Google has just announced that it is introducing a +1 feature that users will see as a small button next to a Google search result and ad. When clicked, the “+1” will be shared with everyone in the user’s social network. The data will also be used in aggregate to improve search results for everyone. These features have been explained in detail here and here.

Google and SoLoMo

“SoLoMo” has been used by many leading internet analysts to describe the convergence of social, local and media applications on the Internet. Google appears to be following the same path. Google integrated with Twitter a while ago to show hot trending topics as part of the search results. It has also prioritized local search and introduced several innovations and features in the past year. Google’s aggressive push on mobile advertising and the Android platform has given it a commanding 97% advertising spend share in the mobile space. The incorporation of the +1 button is the logical next step in their SoLoMo convergence. This will have an impact in two key areas:

#1 The core search product

Google’s algorithms rank search results based on an inferred calculation of preferences. In other words, based on your activity and connection to other pages, it gleans if a page is useful or not. While this approach has been remarkably successful, it is limited by the indirectness of the approach, i.e. the surfer is not telling you that he likes the page, but shows several signs that he likes it. +1 will give Google a direct answer from the user and is a strong and direct signal of intent and can only help their search rankings. It will also help Google to provide surfers with highly customized search and ad results, which will benefit both the user and the advertiser.

#2 Rich demographic information to advertisers

Until now, it was only the “like” button on Facebook that provided rich preference data at volume to advertisers. However, +1s will enable Google to tie in preference information with demographic data that it gets from the Google profile page. Google’s preference information has the potential to be even more useful to advertisers as Google searches are intent-driven vs. Facebook “likes”, which are more awareness-centric. In other words, Facebook data, on average tells you who is INTERESTED in your product or service, while Google data tells you who is intent on BUYING it.

This feature also promises to take offer and ad copy testing to a new level. One should be able to find out how many consumers like an offer or a price via the number of +1s. Like the “like” button, this promises to take market research to a whole new level.

Our take

At a first glance, the +1 button promises to do just what the “like” button does. While it will enable users to share information across their social graph, it will also give both Google and advertisers rich intent information that will help them create better more targeted advertising campaigns. Yet many questions remain. For one, people like to share content such as videos, news and articles. Will people share organic search results or a text ad? Second, advertisers can remarket to users who have “liked” something. Will one be able to do the same with +1s? Finally, but most importantly, is the question of social graph. Facebook has a social graph and Google does not. Google’s attempts to create one have failed so far. The crucial chicken and egg question is whether Google has enough social graph data to make +1 interesting for consumers and whether the feature can provide enough incentive for users to develop their Google social graph. On this front, Facebook has a distinct and definite advantage at this stage.

The coming months promise to be very interesting. Google and Facebook are becoming the biggest rivals in the Internet world. Google is attempting to attract not just intent-driven users, but also users who want to spend time socializing on the internet. Facebook is doing the exact opposite. Facebook does not have a search product, yet one can’t help but anticipate that there will be one in time. Bing is also in the fray, trying to garner market share from Google with its many innovations. All innovations in social, local, mobile and search are aiming towards a more relevant user experience. This is a big net positive for consumers as it means that the Internet is becoming a more relevant and interesting place. Advertisers benefit too as they now have unprecedented access to rich demographic data that is both actionable and measureable.

Dr. Siddharth Shah
Sr. Director, Business Analytics