Screencap of Search Results Showing Google+ Social ResultsDoes this really surprise anyone? Google’s social search has been around for awhile, of course its own branded effort would be integrated in short order. (See the listing of people below the main result in the screen capture above? They are the ones in my circles who “+1’d” that particular result.)

The Washington Post was quite blase about it for exactly that reason:

But, since the ‘social search’ results already included Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and Quora, this isn’t at all a earth-shattering move.

It’s not the integration that is such big news, it’s the fact that it is a Google-branded product. Name recognition goes a long way towards making news. It carries with it the cache of “going mainstream.” That is something that gets attention, and attention usually means a spike in active users. It also means that SEO professionals should be watching it carefully.

While Google itself may be a big name, Google+ is still miniscule by the standards of social media platforms, with just over 25 million users as I write this. Don’t judge merely by size though. As Catharine Smith, a blogger for The Huffington Post, notes, “Google+ has grown at an astonishing rate since its launch in late June. An August study released by comScore found Google+ to be the fastest-growing social network ever.” And it’s still in private beta.

Social signals are constantly escalating in importance, from their beginnings as on-site consumer review platforms to their new place on your results page in a scant few years. Either way, for most people, getting a friend’s opinion is trusted more than the company line usually is. It all comes down to trust.

Matthew Ingram, a writer for GigaOM, puts it in slightly more technical terms:

The key point is that social ‘signals’ — Likes, retweets, etc. — are becoming a much more powerful force in determining user behavior online. In a world where many people devote large amounts of their attention to Facebook, Twitter and other services, the movements — including shopping-related activity — of Internet users are being influenced more and more by the recommendations and social signals of their friends.

This frenzy of signals demands some organization — if they are to be useful from a search standpoint. One thing I’m happy about, as Rob D. Young at Search Engine Watch points out, is that  Google is not being haphazard with its integration of the two:

For a recommendation from Google+ to show up, the following criteria must be met: The original post must be public; the searcher must be following the original poster on Google+; and the searcher must be logged into their Google account.

This is a terrific stance for Google to take, for a number of reasons. First, it stresses, repeatedly and in many places, that only public posts will show up. This certainly plays to the privacy concerns of Facebook users in particular, who have seen multiple instances of private data unexpectedly going public over these past few years. The ability to control what info gets broadcast to the world is essential, and the lack of it was at least partially responsible for the downfall of the search giant’s last effort: Google Buzz.

The fact that the new functionality only works when the user is logged into Google+ encourages the “always on” state, and that makes it both easier and more attractive to use other Google products because of their cross-integration. Pulling pertinent results only from within the searchers’ circles on Google+ makes the links more likely to be clicked. If you’re searching for a topic and someone in your circles posted about it recently, you will be far more likely to read his or her post than that of some random stranger.

This brings us to another useful quote from Ingram’s GigaOM piece:

Google has to figure out how to capitalize on those kinds of signals, in order to maintain its dominant position between Internet users and the information they want. And as the search giant and the rest of the web move toward social signals rather than raw page links, this shift to social search is going to have some profound effects on the search-engine optimization (SEO) industry and the way that companies use these tools to connect to their customers.

While the Big G’s prior social efforts have flatlined repeatedly, Google+ seems poised to become the new 800-pound gorilla in the room. Once it leaves private beta stage, its ubiquitous integration with Google’s other services will cause an explosion of active users, and, with it, a corresponding spike in available social signals for search to harvest.

Is SEO about to undergo a fundamental shift? What do you think?

Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will be taking a look at Google’s Realtime Search, which was disabled this past July and is supposed to be returning in the near future. 

Source: “Google+ Public Shares Now in the SERP,” Search Engine Watch, 08/16/11
Source: “Google+ Posts Now Indexed on Google Search Results,” eWeek, 08/15/11
Source: “Google+ Posts Will Appear on Google Social Search Results,” CIO, 08/13/11
Source: “Google+ Public Posts Appear In Google Social Search Results (PICTURES),” The Huffington Post, 08/15/11
Source: “How social search is changing the search industry,” Giga OM, 08/10/11
Source: “Google Adds Google+ Public Posts To Its Social Search Results, Ho-Hum,” The Washington Post, 08/12/11
Image of “Screencap of Google+ Search Test” by Loki, used with permission.

WordPress Image Lightbox