Google today launched a new feature called “+1” that allows Google Profile users to endorse search results, ads, and soon web pages. +1 could be the social layer Google has said it was developing for its product line, or at least part of it. Currently, +1 will help Google contest Bing’s Facebook-powered social search, and bring social context into its AdWords ads product, which has encountered new competition from Facebook’s interest, demographic, and friend connection-targeted performance ads.
In a few months, Google plans to allow websites to add +1 buttons, which will improve a site’s search ranking when clicked. This incentive could lead to rapid integration across the web, challenging Facebook’s domination of the embeddable plugin space that has given the social network’s name and logo real estate on many of the internet’s most popular destinations.
Google users could previously see recommendations on search results sourced from the Buzz or Twitter updates of those they followed. Now a test group of users and any who manually enable the new endorsement feature can click +1 buttons on search results and AdWords ads to append their name and face to the results or ads seen by their Google, Gmail, Gtalk, Buzz and Reader contacts. Its unclear if the +1 will appear to a user’s friends in any of these channels as viral distribution.
+1’s Advantage Over the Like Button
+1 offers a lighter weight method of expressing affinity for something than the Like button, which subscribes users to updates from the button’s owner. This means Google users might be more generous with their +1s, endorsing search results or ads they think their friends would find interesting, even if they don’t want to click or open a communication channel with the entity.
Google could begin factoring a user’s previous +1s into the relevancy algorithm for serving AdWords, or even its other ad products. We’ve speculated that Facebook might introduce an Open Graph ad plugin that could allow advertisers to use the same targeting parameters from Facebook across the web. +1-powered ads could reduce the margin by which an Open Graph ad plugin could improve on existing advertising solutions.
+1 to Incentive Integration with SEO
While social media sharing buttons for Twitter, Digg, and even Google Buzz are shown on blogs and news sites, Facebook’s Like button and other social plugins have been integrated into more than 2.5 million websites, including ecommerce, brand, and web service sites. Facebook released an analytics tool for these integrations earlier this month, convincing more holdouts.
This presence has helped Facebook continue to grow its user base, as site visitors who want the benefits of these plugins must sign up for accounts. The forthcoming +1 for websites, would raise a site’s PageRank with every click, creating a very strong SEO incentive for integration. Facebook might no longer be the only web service with a strong cross-web presence.
While Facebook has developed a significant lead in plugin integrations and social context ads, +1 could level the playing field, and serve as a basis for more social networking features from Google.