Google +1 and the Future of Search

By: Guest | May 5, 2011 | 

Sean McGinnis consults with small to mid-size customers about DCAL – Digital Customer Acquisition and Loyalty. He blogs about SEO, Internet marketing, social  media, leadership and a variety of other topics at 312 Digital.

At face value, the new Google +1 seems like their latest foray into the world of “social” but it’s really much more than that.

The +1 button is an incredibly important play for Google, one that will help build the future of their algorithm if widely adopted by Internet users.

Let’s step back for a minute and then I’ll explain.

Search Engine Progress

Search engines got their start by returning the most relevant documents to a search query. But relevance is a very easy thing to spoof, and search engine spam became rampant. So, search engines developed a method of calculating authority by looking at the number and quality of inbound links to your site. Today, essentially search engines return sites that are both relevant and authoritative. But authority can be manipulated and gamed too, so spam continues to be a problem for search engines.

After years of excluding links from social media sites from their algorithms, recently the major search engines started including links from sites such as Twitter and Facebook. In fact, there was a very recent study done that concluded a very high correlation between the sharing of articles in social sites and top search results – especially sharing on Facebook.

The reason these links are being counted is they represent a new type of signal that is more difficult to game, which helps lead to better search results (so far).

The Semantic Web of the Future

As we web users divulge and share more and more data on the web, the semantic web, or web 3.0 is beginning to take shape. The semantic web is a future state where the links between people, places, things, groups, events etc, all begin to have meaning and context. Think about the amazing amounts of data that are available today to companies, and what could happen if search engines had access to those snippets of data.

No longer would they be forced to rely only on page content and inbound links to determine search rankings.

Right now the biggest (or only?) threat to the Google juggernaut in terms of the search game is Bing. Its size or technology is not what creates that threat, however. It is their relationship with Facebook that poses the biggest threat to the continuance of Google search hegemony.

With unfettered access to Facebook data, Bing may actually be able to build a better mouse trap.

Google +1

More than ever, I’m convinced Google is not interested in actually being social. Instead, Google is interested in the signals that a social ecosystem can provide them in their quest to make search better for users. Google is not fundamentally social. Google’s DNA is search, search, and more search. But they have to get social right if they are to have a chance at staying ahead of Bing for the next decade

Editor’s note: Sean McGinnis knows his SEO. Please join him and the Spin Sucks Pro team for our May 19 webinar on SEO Insights for Online Marketing. The registration isn’t ready yet on Spin Sucks Pro, but you can send me an email with your interest.

Sean McGinnis consults with small to mid-size customers about DCAL – Digital Customer Acquisition and Loyalty. He blogs about SEO, Internet marketing, social  media, leadership and a variety of other topics at 312 Digital.

  • Interesting info Sean, and timely. I think you’re def right about google’s focus on search rather than social thang.

    I dont think Bing is a threat to google. After all, part of Ging’s algorithm is to look to google when it doesnt know what to do.

    I think a bigger threat to google search is Facebook.

  • Sean, I always knew you were smart, but dang dude, you really launched this article into the levels of awesome. I’ve been looking into Google +1 recently and have actually been testing it out on my computer but you just opened my eyes to some new areas where it may be important

    Thanks for blowing my mind today.

  • @joey_strawn Thanks Joey. Appreciate the feedback.

    This is one of those inteeresting topics I think too few people think about -“why is a search engine doing making certain moves in the market?” Granted, this piece is a combo of speculation and tea leaf reading, but having an opinion about where search is going helps one develop sites and content in ways that will smooth the way while others may get bruised in the future.

    Take the recent update where a number really big sites got pummeled by Google. A lot of that was avoidable if those sites heeded the signals that were so clearly being sent.

  • @dino_dogan I’ll agree and disagree with you. I’m not convinced people will be running searches for things they would normally find in Google directly within Facebook. But Facebook data has the opportunity to dramatically affect the search results within Bing, because of Microsoft’s investment/part ownership in Facebook. My two cents.

    To me that’s the difference between “social search” – searches done within a social application, and “search that is influenced by social” – which is sort of where we are at today. But as those social signals get understood better, in terms of how they can influence and affect search quality, I think we’ll see a push to incorporate more and more of those signals within the algorithm. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that everyone assumed all links from within Facebook and Twitter weren’t even counted because they were nofollowed.

  • jeanniecw


    This is an awesome primer for someone like me – just dangerous enough to know I don’t know enough about search. I find the whole measurement angle fascinating – no matter what happens, search will be driven by numbers. And as we have seen, numbers can be gamed. But at the end of the day (that’s a favorite phrase of Gini’s) I think humans respond to real information. That’s why Google won and keeps winning. The other search results just weren’t as relevant to me, even if they have a zillion inbound links. Thanks for edumecating me yet again, oh SEO-wan-kanobi.

  • I had a recent client ask me about the impact of the Google +1 button on search and I’ll put here what I told them.

    The job of Google is to provide the most relevant results to the searcher as quickly as possible. Unless you’re a bit of a research but like me, or bored at work, searching is not the most fun activity of your day. People search to solve problems. If Google can return the most relevant results to that searcher’s query they will keep coming back. And if they trust the search results, they’ll also trust the ads on the side, which is where Google makes a ton of cash.

    So what is relevancy? How does a computer determine if you think something is relevant or not?

    It all starts with the search, and then how you behave once you click on a link.

    Do you spend a good amount of time on the site you landed on or do you leave within seconds? If you find a blog post do you then share it on social media or leave a comment?

    The Google +1 button, as you state, is seemingly an attempt to help Google find out if people find the results they return relevant.

