The last 18 months have seen a torrent of new features and updates from Google as they battle to keep their search offerings relevant in the face of the social onslaught from Facebook.
Since the return of Larry page as CEO of Google in April 2011, his obsession of Google with Facebook and social has remade the organisation, including shutting down many of the companies less popular services and tying a percentage of everyone’s bonuses to the success of Google Plus, Google’s own social network.
In this blog post I am going to go through four key changes to the Google ecosystem and explain why they are important and what you need to do to prepare your business for them.
It’s important to note that the points below are an educated guess of how things work. Google will never confirm what it is implementing specific features with a broader perspective and an eye toward the history of the evolution of search we can make some educated guesses about where Google is moving and what you need to do to prepare your business for these developments.
Google Plus is Google’s own social network. It was released in June 2011.
Why did Google launch Google+?
- To Build it’s own Social Graph – That is data on the social connections, interactions and engagement between persons and organisations on the web. They previously had to access this data from Twitter and to a more limited extent Facebook. Having your own social graph allows you to see how content is shared and linked to and who is sharing it and linking to it.
- It reduces their reliance on the Link Graph to rank websites – Back links are currently the primary ranking factor online but as Google knows back links can be easily manipulated. If they have social data they have better insight into whether the growth in links matches social activity, whether the people who share links and content are “real” and whether those who share are more or less influential or trust worthy than others.
- To protect its’ revenue streams – With over 900 million people spending a large percentage of their time online in Facebook, there is a threat to Google’s Adwords system via Facebook Ads.
Google is less concerned about creating a social network that will compete on a toe to toe basis with Facebook but more concerned about keeping their organic search offerings more relevant and accurate so that people will continue to use their search products and advertisers will continue to advertise on their ad platform.
The Google+1 Button
The Google+1 button is the equivalent of Facebook’s like button. It was released in March 2011.
Why did Google release the Google+1 Button?
- To capture data on social recommendations – The Google+1 Button is attached to a webpage or ad and allows you to +1 or recommend that page or ad. If you are logged in to a Google account these +1’s appear in organic search results. If you are connected to people through the Google+ social network, +1’s from your connections will appear next to your search results showing you who of your friends thought a specific page was cool. The +1 button is a way of telegraphing
- To validate the link graph – The Google+1 button is another way that allows Google to see what pages are popular from a social perspective and if social popularity matches the link popularity ie # of back links then this is a good indicator that this content is real, relevant and worth of the rankings allocated it.
- To feed social recommendations into Google+. It allows you to telegraph your recommendations to your social network in Google+ in the same way that Facebook likes are into Facebook.
Don’t think that more +1’s are going to directly influence organic search rankings by themselves. Google is too smart for that trick to work. Rather think about + 1’s as another supporting data point which when combined with all of the data that Google has about a page, allows them to validate or modify their current rankings.
Authorship markup is a way that content creators can “tag” content that they have created and published on the web so that Google knows who is the original creator of a piece of content. It is implemented by linking your content to your Google+ Profile (aha..) using Authorship markup.
The visible manifestation of this in the search results is that authors’ profile images may appear in the organic search results next to their content, improving their personal visibility and possibly the click through to their content.
Google says its all about helping users find quality content on the web and they do this by forcing you to joining their social network, letting them access your likes and recommendations, your social circles and interactions with others and they reward you with more visibility in the search results.
Why did Google implement Authorship?
- It allows them to maintain quality search results – With Authorship, Google knows who was the original creator of a piece of content and can rank the original source in the search results instead of the many scraped search results created by spammers stealing authors content. This gives them another tools to maintain the quality of their search results to keep searchers using Google.
- It allows Google to weight social recommendations – If Google knows who I am, how influential I am and how many people engage with me (via Google+) then they will be able to weight my social recommendations (via +1 buttons) which means that depending on my “AuthorRank” I may be able to influence organic search results by recommending content. The best analysis of this idea is from AJ Kohn in his blog post Author Rank. This gives Google another spam fighting and ranking data point as content with a strong link profile as reflected by Page Rank can be validated as it is shared by people who are influential and trustworthy and have a higher AuthorRank.
Search Plus Your World
Search Plus Your World is the culmination of the remaining updates. It has only been rolled out on Google.com and will most likely be rolled out internationally in a staged rollout in the near future. It is essentially Social Search.
Search Plus Your World is Google search transformed by the connections, interactions and activity you have on Google+. It is google search blended with social results. ie more personal.
Note: Google is giving your business an opportunity here to appear and stay in the organic search results of those who connect, interact and engage with your business on Google+. The businesses who grasp this opportunity first will have a head start on those who dont.
We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships. We began this transformation with Social Search, and today we’re taking another big step in this direction by introducing three new features:
- Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
- Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
- People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.
Together, these features combine to create Search plus Your World. Search is simply better with your world in it, and we’re just getting started.
For a good overview of what it looks like read Danny Sullivans’ blog post Google’s Results Get More Personal With “Search Plus Your World
Why did Google implement Search Plus Your World
- Less reliance on the link graph – By incorporating the range of social data from +1 buttons, Google+ and authorship, Google has more data to validate the links to pages and in turn the organic search results, keeping the quality high visitors coming back and advertising $ rolling in.
- Google provides more personalised “quality” search results – By incorporating social proof elements into organic search results, Google starts to “own” social recommendations; something that Facebook had and Google did not until now. Their organic search results are thus full of friends’ recommendations and this hopefully will keep people using and Google search products and keep advertisers happy to stay using Google’s paid services to drive traffic.
- Future Revenue opportunities – In the end there is always a monetisation strategy at Google. No doubt there are aspects to Google+ and Search Plus Your World that translate to increased advertising opportunities including possible demographic search targeting which is something that Facebook has that Google does not have..yet.
What You Should do to prepare Your Business for the Google Social Revolution
- Sign up for Google+ and set up a Google+ page for your business. Start working out how to use it to build an audience, share and promote content (not just your own though) and to engage with your audience.
- Actively learn how to participate in social media. Remember every interaction is not just an opportunity to sell. Its now an opportunity to remain relevant in the organic search results as well as to extend your brands influence.
- Make sure all of your content has the +1 button on it to allow people to endorse and recommend it into the social graph
- If you are a content producer (and you should be) make sure that you implement the Authorship tags to make sure Google knows that you are the original source of the content.
- Create great content that has attribution so you can start to build your own personal authority or “AuthorRank”. Build an audience, share and engage.
- As a business it is incumbent that you start thinking like a publisher and invest in producing awesome content because at the core of all of these changes that Google is rolling out is content. Content gets +1’s, it gets shared into Twitter, Facebook and now Google+. Content allows you to demonstrate your industry knowledge, your understanding of your clients problems and demonstrate your ability to solve their problems. Quality content that gets shared attracts links which are still the #1 ranking factor for web pages.
- Content is the lubricant of social interactions and will allow your business to start building an audience with whom to engage.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
The above blog post was built in the insights and analysis of many insightful thinkers some of which I have referenced below which should be considered a part of your additional reading.