I “Like” it!

April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Google is adding its take on the “like” button  which is called the “plus-one” in its latest bid to make search more social, as well as combat the growing dominance of Facebook.

Google will allow users to vote plus-one on search results they find useful, and to share that preference with their connections in Gchat, Gmail, Google Reader, Buzz and, soon, Twitter. Users will see both the total number of plus-one votes, as well as the names and photos of their contacts who have stated a preference.  Over time, Google will integrate the plus-one into the search algorithm itself so human votes will have an impact search ranking.

“When someone recommends something, that’s a pretty good indicator of quality,” said Matt Cutts, Google’s principal engineer for search. “We are strongly looking at using this in our rankings.”

Google is also adding the ability to vote plus-one on search ads. Internal tests have shown that plus-one votes increase clicks; Google won’t charge for the functionality, but expects better ads to return more plus-ones and, in turn, more clicks. Higher click-through rates can improve quality scores, meaning marketers with better ads could pay less for a given keyword or position.  “We will provide reporting in AdWords for plus-ones,” said ads group product manager Christian Oestlien. “Our belief is that advertisers will see increased performance from ads with personalized annotations.”

Traditionally, inbound links have been the strongest indicator of relevance and component of page rank.  Adding the plus-one will add another social component.

“Injecting a social layer into the algorithmic search is key to relevance,” said Dave Karnstedt, CEO of Efficient Frontier. “Do a search on ‘DVD player’ today now you will see 35,000 results in less than 3 milliseconds. It’s meaningless, but if you can sort through those by people who have given a social signal and those rise to the top, I think that can only enhance the user experience.”

Microsoft’s Bing integrated Facebook “likes” into search results late last year but not into its actual algorithm, meaning a “like” has no effect on search rankings. Google has no immediate plans to add Facebook connections to the system, partly because they don’t have the right to do so.

Additionally, Google will allow publishers to add the plus-one button, so users can vote on content outside of search, and ultimately improve the ranking of that content in organic search results. Google has by far the largest publisher network, including websites that use DoubleClick for ad serving or Google’s ad exchange, so penetration of the plus-one will be immediate and comprehensive.

The question is whether Google can control and identify users from gaming the plus-one system for fun or for profit. Google, to its credit, has a lot of experience filtering out attempts to game its algorithms.   The “like” function is not any different from click fraud which Google has put many policies in place to identify this fraudulent activity.

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