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Is "Search Plus" Socially Acceptable?

A couple of weeks ago, we commented on the curious rise of Google+ business pages for high-profile brands. In the post, we suggested that the Search giant is taking creative steps to influence users and companies to adopt its social platform. Industry chatter seems to indicate that these steps are more like leaps and bounds…

A couple of weeks ago, we commented on the curious rise of Google+ business pages for high-profile brands. In the post, we suggested that the Search giant is taking creative steps to influence users and companies to adopt its social platform. Industry chatter seems to indicate that these steps are more like leaps and bounds after reaction to Tuesday’s launch of the “Search Plus Your World” platform. So what’s the big fuss, exactly?

According to the official Google blog, all hands are firmly on deck to take its Social Search initiative to the next level. In doing so, Google has radically infused the private data from your Google+ page (photos, status updates, contacts, etc.) into the SERP. Searching for your friend’s recent shared wedding pictures? There’s a good chance they’ll be there for you. Remember a great quote from a friend’s recent G+ status update? Enter it in Search, and presto, it’s there. Danny Sullivan from SearchEngineLand is calling the SERP change Google’s most “radical transformation ever”. While this stance might be somewhat exaggerated, the change will affect some natural Search results – but to what degree?

To back up a minute, we should note that this platform change is only really applicable to those who have Google+ accounts AND are signed in. And of course, the returned social content will be for your eyes only. If you do not have an account or have opted to remained signed out while performing searches, you will probably not notice anything significantly different about your returned results. With, of course, one exception. Whether or not you are signed in, it’s apparent Google is now obtrusively pushing users to adopt its social offering. Take the search term “entertainment”. Notice anything funny? It’s doesn’t take much to easily spot a Google+ promotional panel to the right of the search results and just above the pay-per-click ads. You will be tempted to follow the likes of Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, and others through their Google+ profiles for the price of quick subscription. Sound familiar (cough, cough, Twitter)?  This is some valuable real estate with a pretty blatant motive.  The development, as marginal as it may seem, does compromise the search results in a fairly biased fashion. However, I remain skeptical about its impact on companies’ SEO strategy.

Why is this?

After a thorough test drive, it appears that the “Search Plus Your World” changes will mainly affect searches that are already socially-influenced.  Search specifically for a recent update or photos you know your best friend has posted from their trip to Bali, and you will undoubtedly see the appropriate social-centric Google+ result appear in the SERP. Now, search for a more generic term that is clearly geared towards a potential purchasing decision independent of your social motives (“cheap car insurance”, “iphone cases”, “laptop batteries”). While signed-in, you will see results remain nearly identical those of a user who is unaffected by the “Search Plus” update. Consider longer-tail terms and there is even more uniformity.

What about those terms that aren’t so cut and dry? The term “Pittsburgh Steelers” can be either a social-centric term (I have friends who post about their favorite football team, after all.) or one that is conducive to business decisions (buying tickets, merchandise, memorabilia). The update seems to have compromised this issue by including a unobtrusive portioned-off space at the top of the SERP indicating how many times this result appeared for me “personally”. It will tell me how many friends have posted anything Steelers-related rather than provide the actual results. If you blink, you actually might miss this new addition. All other results have remained unchanged as if I were signed-out.

Long story short, SEO’s have no reasons to throw their arms in panic. These changes, as distracting and agenda-oriented as they may be, will not get in the way of  a consumer that is looking to make a buying decision. Instead, this move is two-fold: 1) to invigorate interest in Google’s waning social platform 2) to make Google the one-stop shop for users’ social network needs.

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