A quick overview of Google +1
What is Google +1?
Google +1 is a new social layer added to the search results page (both organic and paid links). Similar to the Facebook “like” button, Google +1 allows people to “recommend” pages.
How does it work?
Once fully rolled out, the Google +1 button will appear next to all web page links on the Google search results page. Only users signed into their Google profile can click the +1 button to “like” or “recommend” that site. Everyone will see the total number of +1s the sites have. If signed into a Google account, people will see the total number of +1s as well as their Google contacts (names and Google profile picture) who have ‘+1d’ the sites. +1s are counted at the landing page level and will carry over regardless if the link is in paid or organic.
Why is Google making this change?
Google understands that people trust those they know and will turn to friends and family for recommendations. Google expects the +1 button to improve user experience and bring higher quality traffic to advertisers.
What are the implications?
- While +1 does not change the way Google determines quality score, to the extent that endorsements impact CTRs, +1 may have an indirect impact on CPCs and rankings.
- Because there is no opt-out feature, sites that do not want the number of +1s displayed on the Google search results page will have no control over this.
What will remain the same?
- The basic layout of the Google search results will look largely the same, except for an added +1 button next to the links and the magnifying glass icon.
- To determine quality score, Google will continue to look at each ad’s performance relative to other ads for the same query, position and UI treatment.
What are the immediate next steps?
- Work with your teams to develop a Google +1 strategy and monitor +1s for advertisers’ domains (reporting will be available in AdWords)
- Monitor your paid search CTRs and CPCs as the +1s begin to affect Google user experience.
ABOUT GOOGLE +1 BUTTON
On March 30, 2011 Google launched in limited release the +1 button on their search results page to integrate social and search, and improve user experience by incorporating personalized recommendations. Currently the +1 button appears on a small percentage of users’ screens and in the very near future everyone who searches on Google will see these +1 recommendations next to all web page results, both organic and paid. This feature will take effect gradually and roll out, starting with the US release, on Google.com (English). If you are not currently seeing this feature, you can enable it in Google experimental and by accessing Google.com. If you currently use Google.co.uk, you will not be part of the initial rollout.
Currently, the +1 buttons are only on the Google search results page but soon they’ll be available for publishers to add directly to their sites, similar to the Facebook and Twitter buttons that are often found on sites today. Also, the +1 buttons are only on web page listings, not map results, videos, images, news or shopping results. Google hasn’t announced plans to add +1 to other results, but it is likely to roll out the new feature more broadly if users embrace it.
HOW IT WORKS
When users click the +1 button for a particular webpage , their names and profile pictures may appear as personalised annotations in their social connections' search results when they search for related topics. People who are signed into their Google accounts can click on a link’s +1 button to “like” or “recommend” that site. Users that are searching on Google will see the total number of +1s a site has received even if they’re not logged into a Google account. Only users who are also logged into their Google account will see the names and profile picture of their friends (ie. Google contacts) who have +1’d a site. Google will look at your social connections (i.e. people in your Gmail, Google Talk chat list, people you’re following in Google Reader and/ or Google Buzz) to decide which +1s might be helpful.
If signed into a Google account with an active Google profile, users can click on the +1 button to recommend a site. The first time a user clicks the +1 button they will be prompted to confirm their name and that they are willing to share this information publicly.
+1 RESULTS FROM YOUR NETWORK
A user who is searching and is a Google contact of someone who has ‘+1d’ the link will see the total +1 count as well as their contact’s name and profile picture:
REMOVING A +1
When a user clicks +1, they are immediately given the option to “undo”. For subsequent searches, the “undo” link will not be displayed but users can click on the +1 button to remove their recommendation. Removing a +1 will remove 1 count for that site’s total number of +1s and it will also prevent a user’s name and profile picture from displaying on the results page when a Google contact is searching.
WHY MAKE THE CHANGE?
