Apr 01, 2011

Google +1: What PR & Marketing Pros Need to Know

The +1 button from Google

This week Google again signaled its increasing integration of user feedback, personal preferences and content from the social layer into its search results with the launch of its new +1 button, which offers some similarities to the Facebook “Like” button. Google describes the +1 (people are just saying “Plus One” and apparently it’s going to be a verb, e.g.” Plus One our page!”) as a “public stamp of approval,” but similar to the Facebook Like button, the +1 functionality will ultimately influence the visibility of content online, and will add layers of personal preference information to the social graph.

Google’s description (from the Google +1 page) “The +1 button is shorthand for “this is pretty cool” or “you should check this out.” Click +1 to publicly give something your stamp of approval. Your +1′s can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search.

How it works:

Starting this week, anyone who opted in to the experiment (URL) saw a +1 icon after each item in their Google search results. By clicking on the +1 icon, users can signal their approval of a particular search result.  Google says the data from +1 interactions will directly inform search rankings.

From Google’s blog post about +1 : “When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pasta recipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.”

Eventually, Google plans to offer publishers the +1 button for web sites, enabling users to +1 content they like without leaving that web site.

There is one catch.  In order to use +1, Google requires users to have a Google Profile.  The benefit of these profiles is pretty clear for professionals and enthusiasts who want to be found by peers. However, despite Google’s large number of users, one still has to wonder if the company will get enough average Joes to set up a Profile.  This bit feels weird and unnecessary for me – Google are very good at collecting data (they already know, for example, which is in my social circle) – and the profile requirement might limit adoption. 

Google search results showing +1 buttons

So what does Google’s +1 functionality mean to public relations and marketing professionals?

Another opportunity to generate earned media credibility

Purveyors of crappy content – beware.  The +1 button will result in your content being pushed further and further down in search results.  Why?  By rewarding good content with +1 votes, user interaction is one more means by which useful and interesting content will be surfaced – including ads, sponsored content, press releases and other forms of paid and owned media.

Showcasing expertise, and signaling personal interest

Google requires +1 users to have a Google Profile in order to use the product. The pages and content a user gives a +1 click will be collected on the Profile. And, this being Google, one can be confident that profile information will find its way into search results.

My Google profile, showing the +1 tab where you can see the sites and content I've endorsed by clicking +1 in search results

In my mind, this represents a nice opportunity to create another space on the Web – and a highly visible one at that – for people to showcase their interests and knowledge. The content garnering your +1 vote will be associated with your profile, and inform search engines and peers of your personal interests.

Author authority

Author authority simply relates to the relative authority of someone who Tweets or shares a press release, blog post or article within the social layer.  People and brands with established presences and loyal followings in social networks are the de facto shapers of opinions and starters of conversation. They are truly influential, and their interactions carry more weight in search results.  Utilizing social channels effectively an imperative for brands, because author authority is currently and will undoubtedly continue to be a key data point used by Google and other engines to authenticate influence, and inform rankings.

My conclusions:

This is bad news for anyone who wishes this whole social media fad would just go away, already.  Google is continuing to emphasize the social layer in search results.    Additionally, though I’m sure we’ll see a spate of marketers encouraging people to “+1″ pages and content, the consensus is that +1 will be tough to game, because of the emphasis on author authority.   Focusing on producing useful content just got even more important for brands concerned online visibility.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

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