Although you can only join by invitation at this point, you’ve no doubt heard of Google+, Google’s latest attempt to join (or, in time perhaps, completely overtake?) Facebook and Twitter as a must have social networking tool. In the months before Google+ was launched, Google also began implementing the “+1” button as a usable option for users to signify that they enjoy a particular site or page in an attempt to gather as much raw data as possible about the popularity and social value of sites and content before Google+ was rolled out for the masses. Preceding the Google+ and +1 button was the introduction of real time search, which was able to incorporate search results from Twitter, blogs and Facebook. Google, it would appear, is realizing the immense value of social media and the impact of social media on web search.
Search will continue to have a social element infused into it as the addition of the +1 button will change search results, as will live feeds from Google+ pages, much like Facebook “likes” and Twitter “tweets” are currently affecting search results by influencing user decisions due to their value as endorsements of certain sites and content.
Google definitely wants websites to implement the +1 button in their pages so that they can track and measure changes in click through rates. The +1 button will also be included on all SERPs as well as all Google+ feeds. What this means is business owners and marketers must ensure that a positive customer experience is, perhaps more than ever before, their primary focus in the hope that as many users as possible will +1 their site, and in doing so, endorse their business (and by association, reputation).
While it is plain to see that the introduction of the +1 button was merely a precursor/trial balloon for Google+, the potential impact of the +1 button on search could be the bridge between all of the social oriented sites and tools and ways of doing things on the web and the subsequent influence on search results.
Recently, Rand Fishkin, head of SEO Moz, decided to test some theories on the subject of social sites influencing search results. He shared a number of un-indexed URLs via Twitter both before and after Google had unceremoniously aborted the real time search results feature. Fishkin repeated the process, only this time he used Google+. He then requested that his followers on Twitter and Google+ to share the post, with the only caveat being that they were not to share it outside of the originating site.
What this yielded in terms of hard data was that even though Google has dropped the real time search, re-tweeting and tweets are still assisting page indexation. As for Google+, Fishkin’s test page ended up ranking #1 on Google within a few hours. This illustrates the fact that Google+ can also help pages get indexed, if not quite as quickly as Twitter.
But perhaps the most interesting concept presented by Google+, and one that could potentially have a significant impact on SEO, is the “Google Circles” feature.
The “Circles” feature is interesting because it grants users the ability to share whatever they choose with specific groups, or Circles, of people. As Google+ users build their Circles, they will subsequently be able to see the sites that users in their circles have +1’d in Google’s SERPs. This has enormous potential – users will be far more likely to make a choice or purchase based on the recommendation of people they have invited to their Circles – people who they know and whose opinions they trust. Most users are going to be far more likely to trust the recommendation of someone they know rather than the recommendation or review from a stranger. Over time, Circles will become much more defined as more available user data is integrated into them – using that data to effectively market could be potentially powerful SEO strategy.
Basically, Google has taken the ideas behind some of their social media competitors more influential and successful features in an attempt to make search more about real people. Google+ and the +1 button are enabling users to influence online activity, and, as such, they will have an effect on search results. Many experts are already proclaiming Google+ to have no impact on SEO whatsoever, citing Google Wave and past attempts by Google to get in on the social side of the net as indicators that this new attempt will also fail. While it is far too early to make any kind of definitive statement as to the long term usefulness or impact of Google+ and the +1 button on SEO, citing past failures as the basis for an argument as to why Google+ is going to fail as well is short sighted at best. The fact of the matter is, social factors are already intertwined with search, and this is likely only going to become more prevalent as these sites are expanded and the way we interact on the internet continues to evolve also, not less so. Whether or not Google+ ends up revolutionizing or merely co-existing with established SEO methodology remains to be seen, but the enormous potential of these features and their long term impact is fairly clear – site ranking methods are changing thanks to the +1 button and this will likely end up creating an altogether new method of SEO in the future.