Synopsis — The recent launch of Google Search Plus Your World has caused a lot of controversy in the social networking and marketing world. With skepticism surrounding privacy and biased search results, many people don’t know what to think about the program.
In her article, “Does Google Search Plus Your World (SPYW) Fit Your World,” Caitlin Melvin reveals the positives and negatives of inviting SPYW into your life. Melvin delves into the public’s concerns and breaks down the advantages and disadvantages SPYW can have from a business stand point. Is the potential for online exposure worth the Google-centric brand pushing? Where do you stand in the SPYW debate?
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Does Google Search Plus Your World (SPYW) Fit Your World?
We don’t know what Google’s algorithms are, but we do know that Google wants to bring users relevant search results. In January 2012, Google launched Search Plus Your World, a product they claimed was designed to deliver more personalized results to users. However, the product has caused a lot of controversy because of privacy issues and questions about potentially biased results. Relevant results are great for the user, but if Google tailors results so their products are being shown over others, it raises a red flag.
How Does Google Search Plus Your World Work?
To use Google Search Plus Your World (SPYW), you must be signed in to your Google account. If you use your Google + account and have a large circle of friends, articles and photos posted by your friends will start turning up in your search results while you are signed in. For example, I searched “QR codes” while signed in on Google, and as I reviewed the results, I noticed an article posted by two people from my circles. I will admit, the results suggested by peers caught my attention and engaged me. I wanted to probe further, and see what they had read about QR codes. By clicking on the results suggested by my Google+ friends, I was doing exactly what Google wanted me to do.
The idea is that Google believes we are highly influenced by our friends. We are more likely to click on articles and photos they post rather than regular organic results; therefore, including them brings more relevant results. The more popular the topic, and the more Google+ friends you have, the more your search results will differ from the regular organic results you would see if you were not signed into Google.
In addition to the suggested search results, if you search for a person’s name, and they happen to have a Google+ profile, their profile will show up in the dropdown menu in the search bar prompting you to start following them. Of course, you do not see any suggested Facebook friends, Pinterest users, or Twitter profiles. Google SPYW only shows other Google users, and does a very good job at helping increase our following and engagement within Google.
Branding In The SERPs With Google+
Since the launch of brand pages on Google last year, brands have an opportunity to show up in the search results and grow bigger social followings. As you search for a brand name, its Google+ page will show up on the right side of the search results, prompting you to follow the brand. After doing so, search results may include brand references. For example, if you follow the Kraft Foods brand page, as you search for related phrases such as “macaroni and cheese,” a recipe Kraft posted to its profile will show up in the results. This will only happen if you are signed into your Google account and you are following Kraft.
For brands that are naturally social and use social media outlets, Google+ works out well. For a brief moment, they are also at an advantage over competitors who have not signed up for a profile. To make the most of the opportunity for branding that Google+ offers, however, businesses will need to work at it a little more than they do at some other social media properties.
By having a brand page on Google+, you give yourself more opportunity to show up in the social SERPs and establish your name. Provided that you post relevant material, the articles your brand posts on Google+ will be included in a user’s SERPs. You still need to develop a Google+ strategy, and ensure you are posting the right articles, including proper keywords, and work on building your network within Google+. Google+ is not necessarily an easy thing for brands, and more is at stake in terms of trying to rank for specific keywords with Google SPYW.
Reviews of Google SPYW have been mixed. Perhaps it is good for users, especially those who don’t mind being bombarded with social media while doing a search on Google. But the most important issue is whether or not these results are actually relevant.
SEO Implications For Social Search
What does social search mean for SEO? For one, businesses should absolutely set up a Google+ page to give themselves better opportunities with search. Many people sign into their Google account without realizing Google is influencing them to click on results posted by their friends. This can certainly pose a threat to SEO efforts. When an individual is signed into a Google account, the search results they see will vary depending on the popularity of the topic with their friends on Google+. Going back to macaroni and cheese, if five of my friends have posted a mac-and-cheese recipe on their Google+ profile, some of the organic results I would have otherwise seen may appear lower in the SERP so that those recipes can appear.
Still, search results are affected by the topic’s popularity. If I search for a topic that no friend has posted information on, I see no change in the SERPs from signed in to signed out. Therefore, the amount of difference an individual will see in the SERPs depends on how well connected they are on Google+, and also on how active the people they are connected to are. Some users may not even notice a difference if they lack an active group of friends on Google+. Results will vary for each person, which is after all the idea behind social search. Each user will have their own personal results.
One huge disappointment is the unavailability of material from other popular social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter on Google+. In essence, although Google claims that Search Plus Your World is social search, it’s actually “Google social search.”
As a marketer, you may be displeased with the direction Google is headed with social search. However, it’s still extremely important to keep up with the changes, both for you and your clients. Advise your clients to get a Google+ brand page as well as a personal one for personal branding purposes. Once they have a Google+ profile established, they have to work very hard to groom it, ensuring they post articles and blog posts related to their industry so they have a better opportunity of showing up in the results. The goal is to ensure your brand page shows up on the right side of the SERPs, or your articles show up for topics your Google+ friends might be searching for.
In general, feedback on Google SPYW hasn’t been positive. Privacy issues are a concern. Some are annoyed by social media showing up in results, and anger is expressed at the implications for SEO efforts. The privacy issues arise from the ease with which one can access any user’s Google+ profile, and the fact that a user’s privately shared content is essentially displayed as public content in the search results. The variety of personal results shown is also controversial. The content being shown to users is from Google products. A recent redesign to a Facebook-like focus on images has been a big improvement in simplifying and making the product more attractive to users, but it’s still Google-centric.
Do I Have To Use Google Search Plus Your World?
I find myself sometimes influenced by Google+. Every so often, without realizing I’m logged into my Google account, I’ll see photos of my friends beside some of the search results and feel the need to click on them. I may be speaking for myself, but I do believe Google is doing its job at directing us. The truth is, we are influenced by our friends, whether their suggestions are relevant or not. The thought of social SEO is fun, innovative, and gives the user a new experience when doing a search online.
However, these results may not necessarily be fair on many levels. If you feel like you are being pushed into something, and just want go back to the old-fashioned search results, you don’t have to shut down your Google+ account completely. To escape the reach of Google SPYW, you can turn it off.
I suspect that there is a lot more to come from Google Search Plus Your World. It’s an intriguing approach that brands and businesses can use to gain a little more exposure online. The redesign may make it more popular and its use may begin to snowball as other social properties have done. Consequently, no matter their personal opinion, marketers need to keep on top of developments and advise their clients accordingly.