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It had to happen. The search behemoth has revealed plans to roll out ‘+1’, the Google equivalent of Facebook's ‘Like’ button.

Google’s intentions are clear. It wants to work social signals into its algorithm to a) reduce spam, and b) deliver increasingly personalised results.

The +1 button will appear alongside search results and – in time - on websites. 

Here’s what it looks like:

Google +1 - before the click

And after the click:

Google +1 - after the click

Google really needs to make more sense of the social graph in order to optimise +1. If it manages to acquire Twitter in the coming months then, as far as I'm concerned, +1 could be a great success. It tantalisingly suggests that it "may" attempt a deeper integration with Twitter:

Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible.”

User control is the key. The algorithm can only do so much, and Google would be foolish to resort to guesswork when determining which networks to listen to. It needs to ask the right questions…

Reading the right smoke signals 

Here’s the key problem that Google has to contend with: everybody has different preferences when it comes to social networks. In order to improve relevance, Google needs to figure out which is your most relevant social network. It may not be the same as mine. We all use them differently.

Think about it and ask yourself which social platform you would trust to influence the search results that Google presents to you? For me, it is definitely my Twitter network. By following people on Twitter I am implicitly recommending them (even the weirdos) and filing them under the “interesting” label. They talk about things and share links relevant to my interests. They give good tweet, if you will. And I’d be happy for Google to use their +1s to improve my search results.

The same cannot be said of my other networks. For example, my Google ‘circle’ contains many dozens of random PR contacts (who aren't the same as the PR folks I follow on Twitter). Just because I might have emailed somebody a few times doesn’t mean I will trust their judgement (which is ultimately a byword for ‘+1’), or share the same interests. 

Similarly, Facebook is no good for me either, as a) I don’t use it much and b) my Facebook network is by and large limited to old friends and family.

Unless Google can figure out which of my social networks to trust it will be playing with fire, as far the SERPs are concerned. It needs to ask the question, and it needs to expand the range of available data sources / networks that it monitors.

Why Google could win

Google pays Twitter an eight-figure sum to access the data firehose and it does a far better job than Twitter in certain areas, such as search. Google Realtime is a treat, relative to Twitter’s underperforming and highly restrictive search tool. It knows how to work with data and how to build tools that extend and enhance the data. 

I still think that it makes a lot of sense for Google to buy Twitter but even if it doesn’t, it can use the Twitter API / firehose to really make sense of people’s networks. Unless Facebook buys it, in which case all bets are off. 

Whether Google can or will access personal networks on Facebook remains to be seen. The API allows for much insight into personal networks, but even if the user gives permission I have a strong suspicion that Facebook might not. Does it currently work with Facebook data? I'm not convinced that it does. It seems like there's a bit of a cold war going on between these two heavyweights right now.

And what of those people who don’t use Twitter and Facebook. They do exist! And what of the niche networks? What of the true social ‘media’ sites like Reddit? Google might need to spread its wings beyond the obvious candidates.

There’s a much bigger picture, I think, in terms of how Google will look at +1 data. Those low-rent sites that the Panda update didn’t quite deal with may struggle to maintain first page listings, in the face of +1 activity on quality sites. This could become the biggest multiple choice A/B test in search history. Surely those sites that attract lots of +1 clicks could ultimately outrank those that don’t, even when personalised search is turned off / people aren’t logged in?

What are the search experts saying?

I noticed the +1 news break last night, since when many search experts have waded into the fray to make sense of it. The joy of being relatively late to the party is that I can now link to them...

Malcolm Coles wonders about the mechanics of the user interface. ‘What normal person would ever use +1?’, he asks.

Danny Sullivan provides the usual comprehensive breakdown of +1 and points out why it matters to Adwords advertisers.

Tom Critchlow points out the social signals are already well correlated with search rankings, and also that +1 will be hard to game.

Steak Digital thinks that big brands will win big. I personally think that any brand – big or small – with a strong community is well positioned to do well, once +1 is rolled out worldwide.

