” part of this statement gives an indication that the number of +1’s may contribute to Google’s search algorithm.
Currently Google measures the relevance of content using metrics such as bounce rate, i.e. the proportion of users who leave a website without viewing more than one page. Having +1 recommendations become one of these metrics would give webmasters even more of an incentive to provide relevant and engaging content in order to keep visitors on their website.
Is Google +1 open to abuse?
If and when Google +1 is shown to have influence over search engine rankings, even for users not signed into Google accounts, there’s little doubt that there will be people looking to short-cut the system.
We can probably expect to see the same SEO companies that offer to sell thousands of backlinks, directory submissions and Twitter retweets offering to do something similar with Google +1 recommendations. The nature of Google accounts and the amount of information that Google holds about it’s users may make this difficult, however.
With such a wide range of services available through a Google account, it won’t take much for Google to work out which accounts are spam and which are genuine. For example, Google will be able to tell the difference between an account that is only used to +1 hundreds of links each week and an account that regularly logs into Gmail, YouTube, etc. and +1′s a few links per week.
In a similar way to how links shared on Twitter are given weighting based on the perceived ‘authority’ of a user’s Twitter account, Google may attempt to place greater significance on recommendations by certain users.
Will it Catch On?
The short answer is that it’s difficult to say at this point. Google hasn’t always had the most successes with it’s social services – Buzz for example.
It’s also slightly unclear as to how Google expects the +1 button to be used on search results pages. Are users supposed to +1 a link without visiting it or are they supposed to visit a link then return to the search results to give their recommendation? The +1 on-page button may go some way to answer these questions.
There’s also the feeling that it’s yet another thing to sign up for and use in an already crowded area.
Google has taken this into consideration, though, which is why displaying recommendations in search results could be the thing that makes +1 a success. The recommendations are there at the exact time a user needs them.
Let’s compare this to the Facebook ‘Like’ button…
If someone goes to a restaurant and ‘Likes’ it on Facebook, their friends will see the recommendation but over the following days and weeks will forget all about it.
If someone recommends the same restaurant with Google +1 then, several weeks down the line, when one of their friends is searching for a restaurant to go to, the recommendation will show up in their search results. This is great in theory but would require the searcher to be signed into their Google account. Although it is speculation as to the percentage of people who are logged into their Google account when they search, the number isn’t thought to be very high.
It will certainly be interesting to see if +1 catches on. What could be most significant, however, is how Google uses the information from recommendations to influence search results outside the social circle.
The +1 button could mean a shift in SEO that places greater significance on content. To take advantage of this, it would be up to webmasters to produce content that visitors will want to recommend.
Google’s algorithm may change but the overall aims remain the same – content is king.