Google is just beginning to roll out a new social search feature called Google +1. If you haven’t seen it or caught up on the latest of Google’s social products, then I strongly recommend you read about it via Danny Sullivan’s excellent write up on Search Engine Land, Meet +1: Google’s Answer To The Facebook Like Button. If you’re not seeing these +1 buttons in search results (you need to be logged in to your Google account) then you can opt in to the Experiment.
Essentially, this is a button very much like the Facebook Like button that Facebook launched about a year ago. If you like a web page, you hit the +1 button in Google search results. This applies to both organic search results and paid ads and means that when you are logged in you will see summaries of how many and who (if Google thinks you’re connected to them) +1d them. In a matter of months it’s likely that Google will roll out a button for websites to implement on-site, just like the Facebook Like button and Twitter’s Tweet buttons.
Now, I like Google +1. I’d look at the number of +1s when searching. I’ll probably even end up consulting on them and recommending on-site implementation on product pages, news, blogs and so on to make sure clients use the full arsenal of tools Google has available to them. But I wouldn’t use it myself as a consumer since my searches are just that, my searches, especially if it’s a public broadcast of everything I +1 and not filtered for topics like SEO versus say, travel. That means I’d effectively just be producing a lot of noise. The +1 tab on my Google profile page would just end up being an unfiltered mess of SEO pages, travel, maybe chocolate, wine, country pursuit websites…you get the gist, and maybe even that awesome site I visited to buy my best friend a surprise gift. Oh wait, they just found out. I +1d it didn’t I? There goes that surprise… [Lesson: think before you +1].
But that’s my point; I just want Google to be impartial. I log out of Google / switch browsers / use proxies to get that effect without personalisation butting in. Average Joes might be happily swayed by +1s and not be bothered by personalised search, but are they likely to contribute without any benefits to them? Really? Dean Cruddace summed it up nicely in 140 characters:
Oi granny Smith, what you looking for? “oh just knitting patterns”. Have you tried building a relevant social graph to connect the dots?
— Dean Cruddace (@DeanCruddace) March 30, 2011
Social networks like Facebook/Twitter reward sharing through conversations with your network. Marketers encourage contributions through the use of competitions. What does Google +1 offer?
Let’s look at the benefits to the three core parties that are involved when using Google +1:
- Benefits to Google: dare I say it, easy [you could read: lazy] way to aggregate data to improve search results, but also encourage publishers to improve their websites to encourage genuine positive feedback. Oh, and increased revenue from the extra clicks encouraged on Google’s PPC ads. Now that’s a handy plus.
- Benefits to publishers: publishers with audiences willing to engage will benefit from an additional boost to click through rates from search results thanks to +1. Publishers with different audience behaviours unlikely to contribute by +1ing or to hang around long enough to engage in this way may struggle. Smaller publishers may lose out on clicks in search results, regardless of rankings, to the bigger publishers. All publishers with a verified Google Webmaster Tools account will get to see stats related to +1.
- Benefits to users: seeing endorsements from others will be welcomed I suspect, and may even encourage clicks where they wouldn’t usually have clicked. [Hurrah to Google's bank account!] But the step before that – being encouraged to +1 something without an immediate reward – will probably leave them feeling irritated, or developing a kind of ad blindness to the +1 buttons so that they’re ignored entirely.
Let’s not forget here that users have to a) have a Google account and b) remember to sign in. Are you always signed in? If so, are you always signed in to YOUR account, your company’s account or your client’s account?
[Lesson: again, think before you +1. Don't +1 a NSFW site while logged into your client's account!]
My social networks are also targeted to some degree: I post to Twitter when I want my wider network – largely consisting of people I know, but haven’t met yet – to see. I post to Facebook when I want just those I’ve met or know a lot better to see, plus I can even select the exact members of the audience here. LinkedIn uses the RSS feed of my blog and a couple of other sites for strictly work-related content. But what use have I to broadcast, unfiltered, to everyone? More to the point; what benefit would I gain as a consumer from broadcasting, unfiltered, to everyone?
If +1 automatically Tweeted or created a Facebook or LinkedIn post, then perhaps we could see an interesting integration take place across the social media networks, but then I probably wouldn’t hook Google up to all those personal networks …and Google’s not the sharing type anyway.
Actually, Alex Rainert, a Foursquare exec, made a great point about when users are expected to +1 a web page:
Why would I “+1″ a link to a page before I’ve seen whether I like it and why would I go back to the results if I’ve found the best result?
— Alex Rainert (@arainert) March 30, 2011
If +1 fails it’ll be because a barrier exists getting users to +1 web pages in the first place. I suspect take up will be slow after the initial novelty and curiousity factors have worn off.
As any marketer knows, consumers are always thinking “what’s in it for me” so you have to make sure you’ve got a carrot to dangle. I’m not seeing that carrot for consumers here, and marketers aren’t encouraged to game +1s. Although, admittedly it’d probably work better if it was chocolate in my case.
There’s my two cents on +1. What’s yours?