Google made a big new push into the social web with a new feature called “+1”, a new service comparable in function to Facebook’s “Like” button. The new feature is directly integrated into every search result. As of March 30, 2011, users are able to opt into Google Lab’s experimental feature, and in doing so, will start seeing a +1 icon next to each link in Google’s search results. By hitting “+1”, a user’s name automatically becomes associated with that link in search queries, on ads and across the web. In addition, it also show up in a feed on a user’s Google Profile (which is required to use the new feature).
Apart from showing up in search results, Google has planned to offer publishers a button that allows readers to “+1” something without leaving the publisher’s site. Facebook has the advantage with its Like button here, since approximately two million sites (and counting) already have this feature installed. However, Google’s new button has the capability to instantly gain mass appeal, given the company says that +1 data will directly influence its market share dominating search rankings. Furthermore, the new +1 feature is more bad news for content farms, whose content is less likely to be shared. Another application of the +1 feature adds a “recommended by friends” component to Google AdWords and AdSense, allowing users to +1 virtually any ad that appears on an SERP.
Another interesting and noteworthy variable in the equation is SEO. Back in the 1990’s, Google attacked search with their famed algorithmic approach that put it far above the other contemporary user-generated content (UGC) engines. With the +1 feature, Google is going back in time by allowing user feedback to drive search results again. With over a billion multilingual search queries a day, Google has relied on a fundamentally algorithmic approach to search quality because of its effective scalability. Through constant evolvement and improvement, Google experimented with more than 6,000 changes in 2010 alone – 490 of them were actually launched. With the +1 button, they plan to observe and analyze the clicks as another ranking signal in relation to quality. The ultimate goal is that as users begin to see the +1’s from friends, peers and others as recommendations in search results, the results will become more personalized and relevant.
Unlike Google’s +1, Facebook Likes essentially don’t count for anything in relation to search because they are un-indexed bits of data in an enclosed network. The billion dollar question is which powerhouse will ultimately capture the most users, the most data, and of course, the most profit. The answer to that question is mainly contingent upon whether +1 can successfully change the game, leading it to actually be Google’s first fruitful social invention. Although Google remains reserved about paralleling its experimental product to the successful Like button, the perpetual battle for ad dollars between these two dynamic forces visibly makes the +1 experiment a clear shot across the Facebook bow.