Google+, the algorithm is human and the circle of trust…

With the Google+ social networking platform expected to become the second largest social network after Facebook, within the next year (it already has 20 million users signed up to the limited field trial stage), I thought I’d present my thoughts on how Google+ and its social voting tool Google+1 might impact your search engine and Internet marketing strategy.

First of all let me begin by saying that I don’t actually think that Google+1 in its current form is Google’s silver bullet to providing the best search results for its users. There is the potential for Google+1 to be abused by SEOs and there are plenty of companies who are now starting to sell “+1” votes.

To me Google+ and “+1” is another key milestone in Google’s quest to providing its users with personalised search results – a tailored set of results based on your previous searching behaviour, the websites you’ve visited and the people with whom you are connected to.

In order for a searcher to benefit from Google+1, he/she needs to be logged into their Google account. Most of us will have a Google account already through using Google applications like Gmail, YouTube, Google AdWords or Google Analytics. I believe that Google+ is Google’s smarter way of encouraging its users to stay logged in to their Google account so that they can provide more personalised search results and encourage users to use the Google+1 social voting button. For those of you that use social networks like Facebook and Twitter answer this question: “Do you log back in each time you re-visit one of those sites or do you tend to stay logged in during the day?”  Many of us, if we are using the Web extensively throughout the day will stay logged in. Research shows that:

…as of 2011 there are 500,000,000 active Facebook users – that is 1 in every 13 people on Earth. Half of them are logged in on any given day and 48% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook when they wake up. In fact, 28% of them are checking their Facebook pages on their smartphone before they even get out of bed in the morning.

So I think it would be fair to say that as a group we are obsessed with social networking. Can you see why Google wants to join in on this party?

By having its users logged in more frequently, Google is more able to analyse past browsing habits, see a users Google+ connections and the recommendations set by those people and serve a tailored and in theory a more relevant set of search results.

While “+1s” are currently appearing in the search pages for users that are logged in to their Google accounts, it’s too early to say exactly how “+1″s will affect users who aren’t logged in. Looking at how other social voting buttons and “retweets” currently affect where a site appears within the search results, I think it is safe to assume that “+1’s” are going to be equally as influential, if not more.

As Google evolves to make searching more social, the main value of social “Like” buttons and “tweets” are that they help to build what I like to call, “social strength.” If someone searches for a product or service, there’s a good chance that a customer review and recommendation will to some degree influence their decision making. When looking at these reviews, users trust the opinions of strangers, one only has to look at the popularity of sites like Trip Advisor and Amazon product reviews . They assume that these reviews are honest, but there’s always a hint of lingering scepticism.

Now, imagine the same user is searching for the same product or service, but instead of having to rely on the opinions of strangers, they see recommendations from friends & family, co-workers and people that they are socially connected to via the Web. Just like in real life, the opinions of people in their Google+ “circles” influence the decisions they make. That’s the potential Google+ holds. I like to compare Google+ circles to the “Byrnes family circle of trust” out of Meet the Parents! As Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) says to Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) “I keep nothing from you, you keep nothing from me and round and round we go.”

So, how do you optimise your website from a search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective so that you can get “plus oned” in a natural manner so that you don’t run the risk of getting penalised by Google? Well this is where we go back to the fundamentals of marketing and running a succesful business. “Online Search” is becoming more about what we as real people think of a product, service, business and website and less about computer algorithms and search engine spiders trying to assess relevance and credibility by just simply analysing website code, back links and content.

Providing customers with high quality products and services and creating unique, engaging content on your website so that you create the best customer experience possible is more important than ever. Of course, this is easier said than done and you have to work hard as a business to build up your reputation and deliver something of real value, but I’m preaching nothing new here. Before we had the Web, businesses would rely on their reputation to bring in new business and they would continue to provide high quality products and services to keep customers coming back. Back in the pre-Internet days when all we had was the high street and bricks and mortar stores it was a lot harder to hide behind a poor track record.  Your local community would soon shoot you down if you were seen to be providing a shoddy service or poor quality products – just think of a Google+ as a community, but on a much bigger and more influential scale. If you get the fundamentals right and you have a successful business with lots of delighted customers then you can use the Web to your advantage to inform your target audience and build social strength; likewise if you don’t, then your customers will vote with their mouse and not only click onto the competition, but remove you from their “circle of trust” and that circle could be quite an influential one.

If you want to connect with me using Google+, search for “Damon Lightley” on Google+ and add me to one of your “Circles”.

If you found this post useful, dont forget to click the +1 button.

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