Google understands that people rely on family and friends to make decisions so they have gradually been adding more social elements to their search results. +1 is the latest enhancement Google has rolled out to improve their results by making them more timely and more personally relevant. This follows their initial Social Search functionality introduced in 2009 which brought in realtime results from Twitter and Facebook. Then, in February 2010 Google enhanced their social search features by including information about which links people shared on Twitter and other sites. By including endorsements from people they trust, Google believes that the results will be more relevant and helpful, thus benefitting both users and advertisers alike. Users will feel more confident in the results they choose, and advertisers will benefit from more qualified traffic and higher conversion rates.
MEASURING THE IMPACT
+1 metrics will soon be available at the ad group level for AdWords advertisers. This should provide additional performance metrics by which to manage and optimise Google search campaigns. It will be important to measure the impact on CTRs and CPCs to understand what impact +1 actually has on campaign performance and costs.
Because the total +1 count is public but does not include any personal information, there is unlikely to be public backlash. People who are Google contacts / friends can see names and pictures in the search results page, however it’s the user’s choice to decide to +1 a site and therefore it’s unlikely this will be considered an invasion of privacy.
While +1 buttons are not in themselves a factor in the AdWords Paid Search Quality Score, to the extent that they impact click-through rates which do influence Quality Score, +1 is likely to have an indirect impact on CPCs. This means that advertisers with high +1 counts may have an advantage over competitors with lower counts when it comes to the CPCs they pay for in similar positions.
Conversely, advertisers with low +1 counts may end up paying more than they do today to maintain position and traffic.
For Organic Search, +1 will be one of many social signals used for search ranking. Google uses data from many social platforms, such as Twitter & Flickr, and hundreds of other signals to inform search ranking. +1s may affect search ranking and should be a positive thing for strong brands with high quality sites.
Because +1s are linked to a specific web page, there is potential risk for advertisers that change their website architecture and urls of their landing pages. Making such a change has the potential to cause them to lose all of the +1s that they have earned. However, it is currently unknown how Google will handle this and if they will provide a solution.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND NEXT STEPS
Google is betting that users will engage with +1 similarly to how they “Like” pages on Facebook. While Google’s 150MM Gmail users worldwide is far lower than Facebook’s +500MM, Google’s implementation is very simple for users to engage with and has the potential to scale quickly. Ironically popularity is +1’s biggest hurdle, we know from Search Engine Land that roughly only 25% of Google users search whilst signed in, which ultimately means that only a fraction of users will even see +1 yet alone consider using it. While Bing’s partnership with Facebook to integrate social data precedes Google’s launch of +1 by several months, the Bing-Facebook integration is more complex and has been slow to scale in search results. The race for social domination still continues, however, this step change by Google will go some way to speeding this up.
As the number of +1s grow and as users respond by clicking on links with higher +1 counts (particularly from a user’s own network), it’s very likely CPCs will be affected because CTR is such a strong factor of the Quality Score algorithm. Also, studies have proven that consumer trust people they know with 71% of consumer in a recent study by Google stated that reviews from family members or friends influence purchase decisions. This is not something we can ignore.
In order to take advantage of the social layer, we recommend a Google +1 strategy to increase the +1 count and ensure that number is competitive. Users will likely be more inclined to +1 a page once they have more experience with the site/brand than they will be after seeing the search result alone. Therefore, once Google makes 3rd Party buttons available for publishers, we strongly recommend implementing the +1 button along with the Facebook “Like” and Twitter “Follow” buttons in order to drive +1s from engaged users.
Additionally, advertisers should develop a CRM strategy to proactively encourage their users with Gmail addresses to +1 their pages. Additionally, if you ever needed an excuse to improve your site’s usability, this is the ideal opportunity to begin those conversations. The lines between social media and search are becoming increasingly blurred; this is a fantastic opportunity to early adopters to take advantage.
Now more than ever it is critical for advertisers to develop holistic social and search strategies. Your SMG team can help!