Mar 312011

Google +1: Thoughts and 7 Questions

Google now allows users to like -- uh excuse me -- plus-one both organic links and sponsored links to websites. People in your 'network' -- Google network for now -- will be able to see that you liked -- uh, plus-oned -- that link and how many other people did too. Moreover, Google will have the ability to factor those ones into ranking algorithms, though we're told it will have no impact on Quality Score in the immediate term. Predictably, Danny Sullivan wrote the first, longest and most thorough write up on plus-one, well worth a read. Google's blog post and video are helpful as well.

RKG is a data-driven company, so absent data on adoption rates, impact, etc, we have more questions than answers. But speculation is fun, and as our readership includes many luminaries in the space, maybe their comments will be more insightful than anything at this point.

Question 1: Will users click the button?

This is a big one. Certainly company employees, their agencies and other hired guns will plus-one 'til their fingers bleed, but average Josephine? I see two problems here:

  • The Google networks are pretty thin compared to Facebook/Twitter and Linked-in. The sparseness of seeing your network friends votes will slow adoption
  • There is something fundamentally odd about link to something. First, I don't vote for the road to a destination I vote for the destination; and second mechanically how will it happen? How will folks know they 1...the result until they're already there? Do we expect them to go back to vote?

Question 2: How will this impact personalization of results?

Presumably votes from my network will have more impact on my rankings than the votes of people I don't know. I also wonder if my own past votes will prejudice results even more than my network of friends' votes. If I favorite shoe company, shouldn't it come up first any time I search for shoes?

Question 3: Do I plus one a link, a page, or a domain?

If I vote for one link to a given site, does that vote carry over to other links? Is it the landing page, so other links to the same page will show my vote? Or, is it the domain that really gets the vote? It will be interesting to see whether there is a difference between clicking on one link to a given site and clicking on EVERY link to that site.

Question 4: What's the biggest benefit?

In the past, we've noted that any visual difference (plus box, seller rating, whatever) in one listing over others draws attention and generates higher CTRs. Will that be the biggest win, or will it be the impact on ranking signals?

Question 5: Will this be SPAMMED to oblivion such that it is no longer a useful signal?

Certainly, website owners will encourage all their employees to one...links to their site. Agencies working for those websites will do the same. They may hire/develop plus-one bots. But not many people will, network with a bot, so while the overall counts may be higher, it won't impact how many people I know voted for a page, domain, link.

As others have noted, mass account creation and +1 activity is pretty easy to spot algorithmically and may reduce the value of spamming techniques. But, will RKG have an advantage over smaller competitors because we have more employees to vote for our clients? Or, will our votes be discounted because they happen in waves when we sign new clients? Should they be discounted? We really do like 1 ... our clients!?!

Question 6: When will this be expanded to wider networks than my Google network?

Clearly, the wider the network the more likely the signals -- friendly faces -- will show up and be meaningful.

Question 7: Will the on-site +1 votes obviate the need for the link votes?

If I like...+1... a site isn't it, plus-onely ... that I'd vote for the links as well?


To my thinking, this is a pretty big deal. I don't think this will die on the vine, I think it's the wave of the future. Just as businesses have a reason to encourage their customers to like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, encouraging people to vote for their site as a SERP signal may be even more valuable at the end of the day.

What do you folks think? Me? I it!!!


