If you spend as much time goofing off in internet marketing forums as I do, you’ve probably seen all the buzz about Google’s latest foray into the social media world – the “+1” button (also being referred to in some circles as “personalized search”).
But if you haven’t heard about this latest development, the “+1” button is basically Google’s equivalent of the Facebook “Like” button (and their latest attempt to capture the energy of social networking after the failed attempts with Wave and Buzz). Whenever users visit a website they like, they can essentially “vote” for the site by clicking on Google’s “+1” button.
Sounds innocuous, but internet marketers have some concerns. Unlike Facebook’s “Like” button (which only influences content within the site), Google’s “+1” button could be tied to search results. It’s possible that the number of votes a site receives could influence where it appears in the rankings – effectively negating any SEO/backlinking strategy the site is employing.
However, I don’t believe that the “+1” will become a major ranking factor (at least not at first), given the potential for scamming. It’s been a few days since the official launch, and the gigs are already up over at Fiverr selling hundreds or thousands of “+1” votes for $5.
Google isn’t stupid, and I’m sure they realize the potential for fraud. So until they’re able to refine the algorithms to reward natural “+1” liking patterns (and if you look at the number of sites that were unfairly targeted by the “Farmer’s Update“, it’s clear that their algorithms just aren’t that sensitive), they simply can’t give a lot of weight to “+1” counts.
Now, what I do think we’ll see is an adjustment of individual search results, meaning that those who choose to participate in the “+1” voting system will see results tailored to their demonstrated preferences – which is why many people are calling this the introduction of “personalized search”.
Basically, if you go around “+1-ing” certain pages, Google will learn more about your preferences and tailor your results to these interests so that your SERPs will look different from the public’s at large. Obviously, this development could be frustrating for marketers who have put time and money into achieving top rankings, only to have them overruled by content that wins on the number of “+1” votes.
But that brings me to the second reason I believe the “+1” button won’t be widely used – you have to be signed in to an active Google Profile in order to use it. Two problems here…
First of all, most internet users are lazy. They aren’t going to take the time to log in just to be able to “+1” a site when the benefits to them aren’t significant. Seriously – what’s in it for the users? Slightly more targeted results? The ability to participate in yet another social networking platform? While I’m sure it’ll be adopted by some users (aka – those who will jump on any new bandwagon just to be “cool”), I don’t think there’s enough incentive for the average user to participate.
The second problem – at least in the eyes of most internet marketers – is the amount of intelligence that’s given over to Google through their public profiles. There’s at least some indication that more weight will be given to “+1” users with more complete profiles, but handing that much info on your personal and business connections over to Google has at least some people wary.
If you want to learn more about this topic (and I recommend that you do!), check out the following articles:
Official Google Blog: “The +1 Button for Websites: Recommend Content Across the Web”
SEO Desk: “Early Signals That Google +1 Button May Be a Dud”
Leo Dimilo: “The Ugly Side of Personalized Search”
Lisa Barone/Outspoken Media: “Google Corrals Users into Social Network, No One Screams”
So will I be using Google’s “+1” button? Probably not right away. I’ll add the buttons to my sites at some point (here’s a plugin you can use to do it easily, although I’m hoping some of the social sharing plugins will just add the button to their toolbars – Easy Google +1 Plugin), but I don’t intend to fill out a Google profile and start “+1-ing” things myself.
If, against all my predictions, Google’s “+1” button becomes popular (and believe me, I’ve been wrong before – just ask my husband…), it won’t play a major role in rankings until Google can figure out a way to only reward natural voting patterns. And if/when that happens, the same advice that I always give is going to hold true – publishing good, quality content is the best way to succeed in SEO, and in marketing in general.