Have Google really misunderstood social communities?

by Peter Young on March 31, 2011 · 10 comments

Rumours of Google entering the social space are nothing new. Rumours of Google Me/Circles have long since been doing the rounds – and slowly but surely we are seeing Google rollout new features which would appear to be aimed at embracing the social ‘effect’. This doesn’t come as a surprise to be honest. Speak to many at Google and most will tell you that they don’t see Bing, Yahoo, Yandex or Blekko as serious long term contenders – its Facebook that they see as the big threat on the horizon.

Yesterday we saw the latest incarnation of Google’s increasing fascination with social with the launch of Google +1, effectively Facebook likes for Google.

The +1 results are not currently being exposed to all – merely to a small number of US users searching in English but given the hype around this one would suggest its only a small matter of time before we see this move across other results. THe +1 option will be available next to the site title and is an option strangely enough for both paid and organic search results.

The result of +1′ing a result is interesting. Similar to earlier ‘tests’ (using other metrics) users both within the social network and outside can see which results people have +1′d results.

Organic results

Paid Search Results

There is no doubting that this won’t be merely confined to Google Real Estate. Further functionality will be available soon to embed this into your websites and webpages. Users who then click on these will allow others in their circle to see that they have +1d these results.

For marketeers this could be interesting. A number of immediate effects stand out:

  • Google will use this for ranking. It will certainly have an effect on organic results – and one would have to suggest this may effect paid search quality scores as well.
  • This will effect click through rates. Those results with higher click through rates will in all likelihood receive a higher volume of clicks than those without for both paid and organic results.
  • We will in all likelihood see further campaigns to influence +1 results. I can’t help feeling this is one of the easily ‘gameable’ channels – and as such advertisers will look to exploit this. Unlike Likes where it is debatable whether this has any direct impact on clicks or sales, +1′s could have a significant effect on your clicks and thus potentially sales due to the fact it is DIRECTLY plugged into your search results.
  • We will in all likelihood see an increase in social search specialists as we have with LSA, LDA (yawn…..)

One problem?

I still think the incentive for Joe Bloggs (ie the average consumer) to sign up and utilise such results is still very limited. Its a very different beast from Facebook, where such functionality is a natural extension of an engaged and social community – however it still feels to me like Google are trying to force a community without actively giving them a reason to be part of that community.

In my opinion, Google need to actively look at building a community which may mean looking beyond their core battleground. Whether this means we see Google buying social communities as part of that strategy is open to debate – but I personally can’t help thinking there still isn’t enough incentive to develop your social circle which ultimately is crucial to uptake of the +1 option.

The % of fully engaged Google Profiles is still fairly limited – and such functionality still doesn’t give me an incentive to want to develop that profile. I can’t help thinking this feels like Google letting the chicken out before the egg has hatched and as such can’t help thinking this may mean we see this go the same way as Buzz, Wave and SearchWiki. What Google really needs to do is build that user community – give them a reason to develop that extension within Google outside of merely GMail – and as such build people into the mindset of embracing such a feature into their mainstream search results.

The community angle in my opinion is Google’s big achilles heel. Facebook didn’t build Facebook because they developed their ‘Like’ functionality. Facebook prospered because it connected people – it came them a voice to speak with and a forum to speak with friends and other like minded people. Google doesn’t – and thats why Facebook continues to loom on the horizon and why we will probably see Google continue to develop a range of products to rival those of Facebook.

Google+ Comments

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Dean Cruddace March 31, 2011 at 9:38 am

Can’t help but agree with you Pete. From another angle though I can see the updated Google profiles playing a part somewhere down the line with Social Circle and this reinvented Like button for SERP`s.

Obviously very gameable and something to be very wary of and every which way you look at it while Google can not take the data that Facebook has in abundance they are going to reinvent the wheel to get it their own way to drive their own business model.

The +1 has similarities to the starred results and with the possibility to integrate within our own web properties it will obviously give more data to Google to drive relevant ads towards the searcher through retargeting and more.

I don’t mind in the slightest that Google is trying to get social but not at the expense of driving relevancy and to some degree I think the gaming side of this latest “product” leaves me wondering.

Joanna Butler March 31, 2011 at 11:43 am

Great minds Pete! I blogged late last night in much the same vain: http://www.searchenginechocolate.com/google-plus-1-is-missing-a-social-carrot/

I just don’t understand why Google thinks users will contribute without a reward of some kind. I want Google +1 to work as it’s a nice idea, and for (most) publishers it’ll be a nice and powerful addition, but where are all those hypothetical +1s going to come from? Besides people potentially gaming it through odesk, mechanical turk, etc. etc. … And I wonder if people will be penalised for gaming +1s, especially if it becomes a ranking signal.

Peter Young March 31, 2011 at 11:49 am

Your last point just opens up a can of worms though – as I can’t help thinking that if you gamed +1′s then others can which opens up the whole ‘negative SEO’ issue in a much more cost effective and scalable way.

The words can and worms spring to mind…..

Joanna Butler March 31, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Cost effective and scalable? Are you endorsing gaming +1s?! Kidding…

I’m sure Google have thought through ways spammers will try to game the system. And I’m sure it’s much harder than simply signing in with different accounts or encouraging others to +1 through various ways… *cough*

At least Facebook give you a profile – an identity – to encourage you to be genuine and associate yourself with your endorsement when you Like something. I don’t know many who use Google Profiles day-to-day. I don’t even see them in SERPs…

Terry Van Horne March 31, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Well it is a natural extension to the social they have already implemented, especially when it is embedded on a site/post. It comes down to do people want to share their opinion. I don’t, all my Facebook activity is private which means bing **may** get it… no one else does. For a lot of people who do engage on blogs etc. it is a natural. Why do peeps click the + and – on blog comments etc. … to share their opinion of the post or another comment they are looking for no benefit). I don’t think they want a community… they want user feedback on rankings. If I were them I would hope there is no activity… means peeps are at least content with the result… In no way will this EVER be a RANKING Factor a signal possibly but it won’t be l;ike links… it’s stupid to even contemplate that as it is too easy to game

steveplunkett March 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm

me thinks.. the gaming is in PPC… but what do I know..


Peter Young March 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm

One has to think outside the box to a certain extent Terry. They say in their official documentation that this won’t contribute to quality score – however one has to consider the impact this is likely to have on CTR and thus what impact it is likely thus to have on quality score indirectly. Thus it will in all likelihood impact on quality score.

As you say, with organic one can’t help thinking it will factor as a signal. Perhaps not one of the major signal but similar to tweets one that could have fairly significant impacts on niche/longer tail terms

Alex Moss March 31, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Please correct me if I have missed this one but I notice that there isn’t any mention to embedding the +1 as buttons within pages.

If the button only appears within SERPs, why would Joe Bloggs go back to the SERP just to press the button?

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