+1: Google’s Newest Ranking Factor Relies on Customer Interaction

August 1st, 2011 07:00am CDT by Scot Small

by The RevSEO Team
Google has officially decided to try their hand at a social networking site. With the rapid recent expansion of Google’s offered products, it was really only a matter of time before they decided to dedicate some of their resources toward competing with Facebook. The social network, Google+, is in its final field testing stage, and already there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding their version of Facebook’s “Like” button: +1. Google’s +1 button has a great deal of capability beyond Facebook’s “Like” button, and represents what could be a fairly major paradigm shift in what it takes to rank high in Google search results.

The Controversy

Many web designers are coming out against Google’s +1, citing the load speed of the widget as their primary concern. With so much pressure being put on web designers to incorporate +1 into their websites for SEO purposes, the less-than-optimal speed of the widget had many web designers running in the other direction. The logic behind this abandoning of +1 lies in a paradox that a slow-loading SEO widget creates. +1 is supposed to be a way for websites to leverage user recommendations into an improved search engine rank, but a slow page load speed hurts a website’s search engine rank. The result is that some web designers have come to the conclusion that +1 can only hurt their page rank based on the (likely correct) assumption that page load speed is more of a ranking factor than the number of +1s on a certain site.

Even after Google released an update to +1 which claims to be much faster, many web designers are hesitating. This is because Google +1 as a ranking factor has been a very controversial idea, as some people feel that the system is open to abuse.

+1 as a Ranking Factor Explained

Google plans to use the number of +1s your content receives as part of its ranking algorithm when people do a keyword search. This means that if two sites rank similarly for relevance in a search engine query, the number of +1s each site has will go into determining which site is listed first. In other words, Google will now consider the most relevant site not just the one with the most relevant content, but the website with the best-endorsed and most relevant content. While Google’s consideration of links on a website when determining the site’s rank could be seen as an earlier version of this, Google +1 gives unprecedented power to the visitors of your website. Your company benefits from a user endorsement directly, not simply within a small circle of friends but worldwide. Thus, if Google+ is successful, resources will need to be spent on building +1s in order to try and gain an advantage on other websites for companies within your industry.

Clicking the +1 Button Represents a Public Endorsement

One planned similarity between Google’s +1 button and Facebook’s “Like” button is that you can request a full list of all the people who have done either. When you +1 an article, anybody can see that you did so, and Google will use this data to recommend the site to people within your circles. Basically, as far as how much information is shared, the two buttons are nearly identical. So not only are you getting the search engine boost with +1, but you’re also raising awareness of your site through the social network in the same way as someone liking your Facebook page.

No Bribes Allowed – Exclusive Content Encouraged

Google has made it very clear that it will punish sites that try to take advantage of +1 by offering gifts to clients who +1 their page. The details of how Google will punish websites who abuse +1 in this way remain unclear, but it is likely that they will treat your website as though it has no +1s, severely harming your search rank, especially in a competitive industry.

However, while Google explicitly says that you cannot offer rewards tied to your +1 button, in the same breath they also say that you can offer exclusive content in exchange for a +1. +1 has a callback Javascript feature worked into it that allows you to do exactly that. This is considered perfectly fine by Google, and so could prove to be a useful way to draw +1s for your site.

This statement from Google has also raised some eyebrows from web designers across the internet, primarily due to the apparent contradiction in the two policies. Who makes the call whether something is a gift or a bribe, or merely “exclusive content?” When one will be considered system abuse and the other not, it is important that web designers know exactly what the difference is to prevent losing page ranking for their incentives.

Clarity and Visibility

Google has come out strongly against placing your +1 link in a place where it would be ambiguous to the user what they would +1 if they clicked it. As such, it is important to make sure that your +1 link for a web article is not near an advertisement. Also, since it is a new widget, Google encourages websites to introduce the +1 link to explain its purpose briefly to the user. Really, this is a good marketing strategy anyway: Users are more likely to do something which they are prompted to do.

Since people are less familiar with Google +1, Google also encourages +1 users to display it on the page itself, rather than hiding it in a social sharing widget. This is mostly just to help get the word out about +1, as well as to make it easy for web crawlers to find your +1 information on your site. Again, this makes good sense for your website. Since +1 affects your Google search rankings, it is probably the most important social networking widget at your disposal.

With Google+ and the related +1, Google hopes to offer websites a new venue for boosting their search results with content that people actually want to read. Good content is more likely to get +1s by the public, and so +1 will likely become a major factor in the credibility of a website. However, the system is far from ready for public release, and the most recent field testing has even caused some web designers to abandon the idea entirely. It remains to be seen what will come of Google’s new ranking factor, but one thing is for certain: They are moving forward with fine-tuning the button, and an eventual public release is likely.

RevBuilders, your SEO company, will say on top of it and let you know about any new updates. Stay tuned.

Have any questions let us know – let’s engage and learn.





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One Response to “ +1: Google’s Newest Ranking Factor Relies on Customer Interaction ”

  1. Emma Ballard says:

    Excellent article, explained so much better than google. Thank for making sense of it all..