Google unveiled its answer to the Facebook Like Button last week in a bid to bring social search to the web.
The new +1 button will appear next to search results and advertisements on Google and allows users to recommend their favourite links to their Google Account friends.
For Google, the incentives to launch the service seem clear:
- Sweep previous social media failures Buzz and Wave under the carpet with a brand new ubiquitous service that will soon cover all users’ results whether they sign up to the service or not
- Increase users’ interest in pay-per-click advertising, resulting in extra revenue
- Allow users to do the work of trawling search queries for relevant outcomes instead of its own algorithm boffins
But for the advertiser and end-user, the benefits of +1 seem less convincing.
It is difficult to imagine the average web user rushing to tell their close friends and second aunties that the results of their search queries are “pretty cool” (Google’s words, not my own). When sharing information socially, most users flock to share a website, quote or image, not the answers to their search queries.
Also, Google’s definition of “friends” when describing its +1 service is a tad vague. A Google “friend” is not necessarily a friendship. A Google “friend” tends to appear in a Gmail address book, which is hardly symbolic of a social graph.
And apart from the SEO-hungry, who is going to bother returning to the search results page after they have left it in order to click the +1 button (Oh, and ensure they are signed in to their Google account as they do so)?
With this kind of user base in mind, it will be difficult for advertisers really trust the data they can glean from +1. An audience interested in the way SEO works is unlikely to be representative of the target demographic for most brands.
Google’s +1 could also fall victim to the same threat that has all but obliterated social news-sharing site Digg: spammers. Brands out of favour with said spammers could see their rivals surreptitiously boosted up search rankings (www.wewillclickonyourplusone.com and similar URLs are probably being snapped up as we speak).
As previously mentioned, +1 is likely to draw interest to pay-per-click advertising which could prove to be a double-edged sword, increasing the amount of users with no intent to buy or engage with the brand but clicking through just to check the reliance of a +1 rating.
However, in the interest of impartiality, Mikhail Basman, head of search at media agency Media Contacts disagrees and believes the introduction of +1 will affect conversions force marketers to change their SEO strategies.
He says: “This now shows a direct overlap between search and social. Advertisers will now have to really integrate both channels to achieve maximum performance.”
Arguably, many marketers are already doing exactly this, following Bing’s partnership with Facebook, integrating Likes into its search results.
After the Bing/Facebook alliance, Google had to release a competitive service to bring the social graph into its own service. But just as it played catch up with its ill-fated Buzz and Wave social networks, +1 also looks set to turn into a negative for the search giant.