At the end of March Google launched the +1 button, a kind of virtual stamp of approval very similar to Facebook’s ‘Like’ button. It is widely regarded as an attempt by Google to incorporate “social signals”, i.e. individual recommendations by users for other users, into its search engine results pages (SERPs). More simply put, it is a way for Google users to see search results with recommendations from members of their social networking circle.
A little blue button will show up next to search results (both PPC and natural), keeping track of how many people recommended the respective PPC Ad or SEO result by +1-ing it. The +1 button is currently only available in the US for a small portion of the total users, but it promises to be an important aspect for both brands and search agencies (Net Media Planet founder Sri Sharma touches on social search in his new white paper, Search Innovations Marketers Can’t Afford to Ignore in 2011).
Why is Google launching the +1 button now?
It would be easy to ascribe this move to a simple desire to challenge Facebook, and this is no doubt a considerable factor in Google’s thinking: Facebook undeniably has taken the lead in using the social graph to gain information about user’s relationships with each other, and Google isn’t one to settle for second best.
Google also have every reason to be concerned that users will migrate to Facebook to perform activities deeply rooted in Google’s customer proposition – such as searching for company websites, for example. However, Google also wants to improve its understanding of users and their relationships based on the users’ social circles, and – the big one – to provide better results for the user through more relevant ads and results. Through +1, Google will be able to observe exactly what their users like and target them with more relevant ads.
What does this mean for brands?
The +1 button will, when it is eventually rolled out worldwide, serve as a real-time indicator of a brand’s online reputation – the more +1s a website has, the more reliable it will appear to users on the SERPs.
This means that the need for original, engaging and relevant content will be higher than ever for brands, since users will only +1 something they feel is worth recommending.
What does it mean for PPC?
It is difficult to make predictions at the moment, but it’s fair to say that Google +1 could become a factor in determining Quality Score (QS) and therefore have an impact on cost per click (CPC). Ads that have more +1s than others will also most likely experience a higher click-through-rate (CTR) – a similar effect to AdWords’ seller rating.
Since a +1 recommendation is unique to an adcopy, it will also affect adcopy optimisation – if you experiment too much with your ad copy, you risk losing all those hard-earned +1s.
As of yet, the +1 is only applied to text ads, but there is a good chance we can expect it to apply to display ads outside Google’s search engine in the future.
What does it mean for SEO?
Google +1 will become a factor in determining organic rankings – search results that have been +1’ed more will get better organic search positions (and CTRs). When adding a new product/content to your website, this might throw up the question as to whether to build a new page (that won’t have any +1s) or integrate it into the existing set-up.
Similar to its effect on PPC ads, +1s are unique to the landing pages of the ad, which will influence landing page optimisation decisions.
The launch of the Google +1 is definitely an intriguing step into social weighting, just for the fact that it actively takes the fight to Facebook. While predictions and tangible conclusions are difficult to make right now, +1 is likely to be a very important element for search, since it increases the social factor.
To read more about what is likely to move things ahead in search marketing in 2011, and how to adapt to the increasing importance of social search, have a look at Net Media Planet’s white paper titled Search Innovations Marketers Can’t Afford to Ignore in 2011, which can be downloaded here.