Google +1 - Striiiiike three, and you're out!
Today's limited release by Google of its new "+1" or "plus one" feature inevitably has the Internet awash with buzz and speculation about its impacts and the implications it will have for online marketers. If you don't know what +1 is, it's Google's latest attempt to integrate a social media-esque voting system into its search results. It takes the form of a greyed out button next to each search result that can be clicked to effectively "vote" for a particular page that you like, which is then shared with other people in your (Google) social network and other +1 users.
Only a small number of Google.com users in the states are seeing this by default right now, but it looks like this:
You can force Google to show this if you want to try it out yourself by visiting Google Experimental and joining the +1 experiment.
So what do Greenlighters have to say about +1? Let's find out...
"In order to use the Google +1 button, you need to have a public Google Profile visible to the world. Unless they manage to get people creating their Google Profiles it's not going to work."
"This really only works for Google if they can manage to import your Facebook data, Twitter data, etc, into your Google Profile, making them the key gatekeeper of your social interactions. There's probably a need for that anyway as there are now too many points of interaction. It took me about 20 mins today to find a message from a friend that I needed because I couldn't remember whether it was sent to me via SMS, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Messenger, etc...
That said, Facebook have made it fairly clear that they'd rather stick pins in their eyes than yield that data to Google."
"I think as long as Google keeps trying stuff like this ("social proof" SERP enhancements) without tapping into the actual networks that people are using they won't get any traction. Remember Sidewiki with its Vote Up and Vote Down buttons? Nope, didn't think so!"
"I agree... +1 is at current not much more than a rebranded stars in search".
"Fundamentally, I think Google as a brand fails to capture the imagination of many, and is seen as functional rather than recreational... a bit too 'serious'. They sure can't afford to limp in with this +1 approach... given their track history with failing at social... so I am interested to see just how this will fit in to some wider strategy."
"I was thinking exactly the same looking at my Google profile. It's not the right style for social stuff."
"A fundamental difference between Twitter/Facebook and +1 seems to be that: liking/sharing/retweeting stuff on Twitter/Facebook drives value through these media themselves, plus the effect on search; liking/sharing stuff on +1 only has the search benefit. There is no social medium for +1 activity to exist on, no feed, etc..."
So there you have it; a generally damning indictment. This is effectively Google's third attempt at including some form of voting in its SERPs (after Sidewiki and Stars in Search), and nobody here is particularly convinced that +1 will work much better.
"If Google bought Twitter, would that make Google more exciting on the social front? And would that make +1 suddenly more disruptive?"
"Well unless Google can instigate some kind of paradigm shift as far is online social interactions are concerned, allowing them to reposition as first to market, they don't have much option other than to buy Twitter - creating their own copycat would undoubtedly crash and burn IMO."
"If Google can't create a copycat newsfeed service (because it would bomb), then to bring everything together they need a direct social meeting point not reliant upon explicit intent/keyword/search, where +1d stuff circulates. i.e. Twitter? OK back to work :)"
Google needs a major partnership (something akin to Bing's with Facebook and the inclusion of Facebook likes into the SERPs), or a major acquisition, to make social proof work in their search results. That's by no means out of the question.
What does this mean for online marketers?
In terms of SEO, and in terms of what it means right now, not a lot. Even assuming +1 is fully rolled out and stays for good, it's highly unlikely to be adopted by users in significant enough numbers to either influence rankings (always a consideration when Google is collecting direct user feedback on search results) or to be a particular concern in terms of direct influence on other Google users.
But regardless of the invididual merit of +1, Search and Social as one discipline is clearly gathering pace. Marketers need to understand search strategies are increasingly social strategies and vice versa. Together with having pay per click (PPC), search engine optimization (SEO) and social media optimization (SMO) in one shop, and teams with specialists in those respective disciplines, search marketing related technologies themselves must evolve at a similar pace such that they have the intelligence, ability and agility to help marketers bridge this divide.