Online search may have come down to “Like” versus “Follow” versus “+1.” Who will win?
Facebook’s “Like” feature has become well-known since its unveiling in February 2009. Twitter recently announced its “Follow” feature, which lets visitors subscribe to a website’s Twitter (through, it seems, two clicks rather than one). But the most significant release of all may have been Google’s announcement of “+1” early this week:
+1 is as simple on the rest of the web as it is on Google search. With a single click you can recommend that raincoat, news article or favorite sci-fi movie to friends, contacts and the rest of the world. The next time your connections search, they could see your +1’s directly in their search results, helping them find your recommendations when they’re most useful.
The idea, not surprisingly, mimics that of Facebook “Like.” Search Engine Land accurately summarizes the usefulness of the tool (with its forthcoming analytics) to marketers:
- Geography: webmasters will learn where +1 activity is happening
- Demographics: Google will share the age/gender of who’s clicking +1 on content when it knows that information
- Content: +1s will be reported on a URL-by-URL basis
- Search impact: webmasters will be able to see +1 impressions, clicks and click-thru rates
Hubspot also offers a good summary. However, with all due respect to Google, I am not sure how successful “+1” will become as far as whether the general public will use the feature. Online marketers – and perhaps no one else – will remember the release of Google Buzz, which aimed to accomplish the same purpose but has largely fallen by the digital wayside in favor of Facebook and Twitter due, in part, to privacy concerns by users at the time.
Moreover, the functionality of “+1” is slightly more complicated. As a test, I “shared” an article on the feature by a prominent SEO blog through both Facebook and Google. This is what appeared in Facebook:
I wrote a comment and then posted the article to Facebook – simple and easy. However, I then used the “+1” feature and saw this:
Even though I am well-versed in social-media marketing, I hesitated before clicking “confirm” because Google asked me (and Facebook did not) to agree that my “profile and +1s appear publically in search, on ads, and across the web” and by opting-in the “+1” would help to “personalize content and ads across the web.”
Although I rationally understand that both Facebook and Google personalize their platforms in this manner, the fact that Google reminded me once more of that fact before I clicked “+1” brought up an instinctual wariness that may reveal that fewer people in general will use the option. The functionality of “+1” may not be optimal because in the majority of online marketing, one wants as few clicks to be required and as few questions to be raised from the “landing page” to the “point of sale” as possible. Still, I admire Google’s disclosure even though it may affect its success negatively.
The answer, it seems, is the presumptive, future ability of “+1” to influence organic search-results – that which appears when one enters a search query into Google. The company has an “Experimental” feature through which users can see what Google is planning – and test the usability of the features as well.
The “+1” release is one of the “experiments” that people can choose, and those who participate have the option now to “+1” a webpage within search results themselves. As an experiment, I recommended The Cline Group within the search results (not that I am biased!). This was the option that appeared (though the screenshot did not capture the mouse arrow hovering over the “+1”):
Now, after I like an individual page (like the SEO article) or website (like www.theclinegroup.com), this is what will appear in search results – of, presumably, both me and my Google-user “friends” (see the note below the headline):
SEO experts have always known the top on-page ranking factors when optimizing a website (meta titles, meta descriptions, anchor texts of inbound links, and so on), and this list by SEOmoz is considered authoritative. However, the question being debated within the search industry now is whether how much social-media sharing will influence organic results.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter, of course, are businesses that want to maximize advertising revenue. To do so, they need to personalize advertisements content on an individual basis as much as possible. Search history, geographical location, and prior websites browsed – among other factors – already influence search-engine results. It is logical that social-media activity will soon be incorporated as well – after all, a person’s activity on Facebook is about as personal as one can get.
But the question remains: does it make sense to add yet another social-media sharing button to your website (especially one that, like Google Buzz, may fail) – and how would the return on investment (ROI) be measured?
Too many companies add several or dozens of buttons to articles, pages, and blog posts out of the reasonable goal of encouraging as much sharing (and future traffic) as possible. But the ideal principle actually conflicts with measured results.
In his 2004 book “The Paradox of Choice,” Barry Schwartz accurately argued that people end up making no decision when faced with too many choices. (Imagine a customer who is unable to decide what to order while reading a menu with 100 entrees.) In a social-media context, this has been proven to be accurate. As Hubspot has noted, the presence of too many social-media sharing buttons reduces the total amount of overall sharing because people have so many options that it becomes overwhelming. (Just do a search online for “signal-to-noise ratio.”)
So, the key – as always – will be to test the effect of Google +1. After Google finalizes the button’s functionality, marketers will need to measure the amount of sharing and associated traffic after several months compared to Facebook, Twitter, and all of the other social-networking websites. Then, they will need to decide which buttons to keep – it may be two, three, or four (just not ten). Different demographic-segments use different social networks – it depends on your specific industry, sector, and business.
Still, regardless of whether one decides to install and keep “+1” on a website, the primary usefulness (apart from potentially increasing organic-traffic) will be the future demographic data that “+1” looks to provide. Google, like Facebook, is aiming to provide the ages, locations, and other information on the people who choose to “+1” a page or website. At a time when there is nearly an infinite number of individual, niche markets, every piece of demographic data is valuable. The investment of a few seconds to add the button can potentially result in a wealth of marketing data.
We at The Cline Group have always argued that modern methods of marketing and public relations need to be integrated strategically across all mediums. In this context, we advocate that SEO/SEM and social-media marketing need to complement each other (and work with traditional, offline marketing as well).
Noting the increasing connections between search marketing and social media, it is becoming clearer that strategic, integrated marketing is not only a recommendation today but also a necessity.