In an effort to deliver the most relevant search results, Google has just introduced +1, a shorthand used to recommend a link found at Google search result that will become visible to people within your social circle and the world in general. This feature is roughly similar to Twitter’s retweet function, but unlike in the microblogging platform where retweets immediately show up in the stream of the person you’re following, links that are +1’d — let’s see if this ever becomes a verb in the future — only show up when they become part of search results. Oh, and yes, it’s Google’s way to help influence clicks towards pay-per-click ads.
We know that social media influences search engine results, but with +1, recommendations are even more pronounced, because with every +1 button you click, you explicitly tell Google this is the link you’d like to recommend to friends. Not sure who Google refer as your “friends”? Just log on to Google Dashboard and go to “Contacts”.
In current practice, liking or recommending a web page requires a medium where they can be shared. Sharing the link on Twitter is one. Sharing on Facebook or liking the link shared by someone else is another. With +1, you don’t have to share the link you like; a single click on the button (see graphic illustration below) will do the trick. So in a way, it’s more “liking” than “sharing” in the realm of social media.
We might probably think, how can we +1 a page if we only saw the snippet and not the whole page to prove they are good enough to share? While the example shows the +1 button shared on search results pages, just the same as the ability to personalize a search result by marking it with a “star”, Google promises (watch the YouTube video above) +1 will not only be confined on search results pages but will also be visible on web pages themselves, just like the ubiquitous green retweet and blue share buttons we see on many pages.
When someone we know already +1’d a link that appears on our search results page, a tiny profile icon of him or her will be visible under the result. But more than just this friend who recommended this link, there are X number of other people who aren’t in our social circle who +1’d it as well. Google will also display how many they are in order to help us understand the popularity of this recommended web page.
This move is in line with Google’s push towards making Google Profiles public. With the new Google Profile, we can see a +1 tab that will track all results we have previously +1’d. Here, we can remove results we no longer want to show publicly that we like it.
Google had its attempts to get into social space to keep up with the (still) growing popularity of Facebook, which could take a significant portion of its revenue dollars. So far, the attempts were not so successful. So this launch is relatively low-profile. To start using this feature, one must enable this function at Google Experimental Search first. No public +1 buttons are available at the moment, but we can easily expect they’ll be deployed soon. With an arsenal at its disposal (toolbars, mobile device software, etc) Google can easily spread this new feature. The question that remains unanswered: is Google +1 going to break its past jinxes in Google’s foray into social space? Or this one will lead to a lawsuit over a recently awarded patent?
Interestingly, the timing of this +1 launch comes a day after Google settled an FTC complaint over Buzz, it’s social networking service linked to a user’s Gmail account. However, users were not explicitly warned that their e-mail lists would be automatically visible to the public, and that generated numerous complaints.
Influence on SEO
Some people think it’s a game of numbers — the more +1’s the better — and that could spawn fake profiles to artificially inflate number of +1’s. But I am sure Google has figured that one out already that rankings are not going to be influenced by +1 recommendations.
Maybe creating more descriptive Meta tags might help. But as stated above, people need to be sure they’re sharing good stuff before clicking the +1 button. By the time they figured that one out, they’re already at least a click away from the search results. So unless people go back and click +1 (and assuming +1 plugins are not available yet), maybe there’s not a lot of folks who’ll retrace their steps just to click this recommendation button.
For now, I see +1 feature offering minimal to negligible influence over SEO results.