GOOGLE+ AND THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL RANKING SIGNALS


Addressing the changes brought by the Google +1 button and the new Google+ Social Network.


GOOGLE + MARKS THE beginning of a new era in the world of search, which is likely to be based on hard sales (towards the website owners) and social ranking signals. As a newcomer, Google+ offers more or less the same goodies as its competition, wrapped in different packaging. However, unlike other products previously rolled up by Google such as Google Wave or Google Buzz, the Google+ project is likely to be successful mainly because it combines simplicity and innovation with an incentive- based business model. Launched as a Facebook competitor, Google+ is aimed at becoming a global social network, which can provide standardised and structured data to be factored in the universal search algorithm. Google already controls search. Controlling social media would mean that Google is able to spot trends, enhance quality scores, and detect interactions and social maps within hubs and specialised groups and much more, all on the fly.

For the first time ever, in an aggressive marketing stunt, Google warned that the Google +i button is a ranking factor, therefore affecting the SERPs. In my opinion, this approach was meant to address two major issues. Firstly, Google had to brand the service. What could be better than ‘forcefully’ buying-in the webmaster community? Tempted by getting better rankings, webmasters are likely to want to place the +i button on their site, raising awareness among their user base. This would also ensure that the program will not fail in the same way as its predecessors. Those failing to comply would lose, since their competitors might get an organic boost due to the new ranking factor. Secondly, by taking a similar approach as to Facebook ‘Like’ button, Google indirectly ensured that webmasters (due to design concerns and lack of incentives) might ditch the Facebook Like for the new Google +1.

The critical question here is: how can a website owner anticipate Google’s next move and ensure that it benefits from doing so? We can highlight the strategic and operational advantages.

Strategic

From a strategic point of view, it will be interesting to see how Google+ will focus not on attracting new users, but rather on keeping them ‘in’ and interested. After the initial wave of registrations, Google might have a hard time in engaging its user base, and this is why the search giant has been talking to gaming firms about integrating their games as one part of the new social networking service, as the Wall Street Journal reported. This means that soon, a new market will open for gaming operators. Unlike the Facebook market, which is already mature, here, the new entry advantage might lead to important profits. Of course, the risk associated is also greater, since the network might not gain the expected traction.

Operational

From an operational point of view, a typical website owner should raise the following question: how can Google+ help my business? Besides the direct ‘ranking factor’ discussion, we truly expect a ‘+i rush’ to start in the next period, especially if the +i button is going to be a heavy ranking signal. +i might lead to a faster discovery and indexing of a new page in SERPs, and combined with the Panda Update, it might also provide a better assessment of how relevant and popular a page is, separating low quality content from engaging content. The particularity about the gaming niche is that +1 is far more lucrative here than in most industries. For example, users are definitely more liable to like a free demo of a game than an article, so in the early stage, this might even prompt a freebie frenzy (from gaming operators). Another way of gaining +is might be PPC, where budgets could be driven up by the increase in competition. Last but not least, +i might be seen as a trustworthy signal since it factors in the vote of trust submitted by users engaged in a monitored community.
Therefore, a +1 coming from a well connected individual might outweigh in importance a +1 coming from a more ‘socially isolated’ individual.

If links map the relations between pages, then +i maps the relations between people, pages and products. If a wide user base liked and ‘id’ a product, then the probability of others (from similar social circles) doing so, is heightened. This means that Google can serve results which are more targeted and better focused on the needs of the community. And since Google’s profit is derived from its advertisers’ budgets (and AdWords), it also means that the new +1 project will open a new channel for improving the targeting of users according to preferences and behaviour.

Takeaways

• Google revealed that Google-t- is a ranking factor, in order to perform a hard sale on webmasters, get more exposure and ensure the program will not fail.
• The weight of the +i might increase in time.
• +i factor is not so easy to manipulate (unlike links) since it can be based on assessing the relationships in the actual social graph.
• AdWords, Chrome, Google+, +i button, YouTube and Google Search form an incredibly powerful network.
• Google is likely to use the social graph for much more than just counting +.
 
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