The past few weeks have seen some major changes in the way information is shared and seen by search engines over the Internet. Google, known for stumbling badly in its prior social efforts, has unveiled two highly polished and socially oriented new toys that cannot help but change things for anyone in the SEO game.
Let’s take a look at some of these changes and their ramifications for SEO. Since I am covering many aspects of a very complex topic, I encourage you to read some of the source articles I refer to, as well.
Let’s start by defining the terms.
Google+ vs. Google +1
It can get a bit confusing trying to differentiate between the two. In basic terms, Google +1 (which I will refer to from now on simply as “+1” to avoid confusion) is Google’s equivalent of the Facebook “Like” button. You add the code to your website or blog and people click it to give you a “+1.” A +1 button also appears next to each result on a Google search results page. Web searchers can “+1” a particular search result, essentially marking it as a useful or helpful result.
Carolyn J. Dawson, a contributor for TMCNet, notes that there is already an immediate payback in traffic for webpages that include a +1 button:
Solid data on the +1 button was presented by Google in a recent report, in a bid to promote the use of the +1. Whenever someone hits the button, an increase in web traffic was shown. Social Plug-in Tracking has been introduced by Google to track such data. The average time users spend on the site is shown by Social Plug-in Tracking. The number of page views and bounce rates are also shown.
Google+, on the other hand, is the new social platform from Google that’s being rolled out and fine-tuned as we speak. Having had a week to play with it, I have to say I like it.
Reminiscent of a cleaner Facebook, it allows you a number of perks, including being able to segregate what information is seen by whom. Unlike prior attempts by the search giant (Buzz and Wave, anyone?), this one looks like it might just have enough legs to challenge Zuckerberg and the Facebook crew.
The +1 buttons are spreading across websites much like the Facebook “Like” buttons did not that long ago. Google+ is steadily growing and is garnering rave reviews in the process. Google+ is directly integrated into Gmail and your Google Profile. This means that any time you hit the +1 button while browsing, it shows up on your profile under its own tab. Additionally, you can tie your existing profiles on other platforms, such as Flickr, into your Google Profile, which, among other things, IDs them as part of your online identity.
This is a data goldmine for Google. Your +1’s generate data on your tastes and interests, as do your public postings on Google+. Since Google+ is accessible from within any Google product, it tends be on screen a lot, providing incentive to use it more frequently and generating more data.
And this is only the beginning. I highly advise Brian Chappel’s article for Ignite Social Media, in which he discusses seven major data points this rollout will be generating for Google. An understanding of this is vital as we try to assess the new SEO playing field. Give it a read.
Tracking Google+ Referrals
So, we’ve got this great new sharing mechanism. How do we track its usefulness for website traffic referrals? Google Analytics is integrating some of the data now, but that’s not all. Here is some info on what else Google is doing to make it easier, followed by a great little search hack.
First comes Google’s redirection of links in Google Plus, a boon to those tracking inbound clicks. MG Siegler explains in his recent post on TechCrunch:
When you click on a link now in G+, it redirects it through the plus.google.com domain. Why? Because Google+ uses HTTPS to be more secure, but that strips referrer information that would normally be passed to sites like TechCrunch. So they have to redirect to another non-HTTPS domain to pass that data. Previously, it was simply through a google.com/url domain (which we were tracking). Now it’s a plus.google.com domain — much easier to track for a casual analytics user.
And sure enough, as of yesterday, plus.google.com is showing up as a referrer to TechCrunch — and yes, a big one despite us not actively using it to send out articles just yet (and again, the limited number of users).
A big referrer, without even being pushed to the fore. A token of bigger things yet to come. Once people get used to clicking the +1’s in their search results, and more websites are enabled with +1 buttons, I can see this becoming a major source of traffic.
Now, for a clever little search hack via Janet Driscoll Miller on Search Insider:
As a marketer, however, I’m glad to see there’s a way I can monitor my reputation (for now) in Google+. For now you can simply use “site:plus.google.com” followed by the keyword you’re looking for in quotes. Here’s an example with searches for ‘4th of July.’
It is certain that as Google Plus evolves and mainstreams, more refined tools will present themselves.
No Business Pages?
Google is actively discouraging brand or business pages. In fact, anything other than a personal profile is reportedly getting pulled down already.
