Search and social have always been interrelated, but now more so than ever. Since I am interested in what social subjects are top of mind for search marketers, I took a few questions to the experts who were gracious enough to share their thoughts with SearchBlog readers. Thanks to Trada CEO Niel Robertson, Rimm Kaufman Group CEO George Michie, 140proof CEO Jon Elvekrog, and Covario CEO Russ Mann for sharing their thoughts.
Actually, some shared more than thoughts. Some wrote books on each topic. So I decided to turn their answers into a series called Searching Social Synchronicities. The first post in the newly created series looks at Google+ and the +1 button.
Changes to the appearance of the +1 button on results pages made the list of 30 search tweaks that Google engineers made in December. Now the +1 button only appears when someone hovers over a result or when the result has already been +1’d. Answers to the first series of questions point to Google's +1 button.
MediaPost: How will Google +1 influence search engine results pages (SERPs) and paid-search ads over time, and what are the concerns and the observations about +1 and Google+? How should search marketers approach +1 as a marketing channel, and will it disappear similar to Google Wave or will +1 stay? Do Google users really care about being social using Google tools?
Trada CEO Niel Robertson: Google+ and the +1 button are in their infancy, but both remain critical to Google. As Facebook challenges the hegemony of Google, they do it by accumulating user profiling data one 'Like' at a time. The Like is the core of Facebook’s advertising value proposition. And in some cases it’s what allows Facebook advertisers to get search-like CPAs.
Display has never really challenged Google’s paid-search revenue because it was nearly impossible to drive comparable CPAs with traditional banner display. Search retargeting has narrowed the gap substantially, but only reinforces the value of search. Facebook uses the Like for profile targeting, but changed display from a top-of-funnel activity to a middle -- and even bottom-of-the-funnel -- activity. If Facebook continues down the path of introducing more 'verbs,' such as 'want,' 'love,' 'read,' and not just 'like,' into their experience, this will likely move Facebook results even further down the funnel.
Arguably, in some cases, being better than Google AdWords -- because if someone says 'I want an iPhone 4G' and you can target those people, that’s a pretty powerful advertising mechanism. So Google must begin collecting profiling information about its users. The +1 is basically a carbon copy of this idea, although less powerful than the 'like' in the context that it’s difficult to extend to other verbs.
So now that Google has the equivalent mechanism to build a user profile for ad targeting, how does it compete and catch up with Facebook? The simplest answer is to enlist the army of people who have built businesses around search results, YouTube videos, and AdWords to do this for them.
This battle is very similar to the old days of Microsoft and Steve Ballmer's famous Developers, Developers, Developers speech. If Google makes +1 matter in SERP results, every SEO and paid-search expert, Web site developer, small business, and others will include the +1 on their pages to get a leg up any way they can. This will get more people involved in Google+, which makes the +1 more valuable.
For a time I think +1 will be a big focus of SERPs because it is new, but over time Google will fold it back into the rest of the signals it uses to display results to us, once Google reaches critical mass with Google+. Google's +1 will put even more pressure on businesses to have a social presence, because +1s are not links from other Web-savvy webmasters. These are real people who need to feel engaged enough with your business or blog by hitting the +1 button. Being engaged is a very different type of activity than getting backlinks to a site, or writing with specific keywords in mind. It takes content creation, activity on social sites (including G+) and a rapport with the community.
Rimm-Kaufman Group CEO George Michie: Social signals will become an increasingly meaningful signal in search, but it's a bit early to say whether +1 will gain enough momentum to become an important signal in that mix. Google reportedly got 40 million users to sign up for accounts in a remarkably short period of time, so it's not crazy to think it will continue to grow, and most people really will have accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. I'm a believer, particularly because I think some of the Google+ tools like Circles and video Hangouts are much more user-friendly than analogous tools on other networks. As recommendation engines have proved, people like to give feedback in ways that help other users, so once critical mass is reached, the value of the +1 signal will become real. Moreover, Google will become smart about how it reads the signals, recognizing that Susan cares about a +1 signal from a specific circle of friends on a specific topic, but not so much on other topics.
CEO 140proof Jon Elvekrog: When Google makes the decision to combine Google+ and search data -- a question of when, not if -- consumers will see search results pages that are more relevant to the interest information they share on the social network. Google has an opportunity to take a page out of Microsoft's embrace-and-extend playbook and create a social stream aggregation tool similar to their Google Reader product, before they killed it. Google+ is likely here to stay, but it's never going to replace Facebook as the most popular social platform.
Google+ is more similar to Twitter, because of the asymmetric relationships between users. It goes one step further and lets consumers define these relationships, picking and choosing how they want to share content and news with those relationships. Users are essentially building buckets and then deciding how they want to share and interact with those buckets of friends or contacts. Once Google users understand the utility of this service, along with better-customized search results, they'll warm to Google+.
Covario CEO Russ Mann: If Google gets real traction with +1s, they will become a weighting factor on SERPs, for both paid-search and SEO results. We monitor these and other social signals through our Organic Search Insight (OSI) product, and we're also looking at weighting factors for these social signals. There is some possibility that Google will not gain a lot of traction with +1s, and they may go away. For now though, brands and Internet retailers must work at getting positive +1 responses, as well as work with agencies and SEO software partners to monitor the impact for your brand.