Peter Young from Brilliant Media reckons that Google is “trying to force a community”, and that +1 is a very different beast from Facebook ‘likes’, which is anchored around an existing social network.

Joanna Butler just wants Google to be impartial, and she's not sure that +1 is going to help on that score.

What do you make of +1? Me too? Great idea? A statement of intent?  [Images via the Official Google Blog]
Chris Lake

Published 31 March, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Nigel Sarbutts

Your take on which network is your default or primary one is key to this. (I'd say +1 to that, but it would be cheesy).

But this development brings to mind SideWiki, that interesting Google product that could have been immense but seemed to just fade.

Linking a +1 endorsement to a Sidewiki entry to develop the meaning behind could be a huge development.

Of course that would also lead to a -1 comment, which is another layer of interest and would give both PR and SEO industries a big headache.

over 5 years ago

Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

Forget the implications for Social and Online advertising in general - this is the final nail in the coffin of proper grammar.

"+1'd"?!!! - Lynne Truss has probably started a new book as I write this!

over 5 years ago


Mashup Guy

Quite honestly, I can't see this kind of tool being used much by your average person. If anything, this is going to be a tool that gets used and abused by marketing and seo specialists. The average person wants to go on the web, get what they came for, and leave. They don't always want to contribute or share to the internet eco system. I think that someday in retrospect, this will have been another disposable idea that should have never made it past the thought stage.

over 5 years ago


Andy Heaps, Operations Director at Epiphany

One of the big problems I can see is the people Google want to be "+1ing" have no real incentive to do so. Facebook's equivalent, with 'Likes', pushes that activity out to a user's friends - you know your action has a consequence.

Using people's existing social circles would have been a much more viable solution for Google if they weren't rolling it out across paid search too - Facebook is THE threat to Google's revenues currently so Google will be wanting to distance themselves from any sort of data sharing with the likes of Facebook.

More of my thoughts over at http://www.epiphanysolutions.co.uk/blog/google-1-or-google-1/

over 5 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

I can see an elite group of super users taking full advantage of the +1 feature. I can also see spammers licking their chops with the one, trying to figure out how to game the system. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the online community, the average user, takes to this.

over 5 years ago


Paul Chaney

Louis Camassa has written an insightful blog post at Practical Ecommerce on this topic, Google's New +1 Button and the Demise of Google: http://www.practicalecommerce.com/blogs/post/825-Google-s-New-1-Button-and-the-Demise-of-Google. It proposes that big brands will win out over small business.

over 5 years ago


Rivaldo Gibbs

Google is trying to attract more and more users towards it for Facebook. This looks like Facebook "Like", as for +1 you need to be login with Google. Also some of spammers are using this to add 1 for their sites, and to avoid spammers, it should be based on IP addresses, like Google's other programmes are.

over 5 years ago


Nick Armstead, SEO + PPC Consultant at Orantec

I dont know why google are so socially inept that they dont see 95% oif +1's are going to come from companies or spam. we dont use google to share things! simple! we use facebook to share things and google to lookup the things we want to share!

Google really need to read some business books and learn to innovate not immitate!

over 5 years ago


Jonathan Smith

You have to ask the question why would people do it? In general websites often don't motivate people enough to 'like' them, that's what people do in their personal lives.

I appreciate that it works for Trip Advisor and co, but there the user gains something. Although in theory the user gains because it will affect the SERPs it's a bit less of a direct impact...

over 5 years ago


Matthew Oxley

The Key thing a lot of people underestimate, is how people change their behaviour over time.

15 years ago , very few people would give serious consideration to actually paying for things Online for instance.

There's every chance this button will fail this time round, as Google's other attempts to do a similar thing have. There's also a chance they'll get enough takeup - the critical mass - and they'll have a powerful new ranking signal that will finally eclipse links.

over 5 years ago


Mike Frensham

Doing a little research into Google + and how it has progressed since last year very interesting article and comments thanks

about 4 years ago

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