Google Rolls Out +1 Button for Websites


Posted by Jonah A. Berger, Manager, SEO

More than two months have passed since Google first made the +1 button public in its search results, and now webmasters can add the button to their sites with just a few lines of code. This document focuses on a variety of topics related to the +1 button – most importantly how webmasters should implement it on their sites today to further enhance their search marketing efforts and content sharing capabilities.

WHAT’S NEW?

When the initial +1 button was released by Google, it lacked any landing page correlation because it could only be found in search results. To utilize it, searchers either had to click the button before they visited the destination page, or visit the page, return to the search result and then click the button. Now, the clicking of the +1 button in search results automatically ties the button to the search result, the page itself and vice-versa. This way, visitors who find quality content on a page can click the associated +1 button, and those in (and outside, depending on privacy settings) their Google network can benefit from uncovering the same +1’d pages as they search.

WHY NOW?

This latest release has search marketers and webmasters in particular asking questions like “How will this button fare?” “Why this button, why now?” and “How can my site benefit from it?” For a quick +1 refresher (Note: Performics first discussed the +1 button on its blog in April 2011), the button is Google’s answer to Facebook’s universal “Like” button, which continues to show up all over the Web, including in top competitor Bing’s search results and on countless millions of pages. When a user clicks a +1 button in search results and now on a Web page, they’re publicly stamping their approval of that content to everyone in their Google network and the Webosphere (again depending on privacy settings). Saying “Google network” may cause some Web users to snicker because Google has struggled to use its network of mish-mashed products (Wave and Buzz come to mind) to form a sensical, well-rounded social circle. The current Google social circle intends to use a Google Profile as a hub to share and exchange information with sites like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, as well as Google Buzz, Google Reader, et al.

THE GROWTH OF SOCIAL SEARCH

In a way, one primary goal of the +1 button, at least socially to Google, is for it to create a network of social connections that helps make searching more intimate and relevant. For example, the more +1s a search result garners, the better the chance that family, friends and coworkers will click through and visit that page. The addition of the +1 button to Web pages creates a one-way page to search result relationship that Google has never experienced but Bing certainly has. On the heels of Bing’s May 2011 announcement of a more social search, which includes improved “Liked” results, expanded Facebook profile search capabilities and more, and Twitter’s launch of a new “Follow” button that allows logged-in Twitter users to follow a Twitter account without having to leave the page they’re on, the time is now for Google to put a stamp that finally sticks on social search by convincing those who “Like” Web content to +1 it instead.

This is no easy task, of course, and whether or not the +1 button makes any social waves in murky, oft-muddled and overwhelming social networking ocean remains to be seen. Regardless, as this article points out, website decision makers (i.e. webmasters, marketers, publishers and advertisers) need to take a close look at the +1 button and implement it on all important pages of their sites – now. As the social landscape and the idea of a more social search continue to carve out their enormous Web niche, sites that want to stay relevant need to buy in. 

THE CROWDED SOCIAL LANDSCAPE

To say the social landscape is at or near capacity is an understatement. From Facebook to Twitter to YouTube, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Tumblr and even MySpace, social sharing and especially the buttons it leaves in its path continues to take residency everywhere. As an example, take a look at the following screen shots from three sites that have huge Web presences: 

+1 

As shown, there’s plenty of competition when it comes to social sharing buttons and getting a visitor to click yours. Site owners, however, need not be too quick to shy away from the +1 button. The “Like” button had to plant its roots somewhere, as it’s unlikely that users who happened upon it first knew what it was and why they should be clicking it.

The +1 button doesn’t have Facebook and its seemingly infinite data and social reach manning its controls, but what it does have is Google and its continued dominance of the search engine marketplace. The latter may not mean much to the end user, but to site owners and webmasters alike, any glaring, look-at-me opportunity to improve search engine visibility and ranking is one that must be taken seriously.

