Impressions Of Google +1: Functionality And Effect

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Synopsis — Google’s new +1 feature has been out for a few months now and has been burning up the Internet with discussions of whether or not it signals a move by Google to challenge Facebook for supremacy of social networking. It will take quite a bit of time to see all the nuances of the tool, but for now, online marketers need to know the basic functionality of the +1 button and implementation.

In her article, “Impressions Of Google +1: Functionality And Effect,” Zanthe Ferris delves into this topic, providing information on how to implement the Google +1 for your site. She then moves into a discussion of the implications of Google +1 in comparison to Facebook’s “like” button, and continues with an analysis of how Google +1 will affect the future of search.

If you’ve been looking for a succinct introduction to Google +1 and some thoughtful musings on its implications vis-a-vis Facebook, Zanthe’s article will fit that bill!

The complete article follows …

Impressions Of Google +1: Functionality And Effect

Google released its newest social tool — Google +1 — in March 2011. Similar to Facebook’s “like” button, it lets users cast votes for specific websites or individual web pages. +1 buttons are displayed in organic search results and next to paid advertisements, indicating to individual searchers that one or more of their Google contacts has cast a vote for the specified results. With the assumption that the average searcher is influenced by the opinions of their friends, Google +1 aims to make it easier to find exactly what you are seeking.

As with any significant new search feature, Google +1 has spurred a multitude of questions. How do you see +1s? How do you show +1s? Is it a social network? Is Google competing with Facebook? How will this affect the future of Google Search? Let’s explore the purpose and future potential of Google’s +1 feature as we attempt to answer some of these questions.

Implementation And Use Of Google +1

Site owners must arrange for the implementation of the Google +1 button on their website’s pages using the code provided in Google Webmaster Tools. Different design and size formats are available and further customization can be achieved using Google’s API documentation. Once the+1 button is implemented, people may start casting “votes” for that site or individual web page. Each +1 button applies only to the URL of the page on which it’s found, so a new button needs to be added to each site page on which webmasters want to offer the sharing option.

For sites containing multiple pages that display the same content in different ways — ecommerce sites, for example — Google Webmaster Tools provides several canonicalization strategies that ensure pages are not excluded from the search results (along with any +1s attached to them) due to duplicate content issues.

To see Google +1 buttons in your search results, you must be logged in to your public Google account. When you search on a particular keyword, the results will show if anyone in your contact list has endorsed that particular company/item/result and, if so, who recommended it. You will also see+1 buttons on YouTube, along with personal annotations from those who have clicked on +1 buttons. Even if you aren’t logged into your public Google profile, search results may show +1 icons according to the total number of times they have been tagged, but not specifically who marked them. Only aggregate annotations are visible in this situation.

Creating a profile also helps people identified as contacts across all of Google’s services to see what you’ve recommended or to take your opinion into account when deciding upon a particular result. Additionally, all of the sites or web pages you’ve “+1’d” are kept in a tab within your Google profile. Users have the option of making their list of +1s public (the default) or to keep it private. Although the +1 button is currently supported in more than 44 languages, all Google +1 annotations are only available in English at this time.

The Implications Of Google +1 Versus Facebook “Like”

Google tried to buy Facebook in 2004 but was unsuccessful, and Bing eventually partnered with the social network. Many speculate this is behind Google’s discounting Facebook data in its organic search as well as releasing its own version of social options to compete with those popular on Facebook. Because Google search results do not officially support Facebook social data, Google appears to be positing +1 as its own version of the “like” button. However, unlike Facebook, there is no social network attached to +1. Your Google +1 “network” includes everyone in your contact or chat list within Gmail and people you follow on Google Reader or Google Buzz — in short, people with whom you are in contact via other Google products and services. With a smaller number of people connected on these sites compared to Facebook or Twitter, there are bound to be a smaller number of +1s — at least at first.

Executives appear to be aiming to leverage Microsoft’s recent increase in market share with the success of the Bing/Facebook partnership, allowing “like” data and profile information to appear in Bing’s organic search results. If the partnership results in Google search diehards converting their default search engine to Bing to take advantage of the new Facebook social search options, Bing may finally have a leg up in the ongoing competition with Google. With Facebook Instant Personalization, which allows you to see which members of your Facebook network have “liked” items in your search results, together with the massively popular social network itself, Google +1 may fall short for individual users.

