For me, the month of June is right in the heart of wedding season. So when I initially read about Google +1, my first thought was, oh that’s nice, Google gets to bring a date. But some of the special ladies (re: products) Google has recently decided to introduce to their family (re: users) at social gathering (re: social media) haven’t been much to write home about. Before I overextend this metaphor any further, think about their latest Social Media role outs. Buzz is a failed afterthought, Wave never caught on, & the only people I know using Profiles work in SEO. SOMETHING TELLS ME +1 WILL BE DIFFERENT Google knows how much of a driving force social media has become, and how badly they have failed at it. Their CEO Larry Page even outright said it, “I clearly knew that I had to do something and I failed to do it.” Mr. Page claims that all future Google products will add social functionality. +1 is the first of these new products to launch. While talk is cheap, Google employees’ annual bonuses typically are not. That is unless Google‘s 2011 social strategy (of which +1 seems to be a big part of) is a failure. Business Insider back in April uncovered a company-wide memo alerting Google employees that “25% of their annual bonuses will be tied to the success or failure” of Google’s 2011 social strategy, whether they are directly involved with Google’s social efforts or not. Now I know Google’s CEO said that all new Google products will have a social component, but even still, that seems like a pretty large chunk of change to be tied to the success of something they aren’t even working on. Not so says Page, who adds in the memo, “When we release products, try them and encourage your family and friends to do the same.” Remember, by and large (and I mean LARGE), Google’s revenue comes from display ads and pay-per-click advertising. That’s it. Some experts think up to 96% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising. So it strikes me as a little bit strange that they are tying 25% of ALL employee bonuses to the performance of social media products, a division that generates such little revenue for them currently. While I do not know how a law office payscale works, I cannot imagine firm partners tying employee bonuses to the success of the firm’s softball team, especially if not everyone is on the team. So this bonus conundrum tells me a few things about how Google views +1, and ultimately leads me to asking myself a series of questions. 1. Is Google +1 just another way to gather user data as a means to drive up keyword prices in Adword? While my current answer to that is ‘its too soon to tell’, my gut tells me yes. Advertising is how Google makes their money. +1 is a great way to gather user data. You do the math. 2. How much (if any) impact on rankings will +1 have? I have to think +1 will be an SEO ranking factor in some capacity. How much of a factor it will be is something I am not sure even Google knows right now. It probably depends on how people use it, and how Google views +1’s impact on search quality. While I’m sure the code is sophisticated enough to thwart companies from hiring folks to simply mash their +1 button all day and night, there are probably still ways for companies to juke the system. Early reports are speculating that adding the +1 button causes Google to get that page crawled or re-crawled as Google’s own +1 FAQ practically confirms it. There have also been rumors floating around that +1 could could increase your page load time by as much as two seconds, which is unacceptable as page load time is a major ranking factor. The short answer is +1 will probably stay a minor ranking factor in the near future; quality and quantity of backlinks will stay the #1 ranking factor. 3. Is Google trying to be like Facebook? I’d argue that Google has BEEN trying to be like Facebook, just doing a poor job of it. Anyone who doesn’t see Facebook as the next 300 LB Gorilla simply doesn’t get it. A start-up bigwig I chatted up a few months back told me all his angel investor friends see Facebook’s unseating of Google as not a matter of if, but simply a matter of when. Will +1 be the thing to keep Facebook at bay? Maybe. But probably not. Certainly this sheds some light onto why Google places such value on the 2011 success of their social products. Enough importance to tie 25% of all employees’ bonuses to it. 4. How does it affect my legal clients? That’s what you really want to know, right? If you do decide to add +1 to your site, I wouldn’t tell everyone you know to keep clicking the button in your practice areas, hoping to increase your rankings. To me that would be a colossal waste of time. But if adding a +1 button causes you to write better, more interesting content in the hope of getting +1 clicks (we call those intrinsic rewards), that would be a success. Or if it causes you to interact with your clients more, asking them to click the +1 button on areas of your site they find the most useful, that would be a success. To me, +1 is never going to be a magic bullet for increasing keyword rankings. It is simply going to a be a tool that rewards sites for creating good content and increases social interaction. And isn’t that what a great social media tool is really suppose to be? Google sure hopes so. UPDATE: According to Google, they are working on fixing some of the load time issues brought up in point #2. For more information about what you should know before adding a +1 button, consult this guide.
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