Google +1: What PR & Marketing Pros Need to Know

The +1 button from Google

This week Google again signaled its increasing integration of user feedback, personal preferences and content from the social layer into its search results with the launch of its new +1 button, which offers some similarities to the Facebook “Like” button. Google describes the +1 (people are just saying “Plus One” and apparently it’s going to be a verb, e.g.” Plus One our page!”) as a “public stamp of approval,” but similar to the Facebook Like button, the +1 functionality will ultimately influence the visibility of content online, and will add layers of personal preference information to the social graph.

Google’s description (from the Google +1 page) “The +1 button is shorthand for “this is pretty cool” or “you should check this out.” Click +1 to publicly give something your stamp of approval. Your +1′s can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search.

How it works:

Starting this week, anyone who opted in to the experiment (URL) saw a +1 icon after each item in their Google search results. By clicking on the +1 icon, users can signal their approval of a particular search result.  Google says the data from +1 interactions will directly inform search rankings.

From Google’s blog post about +1 : “When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pasta recipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.”

Eventually, Google plans to offer publishers the +1 button for web sites, enabling users to +1 content they like without leaving that web site.

There is one catch.  In order to use +1, Google requires users to have a Google Profile.  The benefit of these profiles is pretty clear for professionals and enthusiasts who want to be found by peers. However, despite Google’s large number of users, one still has to wonder if the company will get enough average Joes to set up a Profile.  This bit feels weird and unnecessary for me – Google are very good at collecting data (they already know, for example, which is in my social circle) – and the profile requirement might limit adoption. 

Google search results showing +1 buttons

So what does Google’s +1 functionality mean to public relations and marketing professionals?

Another opportunity to generate earned media credibility

Purveyors of crappy content – beware.  The +1 button will result in your content being pushed further and further down in search results.  Why?  By rewarding good content with +1 votes, user interaction is one more means by which useful and interesting content will be surfaced – including ads, sponsored content, press releases and other forms of paid and owned media.

Showcasing expertise, and signaling personal interest

Google requires +1 users to have a Google Profile in order to use the product. The pages and content a user gives a +1 click will be collected on the Profile. And, this being Google, one can be confident that profile information will find its way into search results.

My Google profile, showing the +1 tab where you can see the sites and content I've endorsed by clicking +1 in search results

In my mind, this represents a nice opportunity to create another space on the Web – and a highly visible one at that – for people to showcase their interests and knowledge. The content garnering your +1 vote will be associated with your profile, and inform search engines and peers of your personal interests.

Author authority

Author authority simply relates to the relative authority of someone who Tweets or shares a press release, blog post or article within the social layer.  People and brands with established presences and loyal followings in social networks are the de facto shapers of opinions and starters of conversation. They are truly influential, and their interactions carry more weight in search results.  Utilizing social channels effectively an imperative for brands, because author authority is currently and will undoubtedly continue to be a key data point used by Google and other engines to authenticate influence, and inform rankings.

My conclusions:

This is bad news for anyone who wishes this whole social media fad would just go away, already.  Google is continuing to emphasize the social layer in search results.    Additionally, though I’m sure we’ll see a spate of marketers encouraging people to “+1″ pages and content, the consensus is that +1 will be tough to game, because of the emphasis on author authority.   Focusing on producing useful content just got even more important for brands concerned online visibility.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

8 responses to “Google +1: What PR & Marketing Pros Need to Know

  1. Lot’s of points here, can’t hit on them all, but wow – my hope is that Google allows all users, profile or not, to opt in AND out of the +1 option. This needs to be made loud and clear on the site, not like a small “log out” button in the top right corner that can be easily missed. That way users can see the search results without the +1 interfering. Yet, after this is unleashed and millions of people adopt it, there may be no going back.
    How many +1′s will it take? What will the numbers be, and how public will they be? Talk about taking the transparency option away from the brand. It’s as if you are given the keys to each site’s analytics, minute data or not.
    - @saraelysecroft

    • It does seem similar, Matt – probably because everyone who wrote about +1 last week quoted many of the same blog posts and product pages from Google. And using a “How it works” or “What this means” subhead is good practice, as we clearly both know, and we’re clearly playing from the same headline writing/keyword-using playbook. We do offer some different interpretations of what impact +1 will have, however, so I think the similarities are mostly found in in our formats.

      I frequently interpret what developments in search and social mean for PR (check my past writing and you’ll see lots of examples. I’m glad you stopped by to comment – I’ve added your blog to my reader – the point you made re: the Quality Score was a good one I missed. – Sarah

  2. Fair enough. I agree with what you’re saying.

    I think the bigger question here is who will win out: FB’s “like” which has the critical mass of built-in users within the network but lacks the search data, or Google’s +1 that has the data & algorithms but lacks the social network of built-in users. Or, maybe they’ll coexist somehow. We’ll have to wait and see. Thanks for the discussion and I’ll continue reading your posts.

    • You’re bang on regarding the question of who will win out – the network vs the algo. That said, I think at some point Google will probably have to abandon making Profiles a requirement – that seems like a big barrier to adoption.

      Separately, I’m also thinking about the nature of the “average” FB or Google user. Do you think it would it be safe to say (and I’m speaking very generally here) that the Facebook user base is more casual and consumer focused, whereas the Google user base is closer to purchase or action intent? I’m wondering, simply because of how Google defines a person’s social graph. I’m an avid user of Google search, Gmail and Google Reader. As a result, Google knows a lot more about my interests than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN combined. And my Gmail contacts are, frankly, a much more relevant graph than my Facebook friends.

      +1 is just the beginning, I think, of something much bigger.

  3. Google will definitely have to abandon the profile requirement. Without a doubt. Re: Google or FB being closer to the point of purchase, I do agree, but I am wondering if there is some sort of scale that represents time spent on a site vs. proximity (time, not location) to purchase or action. Meaning, I typically go to Google when I know I want to do something. I don’t spend a lot of time on Google, but when I do, it is extremely valuable. Facebook on the other hand is a social experience that I tend to spend much more time on. I don’t want to think about purchases or intents while I’m in this mode. So… as Google strives to be more social and profile-oriented, hoping to increase time spent within Google properties, do they dilute the concentration of users who are in (for lack of a better word) “activation mode”?

    • Very good point re: time on site, but what about mobile users? Google is dang good at understanding mobile intent, triangulating device location and the implied intent of the search terms used.

      I think what we’re talking about – the nature of the network, and how and why people use those networks – is an important consideration many communicators ignore.

      I don’t talk social media or PR on Facebook. I welcome my professional contacts as friends, but I always make a point of telling them that they’re going to hear about my garden, cooking, wild mushrooms and my sports teams. They say ‘fine!’ and then barrage me with work-related content, causing me to hide them, or worse, un-friend!

  4. Pingback: Questions to Ask Before You Start Marketing |

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