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.


"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".


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.


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®

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


@deleted_91832_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


@deleted_91832_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.


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