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Google Plus and Google Search: What Does the Future Hold?

A visit with the past, present and future ghosts of Google Plus. SEO expert Ann Smarty ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

google plus future

Google Plus has always been the huge part of search. The Plus button had been integrated into the search even before Google Plus was announced.

The two, Google search and Google Plus, have a very bright past (and quite indefinite future), so let’s look into the history and try to peek into the future of this relationship.

Google Plus in Google Search: Timeline

The fact that Google Plus was playing a major (and year-by-year increasing) impact on Google search results well explains why SEOs were so fast to jump on the bandwagon.

google networkGoogle Plus was not Google’s first attempt to understand social media. To name the few, the most well-known examples of Google’s closed/failed social media examples include:

  • Google Answers
  • Google Notebook
  • Google Buzz
  • Google Wave
  • (Most recently) Orkut

Google Plus was the first to be so heavily integrated into everything Google did, including search.

Google Plus was born in June 2011, more than three years ago. It started playing a huge role in Google search in 2012, starting with Google Authorship program.

With Google Authorship being tied to G+ identity, Google Plus became an integral part of Google search. During different periods of this integration, people could add authors to their circles right from search results, see their G+ info and recognize their Google Plus avatar.

Here’s a complete evolution of Google Authorship snippet before the removal of the authors’ photo from search results:

But Google Plus’s impact on Google search results did not stop there. Back in 2012 Google introduced “Search, plus your world,” a much more socialized and personalized version of Google search results that was default for any signed-in user.

google-plus-search-02

Before “Search, plus your world,” Google’s personalization looked like this:

  • Google’s personalized results reflected your personal searching history.
  • Google personalized results worked for you whether you were signed in or not (to different extents of course).
  • You could see what your friends on Twitter, Facebook or Google Buzz were sharing and liking (Google’s social search, which was blended into search results in 2011).

Since 2012 Google’s personalization has looked like this:

  • Google Plus is the only social signal you get to see in search results (no Twitter and Facebook any more). Google Plus powers personalization from now on (while your searching history still having some impact).
  • You’ll often see your friends’ updates in Google search results, often with huge sacrifice on relevancy.
  • You’ll often see authors you know from Google Plus (Authorship personalization).
  • Personalization is disabled completely once you click off personalized results.
  • Google is even personalizing Google suggest showing your Google Plus friends there:

google-plus-search-03

There were more bits of Google Plus here and there from now on. For example, whenever you searched, you saw suggestions to circle-related Google plus profiles to the right.

Later, in May of the same year, Google blended Google Plus with their knowledge graph, showing Google Plus-verified page info and updates for navigational searches:

google-plus-search-04

In 2013 Google started supporting hashtags while incorporating that feature into search: Whenever you were searching for a hashtag, you could see Google Plus updates to the right:

google-plus-search-05

Then Something Happened…

With such a huge impact on Google search, there’s no wonder we were paying so much attention to Google Plus. There were hundreds of articles about Google Plus profile pictures in search results, hashtags and Google Plus updates being forced on top.

Then, this year, something happened. It all started with Google removing authorship photos from search results back in June of 2014. Search marketing community was sad but forced some optimism. “Authorship is not dead” sentiment was quite noticeable.

What followed left many of us scratching heads: within two months Google stopped Authorship program and reverted their “Real name” policy.

google-plus-search-06

Why both were so surprising?

As we clearly understood from the very beginning, Google Plus was Google’s identification platform allowing them to connect all the dots among their multiple products (Gmail, Youtube, Blogger, etc.) and tying everything to a Google Plus ID who was the real person.

This was reason why, despite all the bad press, Google kept insisting on real names for years. They wanted to know real people behind content too (that’s why the Authorship program was created).

Google canceling both… Does it mean Google Plus is going to change its focus/purpose now?

Yes (PROBABLY)…

Google Plus still has some impact on Google but to a much lesser extent. Some of the changes seem to be disappearing slower and quieter (to avoid press?).

Just to name a few:

  • Google hashtags no longer work for signed-in people. You can still see Google Plus updates to the right if you sign out, which looks like an absolutely weird move. (Aren’t Google Plus updates more useful for people who are signed in G+?)
  • Google Suggest got back to basics: You won’t see any Plus results in there (only your previous searches).
  • Google Plus updates still show up in search. It seems there are fewer of them now, but that may be just me?
  • Google Plus knowledge graph for navigational searches seems to have become smaller as well. That box is often below the ads by the way. Also I don’t see Google Plus updates blended in Larry’s knowledge graph.

google-plus-search-07

Is Google Plus Going to Change?

It looks like it. I don’t think it’s going away though: Google reps keep saying they have no plans to drop it.

Is Google Plus going to play a smaller role in Google’s personalization? It’s hard to say. It may have become less obvious (removing all the clutter and going back to cleaner search results) while Google Plus to keep powering personalization behind the scenes. I don’t see a good alternative.

Google Plus is the only social graph Google can rely on… I don’t see any reasons for quitting its impact on personalization.

Removing clutter from search results may be just about that: Making results cleaner (mobile-friendly) and/or getting more clicks to ads. It may have nothing to do with the future of Google Plus.

But seeing how much they experimented with Google Plus and Google integration and realizing how much they have dropped clearly shows: Google social-empowered search didn’t work for users or didn’t deliver satisfying results for their revenue (choose one).

Am I Sticking with Google Plus?

I absolutely will.

I have developed a solid rule over the years: Once I find the right tools to enjoy the social media platform, I am a fan forever. That’s why I fell in love with Twitter many years ago and why I am still struggling with Pinterest.

With Google Plus, I have found awesome tools that make my G+ participation enjoyable. They are:

  • Circloscope for finding awesome new connections on Google Plus.
  • Cyfe for monitoring and archiving Google Plus search results (for reputation management and hashtag tracking).
  • Hootsuite for easily updating my Google Plus pages.
  • Google Plus Ripples for discovering and participating in discussions around any URL.
  • Google Plus Explore for playing with hashtags and expanding my content reach.

Google Plus is going to change: Everything is changing under the sun. I don’t see it going anywhere and I clearly see it driving value to my personal brand right now. The future seems bright from here!

7 responses to “Google Plus and Google Search: What Does the Future Hold?”

  1. […] We have quite a few things in common, but I have found hashtags to be always in the mix! More on this in my recent Pubcon presentation. […]

  2. Treathyl FOX says:

    My Facebook shares seem to still show up first in the search engine results over Google Plus shares. Good post!

  3. Martin Brossman says:

    Nice article. I think the drive of Google to become our best digital assistance and Google employees will drive it but it will be more about “sign in to Google” from a marketing perspective then just join Google Plus.
    Like to share my post on it: “Why does Google exist” and welcome your comments:
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140623131435-548650-why-does-google-plus-exist?trk=mp-reader-card

  4. Olaf Lederer says:

    Thanks Ann, great article.
    All these changes around Google+ are very surprising. I thought because of all integration Google+ would be more or less bigger success than other networks. What does that mean? “…reverted their “Real name” policy”

  5. […] by Kissmetrics, this infographic has withstood the storm of changes in search and social and illustrates the key turn-offs for website […]

  6. […] Google Plus is a great content marketing and relationship building platform (even though we may be uncertain about its future). […]

  7. […] Google Plus is a great content marketing and relationship building platform (even though we may be uncertain about its future). […]

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