Google’s +1, The Next Stage Of Social Search?

As far as social media goes, Google hasn’t had the best of times. If we take a quick look at the history of their social ventures we can see that nearly all of them have faded into obscurity, or been amalgamated into other services. The list goes as follows:
– Orkut. The first of Google’s social ventures, it was launched as a competitior to MySpace. However it proved unpopular in the UK and US, and now has 48% Brazillian users and 40% Indian. As of 2010 it has been moved to, and run from, Brazil.
– Lively. Lasting from July to December in 2008, Lively was released as a competitor to Second Life. The popular avatar based chat theme still continues today with Second Life and a few others, but the take up on Lively was so poor it was soon discontinued.
– Buzz. Once launched, Buzz created outrage amongst many over privacy issues and sharing of contacts/information. This led to an $8bn+ lawsuit from the FTC, and a whole host of new privacy compliance from Google. It still continues today but has been toned back and fully integrated into Gmail.
– Wave. Launched as an online collaboration space with rich formatting in May 2009, the use of this service was sparse, with many claiming overcomplication. Development was stopped in summer 2010 but the service still remains for the few who use it.

The only way they seem to be succesful in the market is by buying existing companies, as they have done with YouTube and Blogger. Nevertheless, Google announced that it would push on with it’s new addition to search, the +1 button. This relies on the user having a Google profile, but once enabled they can ‘+1’ any link found in searches, recommending them to others. In Google’s own words, the button is shorthand for:

‘this is pretty cool’ or ‘you should check this out’

So, how is this set to affect SEO? It is well known that social signals from other networks have been incorporated into the Google algorithm, such as Tweets from powerful accounts, so it would make sense that a network of their own would hold even more weight. They even mention in the introductory text that +1’s can help ‘others on the web’. So getting +1’s on your own content is undoubtedly going to help with rankings and traffic.

However, the extent to which this +1 feature will be adapted and integrated will depend on the usage. As it’s only for logged in users at the moment it’s not set to affect organic rankings, but if it proves popular many think it will be used across the whole search network. This would mean a much higher weight on personal recommendations for rankings. Some fear that this would lead to mass-scamming and a huge number of spam Gmail ‘personas’ set up for SEO purposes, but considering the level of detail you have to go into to verify accounts it would certainly prove hard work.
Another factor is that the +1 button is featured on Adwords listings, enabling them to be rated. Could this mean cheaper paid traffic or other rewards for links that are rated?

It’s certainly an interesting move by Google, and it’s going to be even more interesting seeing how it evolves. Social search is definitely the rising force in SEO, but can Google create a popular social ranking method of their own?

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