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Google’s next skirmish in the social media wars

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
2 September 2011

No one in the search world was remotely surprised when it surfaced this week that Google is making plans to turn its +1 button into tool that will help it ‘improve search quality’.

A spokesman for Google confirmed: “(we) will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results. “The purpose of any ranking signal is to improve overall search quality. For +1’s and other social ranking signals, as with any new ranking signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals are related to quality.”

Google were late to move into the social networking era and have been struggling for a few years now to join the party, Eric Schmidt in his McTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Festival at the end of last week himself admitted “I didn’t get social networking as fast as I should have…” So for a while Google tried deals with both Facebook and Twitter to make up lost ground but neither, for their own reasons, came to fruition. Which has meant that in the end Google has been forced to build their own social network – Google+

But much though they have trumpeted its unique points (err, circles…) it must have been clear to executives for a long time that they needed to find a way to inextricably link any fledgling social network with their jewel in the crown – the Google search engine. If the ‘tests’ work out and the rankings do suddenly appear to become very dependent on Google+ social signals then inevitably digital brands are going to be forced to embed the +1 button or have their rankings suffer.

Google have been quick to try and downplay the potential significance of any link up between the two adding to their statement: “There are more than 200 signals that we use to determine the rank of a website, and last year we made more than 500 improvements to the algorithm.” But no one is very much fooled.

I personally don’t think Google has a hope in hell in luring genuine users like me away from Facebook with a social network that offers nothing new (no, not even circles’). BUT, if Google succeed on linking Google+ and Google.com then they do have a pretty good chance of creating a network entirely filled with spammers and fake profiles set-up by unscrupulous brands and agencies to game the rankings algorithm. Which will ultimately only kill the credibility and lifespan of Google+ itself.

I, and everyone else in the digital world, will be watching the rankings carefully.



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