BENEFITS OF ADDING +1 TO A SITE

Note: This article is geared primarily toward natural search, but it’s important to mention that the +1 button is beneficial to paid search efforts as well. Google appears to be using a common infrastructure for the +1 button on both the paid and natural sides, meaning that if you +1 a natural result that later becomes a paid search ad, the +1 data will carry over. If all goes well and the +1 button is welcomed by the masses, as +1s tied to a paid ad increase, so too could click-through rates.

Since it’s early in the life of +1 and it’s anyone’s guess as to how beneficial it may be, sometimes it’s best to go straight to the source for answers. Google has made public a useful FAQ section in Webmaster Tools Help that touches on a variety of topics related to the +1 button and its tie in with natural search. Some takeaways, along with our comments, are shown:

Benefit: Increased page relevance and ranking
Google says: “+1s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking…”
Performics’ take: Google is always careful about what it says when the ranking algorithm is part of the discussion. Here, the mentioning of “can be a useful signal to Google” and “one of many signals Google may use” indicate that +1s are likely to be algorithmically beneficial.

Benefit: Increased search engine visibility and traffic
Google says: “Personalized annotations next to your page in search results may increase your site’s visibility and make your site’s snippet more compelling, which may in turn increase the odds that users will click through to your page.”
Performics’ take: Searchers don’t care that the +1 button can help improve the visibility and rank of a site. What they do care about is finding what they’re looking for from a search engine. If a particular query produces results that have been +1’d by family and friends, chances are a searcher is likely to take notice – and pass the word.

Benefit: Better indexation
Google says: “Once you add the button, Google may crawl or recrawl the page, and store the page title and other content, in response to a +1 button impression or click.”
Performics’ take: Not only will Google possibly visit or revisit a page once the button is added, but it also might return when certain impression and click-through milestones are met.

NEXT STEPS

Implement the +1 button now
Whether you’re a webmaster, marketer, publisher or advertiser, the first and most important step to take in regards to the +1 button is to implement it on all sites under your control. Google has released a custom +1 button creator that makes it easy to create and add the proper code to site pages. Sample code snippets are shown, including the standard one first:

<!– Place this tag in your head or just before your close body tag –>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js”></script>

<!– Place this tag where you want the +1 button to render –>
<g:plusone></g:plusone>

Note: For sites that have the same content available on a multitude of pages (e.g. retail sites), it’s important to make sure that the rel=“canonical” attribute is implemented in the <head> section of the non-canonical pages. This way, Google will be aware of what the canonical page is and can appropriately assign +1s to it. The preceding sample code snippet should be used on all non-canonical pages.

To +1 a specific URL, especially in cases when a +1 button may be on a page but referring to another (e.g. a “related product” section that displays +1 buttons next to each product), add the following href attribute (bolded) to the sample code snippet:

<!– Place this tag in your head or just before your close body tag –>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js”></script>

<!– Place this tag where you want the +1 button to render –>
<g:plusone href=”http://www.yoursite.com“></g:plusone>

Wait for analytics later
Google hasn’t rolled out the analytics package that tracks specific +1 data. However, when it becomes available, it’s important for sites to track which pages are benefiting from the button and which aren’t.  According to searchengineland.com, the analytics package could be accessible via Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics and Google AdWords. Aggregated data could be reported in at least four categories:

Geography: learn where +1 activity is happening
Demographics: find age/gender of who’s clicking +1 content
Content: see +1s on a URL by URL basis
Search impact: view impressions, clicks and click-through rates

It could take weeks or even months for the +1 button dust to settle before any solid conclusions are made about how effective it is for search engine marketing programs. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that SEO doesn’t lead to results overnight. Search engines are constantly crawling, indexing and ranking sites that regularly churn out great content. While social signals do appear to affect search engine ranking algorithms, it’s still unknown as to how much weight they carry when compared to the hundreds of other signals. Over time and armed with legitimate data, it’s possible that a strategy could be created around the +1 button – not just for SEO but for all search marketing efforts.

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