22 Responses to "Google +1: Thoughts and 7 Questions"
jonathan c says:
I am just waiting for the referral bonus scheme announcement. Surely if you are recommending a product to someone, your not going to be doing this out of the kindness or your heart, are you?
Hi George, Great post! As an employee of another data-driven company, I am really interested to see how this pans out (will we be optimizing towards Cost per Plus?) With regards to Question 1 - I have heard mention that Google will make the +1 box available to put directly on your site (similar to how 'like' boxes are springing up all over the place now). Once they do this I can imagine there will be a much higher volume of people +1'ing or plus'ing (struggling to come up with a suitable verb). One criticism I have heard is that whilst Facebook has a social graph, google currently does not. However, I would be more than happy to share a bit of personal information in exchange for more relevant search results, and I am sure other people would too. I particularly like that Google is being so up front with the privacy implications and how they give you the option to easily un-plus something you previously plus'ed. What are your thoughts on this?
Ryan Beale says:
Hi George, When I query Google, Im looking for instant, relevant links based on my query. I personally will NOT spend the time to "plus 1" an Advertisment or really anything on Google. Maybe this is just me, maybe not. On the other hand, when Google's "plus one" feature rolls out to be included on web pages/blog articles/landing pages, I would be more likely to "plus one" some remarkable content. Those plus one's, along with tweets/retweets, facebook likes, reddits, etc are a natural evolution as signals in googles algorithm. @RBeale
Absolutely, Jonathan. "+1 this page and take $5 off your next order"
Michael, I agree that the +1 on the landing page makes more intuitive sense, getting back to that notion that it's hard to vote for a link before you've clicked through. However, that ends up gumming up the signal. If I like -- sorry -- a page, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a great result for any given user search. They'd almost have to only credit the signal if it came after clicking through a SERP link. Interesting to see how this plays out. A number of folks are predicting this will flop. I don't think so, precisely because, as you say, people have an interest in improving the SERPs.
Interesting observation, Ryan. I do wonder with the explosion of buttons to push if there will soon be either: a science to positioning them to get the maximum value -- eg: do you benefit more from a Facebook like or a Google +1?; or some notion of an "everything" button that signals all your networks with one click.
Hi George, We got some more information from one of our Google reps addressing some of the questions raised in this post. In response to the quandaries about +1's effect on personalized results (#2) we got a sufficiently vague answer of: "Google will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results. The purpose of any ranking signal is to improve overall search quality. For +1's and other social ranking signals, as with any new ranking signal, we'll be starting carefully and learning how those signals are related to quality." So they don't seem to really know what's going to happen there yet either. For the 3rd question about how the +1's affect landing pages vs. entire domains, we have a more succinct answer: "+1's occur at the page level. This means that +1's on individual webpages on your site do not apply to pages above or below them in your site’s hierarchy. For example, if you own a clothing website with a homepage, a "Winter Coats" category page, and a product page showing a specific winter coat, a visitor would have to +1 each of those three pages individually for their +1's to appear for all three URLs." We also got a hint on how the +1's on paid search might interact with organic: "When your ad is +1’d, Google notes its final landing page URL. When the same URL appears in an organic search listing, the organic listing will include the same personalized annotations as would an ad." Hope those answers help clarify and further the discussion a bit. The +1 is definitely in the beginning stages here, I'm curious to see what it evolves into!
I am very interested to know the answer to question #4 George. What's the benefit, and equally important I reckon, what are the effects on both organic rankings and PPC? Like Ryan above, I don't think I would ever +1 an advertisement. But rest assured RKG articles would always have a +1 from me. :)
You are too kind, Jun. As Christine mentioned, the +1s are apparently tied to the landing page and a +1 on an organic link to a page will translate to a +1 on any ad linking to that same page. They intend the +1s to be a signal in the organic algorithm, but say that they will have no direct impact on the Quality Score of ads. What is likely, though, is an indirect benefit to ads. People are more likely to click on an ad their friends...uh network...likes...uh +1s...increasing the CTR on those ads over others and that increase in CTR is an advantage by itself, but will also improve QS. Interesting stuff!
Mark Zukerberg says:
Really +1 your post. Also, +1 the new format of the RKG web site and nice to see how you have all your Managers and Analysts listed with their photos. Nice that you recognize their contribution to your efforts and success. I bet they +1 that too. Regards, Z
Zuck, thanks for stopping by. We're glad you like our new site. Can I add you as a Buzz buddy? George
It's an interesting concept. Not sure if it will catch on though. People that are searching want answers quickly so that they can move on to their next task. I don't know how much time they will spend +1'ing links, especially if there really is no personal connection.
Good point, Nick. It's about critical mass, people might vote if they see their friends ...sorry or if it's pitched as a way to improve search results. Both of those may be a stretch, but we shall see.
Sudheer Dayanand says:
I had discussion with my Google Rep on #3. It seems +1 will be counted for a particular URL and not for all the links on the website. This means if we are using different URL's for SEO and PPC then SEO +1's will not be credited to PPC. -Sudheer Dayanand
Interesting, Sudheer. I'll work up a follow up post on this soon. I had an opportunity to speak with the Product Manager of +1 and get his take on these questions and the likely evolution of the product. Interesting stuff.
Ryan Pryor says:
George, Great thoughts, sir! Please kick my musings around for a bit... I've been dealing a lot more on the Local Search / Google Places side lately, thus I'm curious about +1 in a similar regard. Google Places reviews are aggregated and are not (currently) shown to you, the user, based on any "friend networks." Whatever people said, you see. In fact, Places aggregates not just Google reviews, but reviews from any number of social sources. And, apparently if there are no "friend network +1's" for a listing Google's new +1 will reach out to aggregate likes... er, pluses. I find it interesting that with the Plus One / +1 feature turned on, the Google Places listings don't have +1 boxes. They are still as they have been. And, what about Google Boost-esque potential uses of +1? Boost is available as an option (paid for) within Google Places. So, it's in the best interest of a client with a worthwhile set of Google Places reviews to use Google Boost. If they don't have good reviews, it's probably not the smartest idea for them to try it... But with +1 it seems that it's always in the interest of the advertiser to have the +1's show up. What would be the disadvantage? Sure there are initial concerns around spamming and such, but +1 shows favoritism. That favoritism might be your friends, or an extended network. But it's still favoritism. What they don't have yet, and what won't be clamored for on a per site page level, is a -1 button. Maybe the opportunity for truer crowd sentiment will finally prompt Facebook to add the "Dislike" button we've been joking about and hoping for nigh on 2 years now. I think I went on a tangent in their somewhere...
Interesting thoughts, Ryan. I think any ranking signal -- whether purely accurate or purely gamed -- by definition helps some and hurts others. If people like -- er, plus-one -- your competitors more than you than the signal could be harmful as the scores are all relative to each other. If your competitor wins out at this because they game the system better, then gaming the system becomes the new local SEO. If the system turns out not to be easily gamed and you're losing out to your competitor because...they provide better food/service/atmosphere/prices/customer service the job is somewhat harder.
Victor Roibu says:
I don't think users will go back to SERP to click +1. This is just an attempt of Google to catch up with Facebook.
Victor, thanks for commenting. I agree, I think it will all be about the +1 on the web pages themselves, once that is rolled out. +1 on the links won't go anywhere.


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