Google is +1 Step Closer to a Social SERP: Google’s +1 Button & Implications for Advertisers

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Google is +1 Step Closer to a Social SERP: Google’s +1 Button & Implications for Advertisers


BACKGROUND

Google recently announced the launch of its +1 button, which allows searchers to like (or “+1”) paid and natural search results.  +1s will appear alongside search results.  In launching the +1 button, Google stated, “[s]ometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it.”  To +1 search results and see personalized +1s (e.g. “Bob Smith +1’d this page”), searchers must have a public Google Profile.  Searchers who have a Google account but no Google Profile will see the personalized +1s but won’t be able to click the +1 button themselves.  Those who don’t have a Google Profile or aren’t logged into Google will see aggregated +1s (e.g. “123 people +1’d this page”).  Currently, the +1 button will only appear in English searches, but more languages will be added in the future.

The +1 button is quite similar to Facebook’s “Like” button, which appears all over Facebook, in Bing search results and on millions of Web pages across Facebook’s social graph.  Yet, unlike the “Like” button, the +1 button is currently slated to appear only on the search engine results page (SERP).  Google does plan to eventually roll-out the button to the rest of the Web, where it will take its place alongside the Facebook “Like” and other sharing buttons.  Google’s +1 search results also appear strikingly similar to Bing’s “Liked” results.  In October 2010, Bing announced a partnership with Facebook that enabled Facebook “Likes” to be displayed on Bing.  One significant difference between Google and Bing is that Google searchers can click the +1 button directly on the SERP, while Bing searchers cannot.

The +1 button is Google’s latest effort to make the SERP more personal and more social.  Google has been experimenting with making search more social since late 2009, when it introduced Social Search results.  Recently, we’ve seen a shift in how people find things online.  Social networking sites have been the catalyst for this shift, as people are now spending incredible amounts of time on Facebook and Twitter discovering products and getting recommendations from their friends.  Therefore—to encourage people to spend more time on the SERP—Google and Bing have focused squarely on adding more social content.  The +1 button extends the reach of the “Web democracy” and takes some power away from the “landed gentry” (e.g. the site owners).  With the addition of the button, the SERP continues its evolution toward customization, socialization and personalization.

This POV will discuss the paid search, natural search and social implications of the +1 button.  It will also describe how advertisers can take advantage of opportunities around the button.

PAID SEARCH IMPLICATIONS

All ads will soon receive +1 buttons by default (but advertisers can opt out).  Advertisers will not be charged for clicks on the +1 button.  We expect to see click-through increases for ads that have been +1’d, especially when the searcher can see that a friend has +1’d the ad.  Searchers won’t be able to dislike (“-1”) ads; thus, the button only presents upside for paid search advertisers. 

+1 Button Paid Search Opportunities

  • Use +1s as an input for optimization
    Advertisers will be able to see stats on how many people have +1’d their ads.  Just like clicks, conversions, ERS and other KPIs, the number of +1s on an ad can be used to evaluate that ad’s performance.  Because ads with more +1s are likely to drive more clicks, advertisers should take advantage of this new data point to optimize paid search ads.
  • Use +1s to inform paid search landing page strategies
    Google is using a common infrastructure for +1 on both paid and natural listings.  This means that if a searcher +1s a natural result, that +1 will carry over to the paid search ad.  Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan has reported that natural search advertisers will soon be able to see stats on how many people have +1’d their listings.  This is important when selecting paid search landing pages.  For instance, an advertiser can take a natural search landing page that’s associated with a large number of +1s and use that page in paid search, thus carrying over the natural search +1s to the paid search ad (and potentially boosting paid search clicks).  This illustrates the importance of taking a holistic (paid and natural together) approach to the +1 button.  Greg Sterling of Screenwerk.com also reported that in the future, Google intends to cluster the URLs so that a natural search URL doesn’t have to be identical to a paid search URL for the +1s to show alongside the paid ad.

SEO IMPLICATIONS

Like in paid search, the +1 button has the potential to boost natural search clickthrough.  And, according to Google, the button will be a ranking signal for natural search results.  The button gives Google a new way to look at Web sites.  For instance, if a site has a high number of inbound links but no +1s, Google may look harder at the site to verify that it’s a useful page for visitors.  With strong signals like these, Google can have greater confidence that users will like the results they see.   

But it’s too early to tell how the +1 button will affect the algorithm and how it will impact SEO rankings and visibility.  As such, current SEO best practices should continue to be followed.

The value of social search to searchers, advertisers and publishers remains somewhat of an algorithmic mystery.  This leaves search engines and search marketers to continually try to figure out which SEO tactics work and which do not.  One of the primary reasons Google has struggled to perfect social search is that it has been unable to holistically integrate its network of social connections (from Gmail, Google Talk, Google Contacts, Google Reader, Google Maps, YouTube, etc.).  On the other hand, Facebook has harnessed its community within established boundaries.  Google doesn’t have a good relationship with Facebook, so, unlike Bing, it hasn’t been able to take advantage of Facebook’s wealth of data and user information.  Whether enough people sign up for Gmail or create a Google Profile—or even take the time to figure out who’s in their Google social circle—remains to be seen as the +1 button rolls out.

How the +1 Button May (Or May Not) Affect Your SEO Program

As with any new Google update, it’s important to let the dust settle before you make any changes to your site or alter your SEO strategy.  The +1 button could be here today and gone tomorrow, so it’s critical to practice patience while keeping an eye on site visibility, ranking, traffic and other important data.

  • Measure results in months, not days
    Effective SEO takes time because search engines are constantly crawling, indexing and ranking sites that regularly create content and have their link portfolios enhanced.  Because we don’t know exactly how social search cues affect the algorithm, it’s hard to tell which factors may directly contribute to ranking increases or decreases. It’s possible that several months of data will help reveal the SEO value—if any—of the button.
  • Get to know your target audience
    Before turning your attention to social search and a signal like the +1 button, ask yourself: “How can my target audience best benefit from this?”  Stop thinking about your customers as a market segment.  Instead, think about them as a community that readily shares information.  Obviously, getting people to +1 a result is important, but people will +1 results for different reasons.  You must rely on many internal and external factors—like the content you write and the content generated by your users—to form a lively social environment on the SERP.  If you don’t know who’s in that environment or how to interact with them, your messages and efforts could be lost.

SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS

When the +1 button is rolled out across the Web, it will face an uphill battle to rival other sharing buttons.  Google has a long way to go to establish the button as a viable threat to Facebook’s ever-expanding social community. If the +1 button doesn’t catch some lightning in a bottle fast, chances are it could falter like other Google social experiments, including Wave and Buzz.  But regardless of whether the +1 button takes off or becomes a relevant search ranking signal, it’s important to ensure you’re doing everything you can to promote your brand across powerful, real-time social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Social Opportunities

  • Sign up to be notified when the +1 button is available for your site
    Initially, the +1 button will only be displayed on the SERP.  Google will let site owners know by email (likely in a matter of months after the release) when the +1 button for Web sites is available.
  • Start thinking about places to incorporate the button on your site
    Once the site version of the button is available, should you put it everywhere? Keep in mind that not every page will need the button.  While your home page will need it, your “Contact Us” page probably won’t.  Be sure to add it to content-centered pages that are easy to use and easy to share.

Over the next few months, Performics will pay close attention to the +1 button and its impact on paid and natural search campaigns.  In the meantime, consider ways to encourage your customers to +1 your listings; the more +1s, the more clicks!

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