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Google +1

I’ve just finished reading an interesting, if flawed, experiment on the Google +1 button. Check it out at http://www.seoeffect.com/blog/Effects-of-the-Google-%2B1-button-researched-download-the-whitepaper/ To be fair, the authors acknowledge the flaws but it is definitely compulsory reading for people interested in SEO.

The +1 button is Google’s answer to Facebook’s Like button and Google describes it as a method of marking a web page as “pretty cool.” It’s used for pages that are not so great or interesting that you might share them via Google Buzz (which is supposed to be used to start conversations) or retweet it; rather, you’re simply saying “this is pretty cool.” It is visible in two locations. Firstly, on web pages themselves where the webmaster adds the button allowing people to +1 a page while they are on it. Code to add the button is available from here:

http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/

For example, Raven Tools now have 70+1 votes. As I have +1′ed this page too when I hover over the +1 button, it says “You have +1′ed this page.” The second location on the net where the +1 button is visible is in Google SERPs (only in .com at present). So, if I go to Google.com and search for “Raven Tools” I see: You You +1′d this. Interestingly, it does not say “You and 70 others +1′ed this.” However, if someone within my contacts had +1′ed it also, I would see this from within the SERP also. So, basically, in the SERP results Google only shows you who you know that +1′ed the page but on the page itself you can see the entirety of the +1s received, in this case 70.

One of the drawbacks is that in order to +1 a page, you must be signed into a Gmail account and must have a Google profile. Very few people have set up Google profiles; I guess more will now but I can’t see it happening en masse in the way people have flocked to Facebook. So, when you Like something on Facebook, pretty much everyone you know gets to see this via their newsfeed whereas +1ing something at present is like wispering to yourself “this is pretty cool” as no one else will hear you!  This is Google’s challenge; the success of Facebook’s Like button comes from the critical mass of users that Facebook has registered on its site. Google’s equivalent, Google Buzz, got off to a disatrous start and hasn’t really recovered with the result that not many people use it.

From an SEO perspective, there are consequences. Google will rank sites that have received a +1 from someone within their social circle (Gmail/Google Talk contact list) higher than one that hasn’t. The idea is that if someone in your social circle has +1′ed a site, then this site is likely to be of interest to you. Also, if you see that someone in your circle has +1′ed the site (you can see this in search results), then you are more likely to click on it and so CTR will moveupward.

If we ask why is Google doing this, at its core, Google is looking for another metric to compliment the over 200 it already uses to tell it what sites are good. Google has already advised that it uses retweets / tweets andFacebook Likes as ranking metrics so this is another one to help them to understand the collective intelligence of the web.

Interestingly, there will be, at some point, Google Webmaster stats on the +1s you get which will make for interesting analysis as there will be some attempt to break down your +1s by demographics; I can’t see this being very effective as the data required to set up a Google profile is very limited. In my profile, I never put in my age, what I do for a living or even where I live. So, if I +1 a site, Google can’t really extract any useful demographic data. This contrasts with Facebook where people tend to divulge far more of their personal information.

Another interesting point is that, unlike link juice, for now, +1s do not transfer with 301 redirects; this would seem a contradicition. Why would Google allow link juice pass but not +1s?

While SEO Effect are to be commended for their work, we will be carrying out our own, far more scientific tests using “clean” sites whereby we can isolate the effect of +1s as we will ensure no one else knows about the site and so there will be no Twitter, link, Facebook or any other activity that would distort the results in the way the above experiment was. Inevitably, we will be recommending that all clients add the +1 button to their site as we will be doing tomorrow.

My predicition is that the +1 button will be a useful addition to the web and help Google to customise results to users based on what they’re social circle recommend.

The SEO world never rests!!!!!!!

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