Because you need to have a Google public profile to see the +1 buttons in your organic search results, this new feature may take longer to catch on. Google also has to overcome its existing reputation as the ultimate in search. Most users go to Google to search for content or information, while they go to Facebook to share items they find interesting or worthwhile. Because Google is known so widely as the “go to” engine for search, and because of the popularity of social networking on Facebook (and the past lukewarm performances of Google Wave and Google Buzz), Google has an uphill battle to fight to gain a large following as a social hub. Additionally, most people seem perfectly content using the existing Facebook and Twitter platforms to share online. In order to succeed, Google +1 will need to find a way to differentiate itself from these larger names already associated with online social networking.

Another barrier is the difference between the essential purpose of Facebook’s “like” button versus Google’s +1 button. Whereas those familiar with Facebook view the “like” button as a way to share content or information with friends within their social network, Google +1 is essentially a way to have a particular site or web page appear in the organic results when queries are made by your Google contacts. With Facebook already well established by name and with a huge global following, it may prove difficult to convert loyal Facebook users to Google +1, or even to convince them to become habitual users of both options.

The question is this — will Google be able to establish Google +1 as a go-to feature as has been accomplished by the Facebook and Twitter share buttons? Facebook “like” buttons already have an overwhelming presence on websites across the Internet, making it questionable if Google is wise to position itself competing directly with “like” buttons as a place to engage in a social search type of social networking. The +1 feature is more general than the Facebook “like” and it is not attached to a social network — precisely because of this, its success and popularity may just be possible. Interestingly enough, Google +1 has already surpassed the number of Twitter buttons within the first few months of being released (Brightedge Social Share Report of July 2011). Many have pointed out that +1 provides more than the often-limiting 140 characters offered on Twitter, which may well be a sign that it is finding a place in the market.

How Will Google +1 Affect The Future Of Google Search?

One of the hopes of Google executives in offering a feature such as +1 is that it will help to improve their current ad delivery system. Google +1 has been extended to paid ads, meaning that using the +1 button will (hopefully) both encourage searchers to click on paid ads and help Google gather data on user behavior and user preferences. In addition to improving the clickthrough rate of paid ads, it should also help the engine to better target them.

With social optimization taking on a larger role within the Internet marketing industry, and the ongoing buzz about Facebook data showing up in Bing’s search results, Google +1 offers website owners and search marketers the opportunity to improve site exposure on Google and offer a more interactive way to search. Since +1 was created by a company that has its own search engine, YouTube, Blogger, and other high-profile services, improvements in organic search traffic and rankings for publishers who use the Google +1 feature on their sites are certain to occur.

Another potential benefit associated with the implementation of the Google +1 button may be that it will spur search engine spiders to crawl the corresponding web pages (either for the first time or for a repeat visit) in response. This creates an opportunity for webmasters and search engine marketers to add new optimized content to pages containing Google +1 buttons and to have them crawled sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

While Google +1 surely will not replace Facebook as a familiar spot to network and socialize online, we will most likely see an influx of Google +1 buttons on websites across the Internet, as well as an increase in applications and uses for it. Judging by the organic success of other major Google products (YouTube, for example), the new social sharing attribute will likely be incorporated into its search algorithm — if it hasn’t already been.

Another aspect to the +1 button sets it apart from Facebook and Facebook-like (no pun intended) functionality. Whereas Facebook increases only the amount of social traffic to a site, Google +1 adds a social aspect to organic traffic, adding an incentive for publishers to actively use the feature and contribute to its success. If it succeeds, +1 has the potential to cast a far wider net than Facebook can with its inherently social limitations.

About the Author

Zanthe Ferris is the Director of SEO at Medium Blue Search Engine Marketing. Prior to joining Medium Blue, Zanthe worked as an account manager for a pharmaceutical marketing firm, creating marketing packages and proposals for major pharmaceutical companies. Zanthe received her BA from Tulane University. At Medium Blue, Zanthe is in charge of identifying and managing critical aspects of SEO campaigns for all clients.

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