Move Over "Like" Button, Google Announces the "+1" Button

Similar to the Facebook “Like” button that offers those with a Facebook account to vote socially and “like” something whether a person, business or web page-outside the walls of Facebook’s closed eco-system; Google now is about to roll out a “Like” button of its own- the +1 (plus one) button.

Just to note, while Google has announced the +1 button and some of its features, the real information about how it will be used and in what context is quite vague.  In fact, while the announcement seems big, I’m mean Game Changing Big (sorry to use the term), there are so many unanswered questions that at this time it’s mostly speculation instead of certainty when it comes to what exactly Google is offering its users and what it is trying to accomplish.

 The +1 Button
On the official Google Blog, you can find information mostly on how the +1 works.  I will briefly summarize the +1 button, but you can find info at their blog as well:  http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/1s-right-recommendations-right-when-you.html

In the past, Google was able to extract information from users (who are signed in and have profiles and/or use their various social products) to offer recommendations about a site from others in your social group.  For instance, you might see a Tweet from one of your co-workers review on a new restaurant in the neighborhood.  However, with +1 social search is taken to a new level.  Google will roll out a new feature – a small +1 button on the right side of a result that a user can click on telling those in his/her social circle that they recommend it.  In addition, this information will be provided to other users searching Google results as well.

Google Plus 1 Button

By simply pressing the +1 button, you can easily recommend to other Google users which sites you like (and hopefully these sites are one’s that offer quality content).  The social aspect comes into play when someone in your social circle is searching for the same item in the future, they will not only see the result, but also your name below it (see picture below).  However, if your social circle is small or non-existent, Google has stated that you will still see a number associated with the amount of people that like a webpage- so it will have something of an overall vote of likes.

Google Plus One Button

Other Interesting Features Including a +1 Button for Ads
In addition, to just +1 a search result, Google will be rolling out the ability to +1 their ads as well.  In fact, it will be a standard feature.  All Google ads will have the +1 feature which businesses can’t opt out of.  Just to note, you won’t be charged if a user presses the +1 on your ad.  Plus, as an added feature when it comes to metrics, Google will report to you which ads have the most +1 as well.

The +1 Button for Web Pages
Besides the +1 button on results and ads, Google will be rolling out in a few months (no set date yet) a +1 button for web pages.  Similar to the Facebook “Like” button, web developers can now post a +1 on their web page as well.

+1 for Page Rank?
Besides the +1’s social search implications, Google has stated that it intends to use the information that it collects from +1 for ranking purposes.  However, it is important to note, it hasn’t stated just how much importance it will put on the +1, but since the Google Algorithm does track over 200 items, it will play a factor- just how big or small is not known yet. (I have read opinions that Google is trying to lure people into using the +1 and the carrot being that +1 button will have an effect on rankings).

For SEO/SEM Professionals
The +1 button is something that all SEO/SEM professionals will have to watch very closely.  That being said, as of this moment, there is much speculation on how it will ultimately be used.  Many believe it will be used comparatively like the Facebook “Like” button- being part of a huge social network.  Others think the button will not be used as part of a big social network, but as a layer maximizing social search.  In addition, there are many that think it will be just another product that doesn’t catch on.

Questions to Be Answered
Doing research on +1, I have come up with a few questions that I would like to be answered.  These questions can ultimately help us as professionals determine first how important will the +1 button be and how to utilize it to maximize web traffic, rankings and brand building.

About page rank.  I can see +1 playing a part in overall page rank, but I wonder how far Google will rely on it in its algorithm.  The reason being is that Google has always strived to be fair and equal when doling out page rank.  If it relied too heavily on +1 it can distort their overall rankings- and not in a good way.  Meaning, what if your site doesn’t participate in signing up and posting a +1 button- will your rankings suffer?  This can bring a lot of legal scrutiny into the mix.
 
Google states in order to use this feature (to actually press +1) you have to be logged in.  But it is possible you will also have to sign up for a profile.  Creating a profile can potentially be a huge obstacle to the amount of people that participate.  While there are many Facebook accounts, there are many people that like to search anonymously- in fact, many of the new browsers now have a private or anonymous search built in.  There may be specific kinds of sites that won’t receive many +1 (health sites among many others come to mind).

While it is easy to click on +1, it’s not as straight forward as one thinks.  The reason being is that in order for someone to recommend a site (at least in the rankings) they will have to visit the site and then go back to the index page to click on +1.  What happens if you are several pages deep in a site- it doesn’t seem so intuitive anymore to go all the way back to the search results and click +1?  Clicking ads are also questionable.  It’s nice to say you can click on a +1 for ads, but in truth, probably 99.9% of the +1 clicks will probably be garnered from those individuals that already visited the site and seeing their +1 button and not someone conducting a search and just clicking on an ad they see to the right.

Another question I have is what’s in it for me?  I understand the likelihood that the more +1’s a listing or ad has the probability that the quality of content is good.  But one of the reasons that Facebook’s “Like” has succeeded is that it is used within a closed community of users.  Google hasn’t stated yet whether this is part of a larger social network destination site they are creating or just a layer. They mention social groups such as those in Twitter or possibly tied to your current Google account, but what about other social networks such as Facebook.  Currently, Facebook and Google are virtually at war and have walled off any type of sharing of info.  Will people that have a substantial social network on Facebook or other site want to start again with Google?
 
One last question I currently have is why not roll out the +1 button for web pages now with the +1 buttons on the index pages and ads?  Some people think that waiting is a smart idea to gauge how it is being used, but it can also work against Google, because many people might not see the point of clicking on the +1 button.  Add into the mix that it is not known what Google’s ultimate intentions are in using the information it gathers from +1 and you can see that there might be disinterest from the start due to lack of information.

My final thoughts is that while this can be a game changer, unless Google gives the public more information on how this button will be used and whether there will be a social network component or it is just a stand alone product can ultimately decide whether +1 is successful or not.  Obviously, as more information is released, we will be report back.