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Google announced yesterday that it will begin to integrate and give more prominence to content from Google Plus in its search results pages.
This change, which will affect logged in users, of which there are many, raise some interesting questions, and has several potential implications for SEO.
It will also worry rival social networks. For example, Twitter's Alex McGillivary called it 'a bad day for the internet' in a tweet yesterday:
I've been asking search experts for their opinions on the possible consequences of this new move from Google.
What are your views on Search, plus Your World?
Kevin Gibbons, Founder, SEOptimise:
Looking past the obvious reasons of promoting Google+ and their rivalries with Facebook and Twitter, I think this update is more about Google improving the relevancy of results via a more personalised search experience.
There was an interesting study by Nielsen a couple of yeas ago, and this stated that 42% of people trust search engine results, while a huge 90% trust recommendations from people they know.
In my opinion that is the biggest threat social media/search brings to Google, the ability to provide personal recommendations. So it's clear that this is something they have to get better at if they want to retain such a dominant market share in the long-term.
Rishi Lakhani, Search Strategist:
I think it’s a desperate attempt to make a rather poor product become mainstream. Google has the largest universal audience base, but not the largest social network.
So what they are doing is to try and compete with the powerhouses that are Twitter and Facebook, by using the one super strong property they have, search.
If they can’t succeed at making a new social network, they will simply convert their current powerhouse into one.
Welcome to MySpace+Yahoo 3.0.
Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director at Bigmouthmedia:
I’m excited by Search plus Your World. The video teaser was tantalising in that it sketched a picture but we’re yet to see exactly how Search+ will work. This is such a potentially big change to Google that it is frustrating that we cannot yet examine every atomic detail.
Search plus Your World looks like a Google I would like to use. I really hope it works well with real time. Friends are best for news curation and breaking news needs real time.
Search+ also adds extra depth to Universal Search. It’s all well and good search returning pictures of products but better to have pictures of products and holiday scenes with a social context.
Will Critchlow, Founder, Distilled:
While it's obvious that Google is on the search for a world "after links" and it's no surprise that +1s should be their chosen saviour, I'm a little concerned about a future where a major ranking signal is proprietary to Google.
At a tactical level, I sincerely hope that the G+ API gets *really good*. At a strategic level, I think it's just one more step towards an integration of all forms of online marketing. It's going to be ever less about impressing robots and ever more about impressing humans.
Kelvin Newman, Creative Director at SiteVisibility:
This isn't an unanticipated step by most of the search community but that doesn't mean it's not significant, it puts another nail in the coffin of ranking reports and continues the shift to SEO being measured on business metrics.
As we've seen from the switch to https it's only the minority who search signed into a Google account; albeit a pretty significant minority. It's this same Group who are going to see this new level of personalisation. So unless there's a sudden uplift in sign ups for Google accounts this won't affect most people.
Alex Moss, Partner at Pleer:
Meh. This is yet another attempt to ensure that Google+'s skewed data will stay skewed. Claims such as 20m users joining within three weeks of its launch seem a bit odd considering that nobody outside of my professional connections have even heard of Google+, let alone realise they have an account.
Until a technophobe (usually your own mother) asks you "What is this Google+ nonsense" I wouldn't consider it a success.
My World is Google's attempt to create a funnel leading to somewhere you may not have found relevant in the first place, defeating the object of the search's intentions.
Social networking is about finding and developing new experiences within a portal. Google search is supposed to cater for the opposite i.e.finding information you're looking for and delivering it fast!
Teddie Cowell, SEO Director, Guava:
I don't think Google is using this as purely a platform for Google+ despite what it currently looks like. From the recent comments by Eric Schmidt we can see that Google is keen to reach out to Facebook and Twitter.
It's hard to see how Google can move forward with closer social integration in the short term when platforms like Facebook and Twitter are essentially walled garden blocking them (Facebook with the Bing deal and Twitter pulling out of the real time search agreement).
What are the possible implications for SEO and online marketing?
Some of the arguments in favour of social activity around Google plus is that they try and use those signals to create a better index, taking away from the nightmare that are links as ranking signals.
So will this new feature impact SEO? Absolutely. Now everyone will have more personalised results (than before!). How do you score through a moving goalpost?
Will it affect online marketing? Not really. Instead of SEO, we may end up relying more on power users to influence signals. So the likes of celebrities could influence a large portion of their followers online.
I am not sure I like that scenario. Either way as is the job of the online marketer, if an exploit or advantage exists, it will be used and abused.
Jimmy McCann, SEO Manager, Search Laboratory:
I think it’s a good move, as it makes the user experience a bit better, and for SEO I don’t think it will harm organic CTRs on commercial terms. I think it will only affect about 20% (max) of search queries.
It’s just another reason why social should be incorporated as part of an SEO campaign. It’s even more important for companies to produce socially engaging content in order to maximise visibility in these personalised SERPs. There will be big opportunities for social in 2012 as companies are forced to use Google+
The one big bonus of this is that you can completely depersonalise results with one click. It's always a pain telling clients to clean browsers and log out.
In some ways this is big news for SEO. However, if you look back at the SEO predictions for 2012 that Econsultancy put together we can see two main themes; the importance of content and the increased role of social and Google+. Google’s Search+ is the natural evolution of this.
Those SEOs who have done more than just predict this, but who have managed to re-work old SEO styles into the multi-signal approach that new SEO requires will welcome Search plus Your World. To those SEOs this is justification.
Econsultancy recently published stats on which percentage of agencies and clients thought social signals were significant in search. These agencies and clients in the significant side should be well placed to do well with the new socially strong Google.
Of course, there are plenty of SEO strategies that do not yet incorporate the range of activities required to succeed in Search plus Your World. Until these SEO strategies can adapt and those agencies work out how to implement them then they may struggle.
Now you need two Google SEO strategies, one for "No personal results" (legacy) and "Search plus Your World" (future).
A robust social strategy is important for all companies moving forwards and ensuring Google+ is adopted into that strategy.
Typing in [music] may bring up box of "prominent people" talking about that subject on G+. Who is prominent online in your industry, i.e. [car insurance]? I Don’t see Google being able to promote just G+ for long, Facebook and Twitter should be integrated at least as well.
Despite not influencing everyone's results suddenly building the number of people who have your business in a Google Plus circle seems a far more legitimate SEO tactic than it did 48 hours ago.