In amongst all the tomfoolery and confusion generated last week around April fools, it was perhaps surprising that Google’s announcement of its latest foray into the world of social media was the only big story that was actually true. Considering the search giant’s track record in social media, it would have been reasonable to dismiss the +1 announcement alongside almost-believable tales about Facebook microchips and movement-sensing email, but it transpires that the revelation is a reality.
Google +1 is a rating system whereby, when logged in, users will be able rate results that they see as relevant or useful but clicking a ‘plus one’ button featured to the right of the results. This will influence the order of future searches, since Google will prioritise results that have received the most endorsements.
For the user, this will mean more relevant search results and a reduction of spammy, low quality links appearing in the SERPs. Users will also be able to determine which results their friends deem to be useful. So what exactly does this mean for SEO practitioners? Will years of work be undermined when sites with tonnes of links are subsumed by seemingly lesser competitors, just because users ‘like’ them more?
The answer is possibly, but there is no reason for SEO experts to panic, Google concede that +1 will be just an addition to the hundreds of other signals it uses to rank sites. What +1 does indicate though is an ever increasing reliance on social signals to rank sites. Google and Bing already use Twitter and Facebook mentions to influence results but +1 represents Google’s commitment to a user-centric search model.
So how will this change the way SEO’s operate? Will SEO come down to simply ‘plus-oneing’ a result endless amounts of times? Or even paying people to plus one? This is also doubtful, such a transparent method is unsustainable and while it may be used as part of a wider strategy, Google will surely have measures in place to penalise individuals who abuse the system.
The introduction of Google +1 is in fact part of Google’s wider remit to improve its offering. The Panda update was the first indication that Google is serious about removing spammed or ‘gamed’ results from its SERPs, enhancing the overall user experience, most likely in response to competition from new search engines like Bing.
As Dave Naylor once said “so long as there is still a search button SEOs will still have jobs”. This raft of changes simply means that the spammers and the Black-hats will have to up their game and start producing decent content that real users really want if they are stay afloat.