Empowering the “Democratic” Web: Google’s Newest Social Search Initiative (+1)

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Empowering the “Democratic” Web: Google’s Newest Social Search Initiative (+1)

If you’re one of the millions of people on Facebook, you know the concept of the “Like” button.  When you’ve read an enjoyable Web page, you can click the blue “Like” button and Facebook will tell your friends about it.  It’s a very easy way for friends to share information and explore common interests. Now Google has just announced its own version of the “Like” button.  It’s called the +1 button, and it’s going to change your results pages in more ways than one.  The +1 button will even have the power to boost search results; the more people click the +1 button, the more likely that page will appear near the top of Google results. “It seems Bob really enjoyed that product” Suppose the next time you search for a digital camera, you see in the search results page that your best friend liked the camera he found on a particular Web page.  You don’t have to be in retail to understand the recommendation from your friend is a very powerful influence on which link in the results page will be clicked. Google will also be adding the +1 button to paid ads.  If you see a paid ad that one of your friends liked (or +1d), you’re much more likely to click on that paid ad, even if it’s only out of curiosity.  This can increase click-through rates. Word of mouth has always been one of the strongest drivers for purchasing.  The +1 button can seriously change the focus of your paid strategy, now that it takes less than a second for satisfied customers to tell their friends about your product. Don’t think this is a new direction for Google.  Google has always tried to harness the power of the “democratic” Web by giving higher ranks to sites with large numbers of inbound links.  The location and number of inbound links a site has helps Google conclusively determine a site’s content and how useful it will be to search queries.  As Google’s large market share has shown, inbound links provide a high degree of reliability to Google results. Increased Signal Strength The benefit to Google is that its results will likely become even more accurate and useful, and more people will use their engine. Google has developed many methods of detecting spam and it wouldn’t roll out something like this if it wasn’t ready for an army of unscrupulous Web masters. With the +1 button, Google is increasing the reach of its “Web democracy.”  Now it is no longer the “landed gentry” (e.g. the site owners) who can influence search ranks by hard-coding HREF links on Web pages.  As we’ve seen from recent link-buying scandals, this has led to Web masters trying to game the system and artificially increase link numbers.  As anyone can click a +1 button, the Google index will include many powerful social recommendations. This also gives Google a new way to look at Web sites; if a site has a high number of inbound links but no +1s, or vice versa, Google might look harder at the site to verify that it’s a useful page for its visitors.  With strong signals like these, Google can have greater confidence that users will like the results they see. Your New Strategies It’s unlikely you will make any sweeping changes in your paid and natural search strategy in the next 3-6 months.  Rolling out the button, Web-site implementation, and ironing out the bugs will take some time, not to mention spreading the word to Google users. For the long-term, however, there can be wide-spread adoption and that will change a lot of things.  Right now, Google doesn’t need you to be logged-in to track your Web history; it’s not inconceivable that you won’t need to be logged-into Google in the future to use the +1 button. You will need to stop thinking about your customers as a market segment and instead think about them as a community that readily shares information.  Obviously, getting people to click your site’s +1 button is important, but people will click +1 for different reasons.  For example, a thirteen-year-old boy may click a +1 button because he thinks that video game is super-neat, but what will it take for your page to convince a forty-year-old mother it’s worth it to click “+1”? Definitely start thinking about places to incorporate the +1 button in your site’s layout.  Not every page will need a +1 button; while your home page will need a +1, your “Contact Us” page probably won’t.  Add it to content-centered pages that are easy to use for both new and returning visitors, since a +1 button might be someone’s first visit to your site. Bookmark and Share

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