Google + 1 The Big G makes its social move

So the move has been made, Google are officially moving in to Social Media and hoping third time is the charm presumably. This time round though, they aren’t launching a new platform in direct competition with Facebook or Twitter as had been widely expected, but something that is similar with a much more search friendly angle. Frankly, it already looks good, but how does it break down for SEO’s?

Well, this is a logged in feature rather than something that will appear on any results and that will please most organic search engineers. Firstly though, unless you’ve been under a rock the last 24 hours, Google’s launch of “+1” is being likened (pardon the pun) to Facebook’s like button, but in reality, it’s actually far more useful to a user when searching than the like button.

The initial intention from Google is to place the “+1” results next to organic search results (provided you are logged in and have activated the feature). Interestingly, Google says:   “We’re confident that +1, combined with all of the social content we’re now including in search, will mean even better, more relevant results than you get today.” The key point here is that they are now admitting they already use social content as a measurement within the algorithm, something that hasn't been entirely clear from misleading statements over the last few weeks from various Google employees (actually just one - you know who you are).

Initially +1 will start appearing in logged-in search results, but Google has also said it will begin rolling it out to other areas of its network, so presumably we’ll also see it in things like shopping, places and probably news and even videos and images.

From an SEO point of view, this doesn’t make much difference, at least on the face of it. Thanks to the requirement of having to log in to see them in the first place, natural search will be unaffected, at least that’s the intimation from Google from the launch, but don’t bet that will last if +1 takes off. If the initiative proves successful, there is nothing stopping Google rolling this out to non-logged in searches (and that may well be their long term goal), at least showing the amount of +1’s an item or site result has had from everyone across the world, perhaps even locally thanks to the location detection it already has in place. This too could help provide more relevance in the organic listings.

Of course this is just speculation, but you have to look at the long game of Google and it is already scared to death of Facebook’s dominance in social circles. Anything it can get back from its potentially soon to be search rival, it needs to do now. In essence, +1 is their answer to the Facebook like button, but it has the potential to work so much better for user experience, if not for SEO’s.

So far Google haven’t said if the clicks on +1 will play any part in ranking pages organically, even if they don’t display the +1 icon, but it’s a fair bet that some or all of the results will be used, even in partly deciding the position of a page. Why else would they start with search results showing the icon?

If this is the case, it would be very easy to game for an SEO. How easy is it these days to setup thousands of Gmail accounts and have them all press the +1 button… perhaps that is the argument for Google NOT to have this take too great a role in deciding a pages position in organic results.

Finally, the biggest challenge (apart from getting people to log in to Google to use it) will be in getting websites to place the +1 link on their sites. We already have a plethora of icons filling our pages thanks to like, tweet and social bookmarking buttons is there really any more room for another one? The answer is probably yes, especially as this is Google. Who would want to ignore one of the biggest internet players in the world for fear of letting rival sites take the initiative and steal a march on them?

The acid test will come in the next 6 months as Google rolls out the button and we see if websites adopt it. Sites like Mashable will probably already have it installed before this post goes live, but the real test is whether e-commerce sites, still coming to terms with social media and implementing Facebook’s offering, adopt it, use it and see benefit from it. If they do, expect this particular button to take the social and search world by storm.