Here’s the skinny from Christian Austin, one of Google’s product managers. Among other things, it gives you a way to get in line to try out the new business version when it starts being tested (watch for the URL in the lower left of the video):
While there are some hacks out there, we have yet to see any official way to create a custom, or vanity, URL for your G+ profile. Once one rolls out — and I’m betting it’s too obvious not to — expect a virtual land grab as everyone tries to nail down keywords in their new Web addresses.
Sparks is sort of a favorite-topics filter in G+. You feed it keywords and it creates a series of dedicated search streams. (It’s also rather hidden away, but you can find it on the “Welcome” page once you’re on Google+. )
I can click the “New Orleans” stream I’ve created, for example, and read top search and news results about what is happening in my home town. You can set up a Spark for just about anything, but, as of now, it’s narrow on content sources. In my opinion, Sparks is one of the only really underwhelming aspects of the new tool set, but the Google team is really being great about responding to feedback, so I expect that will change.
Returning to Miller’s Search Insider article, I find that we agree completely on that:
I find that Sparks is very limited right now in the quantity of content sources it uses. While it incorporates blogs and publications, I couldn’t find my own blog or Search Insider in Sparks when searching for their respective blog names. However, I do expect that Sparks will evolve over time, and Barry may have confirmed this with a quote from DeWitt Clinton at Google: ‘New algorithms over a new corpus. Still very much in flux and being further expanded and tuned. I’m sure we’ll give a tech talk eventually about the technology behind Sparks, but this is very early days still.’
SEO for Sparks may be near nonexistent now, but expect that to change rapidly. As for Sparks itself, I still like StumbleUpon better.
Shared Public Content
Human curation is the wave of the future, or at least a significant part of it. Algorithms can be gamed, but the opinions of those in your social circle are not so easy to sway. Ilie Mitaru, a writer for PCWorld, notes this substantive shift:
If there is one main takeaway of the implications Google+ has on SEO however, it is that real users, not keyword-and-link-seeking robots, will increasingly rank and share content. A recent study highlighted the fact that Facebook usage is actually usurping time spent on the search-based internet. Without a doubt, Google+, with its built-in content aggregators through Sparks, will take us one step further to understanding the Internet not as centered around content, but around relationships.
While I think that this is brilliant for bringing you info that is highly pertinent to your interests, I do have reservations. The more your social circles/personal search patterns influence your search results, the more chance you have of developing tunnel vision. It will be interesting to see how Google eventually balances relevant content results with the new social factors. Weighted too far one way, and there is little social impact on search results. Weighted the other way, and social factors could completely dominate objective search results. In my opinion, that makes it an area requiring consistent scrutiny.
The Dark Side
It happens with every new platform: Things are idyllic for a while and then the spammers arrive. As the weight of social rankings becomes more of a force, you can bet that some nimrod out there will want to leverage it for nefarious purposes. At this early point, there is already a very obvious loophole for this sort of behavior, one that Google needs to prioritize fixing.
Alex Graves fills us in on David Naylor’s SEO blog:
The fact that Google Plus allows non Google Mail accounts to be placed into the contacts list within the site has opened up a huge security issue for email users based on the fact that Google have allowed you to share anything that you wish with huge contact lists, regardless of whether they use Gmail or not.
The real problem rears its head when non-Gmail users attempts to follow the opt-out link. They get a 404 error.
So, this is where things stand as I type this while drinking an alarming amount of coffee. If I missed anything, please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I’d love your perspective on these recent updates and their implications on social sharing, SEO and the burgeoning social-search intersection.
Source: “With Google+ (And A Tweak For Analytics), The Social Sharing War Is Fully On,” Tech Crunch, 07/07/11
Source: “How to use rel=author tags for SEO,” ChristopherSPenn.com, 06/10/11
Source: “Google’s New Analytical Tools Added to SEO Arsenal,” Infotech Spotlight, 07/06/11
Source: “How Google + Will Affect SEO for Your Website,” PCWorld, 07/06/11
Source: “Google: Stop the War on SEO and Get Some Better Algorithms,” Enterprise Irregulars, 07/08/11
Source: “7 Google Plus Data Points That Could Change SEO ,” Ignite Social Media, 07/07/11
Source: “Google + Sparks SEO,” Search Engine Roundtable, 07/05/11
Source: “What Are The SEO Implications Of Google+?,” Search Insider, 07/05/11
Source: “Google Release New Spam Bot In Form Of Google Plus,” David Naylor, 07/01/11
Screenshot by George “Loki” Williams, used under Fair Use: Reporting.