    At the end of the day that is a core part of every SEO strategy. To achieve that though is non-trivial, and implies a few things – you know who your target market is, you speak in their language, you know their biggest problems, your content solves their problems.

    That’s far beyond keywords and meta data.

  • KenMueller

    Good stuff, Sean. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and speaking on this. When Google (or someone else ) learns how to fully harness the constant flow of social data that is flying around the web, the entire search process will change.

    I think this CAN be an incredible thing for users, and will change the game for the SEO crowd more than any normal algorithm change has ever done. It puts the spotlight on social, and those companies that have steered clear of social will have to think again.

  • @KenMueller Boy do I agree with you Ken. I view the arrival of social signals as the first giant leap toward a more comprehensive search experience – one that is more reliable and difficult to game. It’s not the end game, but it is a very strong step in that direction. The next 5-10 years of search will be fun to watch.

  • KenMueller

    @Sean McGinnis I do SEO as part of what I offer, but it’s a very natural, organic type of SEO, which involves a lot of social. I’m really curious how this will impact the more traditional SEO firms. If social takes on greater importance, and it will, I *think* a lot of traditional SEO tactics will become less important. Especially on the local level, which is where I do most of my business

  • @rdempsey I agree with you Robert.

    Its funny, when Google announced personalized search back in October 2005, I frankly expected a more wildly divergent search experience from user to user. That did not come to pass. Instead, the search results seemed to be tweaked mildly around the fringes of the search experience. I genuinely wish that the personalization factors (which +1 is somewhat related) would be given more weight.

    The aspect of +1 I’m most interested in though, is the phase 2 where a +1 button will be available for site owners to include on their web sites, akin to the Facebook like and/or share buttons. That’s where real scalability comes into play and we start to see more web 3.0-like activity coming into the picture….

  • @jeanniecw You’re right on several points Jeannie, but the one that I identify most with is that numbers can be gamed.

    I think all algorithms can be gamed. That’s essentially what an algorithm is, a blue print for how to “win” the “game”.

  • I remember playing with Semanti a couple of years back, and being impressed with their engine and their goals for the semantic web. And then it died because no-one really seemed interested (at the time) in the semantic web. Or, if they did, they didn’t understand it too well.

    If anyone can change that, it’s Google. Still not completely sold on the +1 option (though you do a fantastic job of convincing, mate), but then I wasn’t sold on Buzz either, and look how popular that is.

    Oh. Wait a minute… 😉

    Seriously, +1 intrigues but I’ll play the Wait and See game for now.

    Cheers, sir.

  • Great stuff, Sean. If I may be blunt, Bing still kinda sucks-search-wise.

    My daughter, The Franchise Princess, never uses it. She’s 15, and she can’t stand Bing.

    But, they are hooked up with FB.

    Great to meet you face to face. It’s so important!

    The Franchise King®

  • @Sean McGinnis I’m with you there Sean. The more that button is used the more some content will start to fall off the Google radar. Yet another reason to be focusing on building a community of your ideal customers.

  • @FranchiseKing I hear you Joel. I’m not suggesting Big has better results than Google today (thought there are those that would say that) – but I am suggesting this is an important move for the future of Google. It’ll be interesting to watch.

    I enjoyed meeting you as well. Next time, I hope we’ll find the time to chat together for an hour or so. 🙂

  • @DannyBrown I’m not sure whether search will drive semantic or the other way around.

    I’m very impressed with the “concept” of semantic web, and hopeful that that it will mean a more rich web experience, as well as more accurate and better quality search results. It seems to me semantic will occur while the lights are off and nobody’s paying attention, and then one day we’ll all wake up to better results. Time will tell. 🙂

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  • dariasteigman

    Hi Sean,

    Popping in a few days late, because I kept this post in my “to read” file every time I dug into Google Reader in the last few days.

    I’m really happy to hear you say that “Google is not interested in actually being social. Instead, Google is interested in the signals that a social ecosystem can provide them in their quest to make search better for users.” I’ve been saying for a little while now that Google shouldn’t try to be social (something they’re not, and not very good at when they foray there) so much as aim to aggregate better, curate smarter, and be the best go-to place for all DATA related to social. This is definitely going to be an interesting space to watch.

  • @dariasteigman Thanks Daria – of course, I’d like to think we’re both right on that point, and as an observer of the space for quite a while, I think we are. Naturally, a company as big and successful as Google can (and often does) have ambition to be great at more than one thing, but in this case, I just can’t imagine a situation where they would be moving so deliberately into the social space if their core business wasn’t being threatened by their conspicuous absence in that space. Do you agree?


    “Google’s answer to the Facebook Like Button will make its debut “in the coming weeks,” according to Google’s development team.”

  • Here’s the latest in this ongoing story of the socialization of search – and this one is a doozy. be sure to check out this excellent article on Search Engine Land –

  • ginidietrich

    @Sean McGinnis Because of you, I was able to discuss search and social with a client yesterday. Thank you!

  • @ginidietrich Always happy to help Mrs. D.

  • Here’s another update on this topic. Nice little video highlighting some of the newest features from Bing.

    Once again demonstrating how Bing is leveraging the existing partnership with Facebook in ways Google may not be able to match. I think it might be time to make Bing my only search engine for a week or two to experiment with what I like and don’t like about these new features.

  • “if widely adopted by Internet users.”
    That’s the key phrase here.  Too bad for Google, but it seems like SEOs jumped on G+ first before their users figured out what G+ could be used for. This creates a serious risk for Google if they ever start to rely too much on G+ as a “measurement tool”.