Since the launch of Google's +1 feature, search engine optimizers (SEOs), business owners, and spammers have all circled around the +1. Services have launched selling them, rumors and whitepapers have scattered across the web “proving” that +1's improve rankings, or “proving” they don't.
For right now, no one knows for sure what's going to happen, though educated guesses can be made. We know +1's will affect the algorithm, so the guesses are how – and, more to the point, how can we take advantage of the +1 button?
Google most recently confirmed again to Wired that “Google will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results. The purpose of any ranking signal is to improve overall search quality. For +1’s and other social ranking signals, as with any new ranking signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals are related to quality.”
Social signals are difficult for search engines to analyze and the +1 is only slightly different. A large advantage that Google has over other engines in this area comes from the massive abuses they had to contend with back in the early 2000s when links were a commodity, though Google still isn’t perfect on this.
Before we get into how to use the +1 for rankings and profit, let's look at the lesson Google has learned and how they'll have to address similar abuse and commoditization issues.
Abuse Issues With Google +1
While sites may claim to have verified profiles, scattered IPs, and authentic +1's, Google knows what to look for. Once Google figures out how to connect all the dots they'll be able to look into those +1's, see if they were shared with circles, see if there's a connection between the types of +1's that are given, see if there are common threads between the profiles that are +1ing various sites, etc.
Let's look at an example. Let's say I have 10,000 profiles ready to +1 the heck out of anything people pay me to. If I get 100 requests to +1 there is going to be a lot of overlap, especially with the “great” prices these services are offering (“Hey, why not just get 10,000, that's got to be better than 500 right?”) So we've got a ton of profile's +1ing three SEO sites, two carpet cleaning sites, 14 insurance sites, a pet food store, etc.
Now I definitely have a wide assortment of links I +1, Like, etc., but aggregated – there is definitely a theme to them. Out of 100 +1's there are probably 85 Internet marketing links and 15 miscellaneous links of interest (at least to me). This spam +1 networks provide a signal similar to the link profiles Google’s dealt with over the years. If there are 10 links on a page and none of them are related to each other and few or none are related to the site itself – how much value should they pass?
A vast +1 network needs to run on efficiency and keep costs low. Do you really think when these networks share the links with their circles that they're adding comments or otherwise looking like natural/real profiles? Likely not.
One could argue that with 10,000 profiles you could create a fairly elaborate array of interconnected profiles, which is true, but (unlike links) Google can see how active these profiles are. How much time the user is spending in the profile, whether they're communicating with others or just +1ing, etc., Google has access to a wide number of signals regarding user behavior that they haven't had in previous spam battles.
Doubling up on the Spam
Now, just to make things interesting – and because I promised in the title to give some tips on how to use Google's +1 for rankings and profit – let's talk about how this could work.
Here we're going to talk about the macro +1ing scenario noted above. Below we'll discuss the less-spammy applications of +1 marketing that an average business could engage in proudly (or at least, without looking over their shoulder to make sure the Google+ police aren’t watching).
In the example above we had profiles. In this event one could nicely cross-categorize profiles by creating a number of Circles that are semi-related.
Let's say I focus on finances with profile XYZ. This could contain Circles for insurance, investment real estate, banking, loans, etc. Now if profile ABC was about leisure it could contain Circles such as travel, sports, clothing and vacation properties. With these two profiles one would add user XYZ into the vacation properties Circle of ABC and ABC could be added to the investment real estate Circle of XYZ. Mapped correctly and on a large scale with many one-way adds and logical two-way connections one could create a large-scale network where the purchase of +1's (with the discipline to only do them within the logical profiles and not get greedy) one could have an excellent effect. However, this is a lot of work.
This is where the doubling up comes in. Now that the network is set up, you might as well make good use of it ...
Start finding people with Google+ accounts that relate to your profiles and add them to your Circles. You would do this on mass and, fortunately, you've got enough going on in your profile to make this make sense. This will send the signal that you're active and pull in people from outside your network to dilute any connections you've created yourself; however that's a pleasant byproduct and not the point of the exercise.
Past this you'd want to find a piece of news or other interesting tidbit that will appeal to a large segment of the people you're following. You'll then share this link with them. Rather than sharing with a Circle, select the users one-by-one. It'll take more time but pay off in results. Many of those people will soon be adding you to their network and (in short) allowing you to post to their profile.
You don't want to turn off too many people by spamming overtly so you'd have to be careful just to sell “advertising” within the relevant categories, preferably without affiliate links. While the purpose of this step of the process is to support the added costs of building an effective Google network, you may find that done right, it's actually more profitable.
But What If…
Let say you're not a spammer or don't have 10,000 Google profiles available. Inherently you may know that buying generic +1's isn't a solid long-term strategy due to the fairly lackluster networks I've seen. What do you do?
You'll want to do all the usual things you've read before. Add the +1 button to your site, ask your friends and family to +1 you (note: this advice was given to me during a webinar put on by a Google rep), etc. But all your competitors will be doing that, so what else can you do?
Google +1 Ethical Tip 1: Offer an Incentive
I've seen this go very well and very poorly depending on the business and what they offer up but offering a discount can be a great way to incentivize people to do what you want them to do. I'd recommend requiring them to Share into Google+ as well as +1 your site/page for verification that it was them (oh – and the free advertising on their wall).
Google +1 Ethical Tip 2: Do a Bit of Research
If you know the demographic and/or industry you’re trying to get in front of, get in front of who those people are linked to. For example, if you were putting out an eBook on SEO you’d try to think of some of the key personalities in the and work on getting a +1 from them as opposed to the random people in a variety of businesses you’d be trying to get to. It may be work but it’ll be worth it.
In our example, let’s assume that the eBook is written for SEOs. You can assume that most if not all of the people who would be interested in this book would follow one or more of a handful of people. You would thus focus in on the likes of Matt McGowan, Matt Cutts, Rand Fishkin and other high-profile SEO influencers and work out ways to get them to +1 my eBook. But what if they don’t like your eBook or don’t want to read it? That’s OK, they don’t have to...
Google +1 Completely Unethical Tip: Move Your Page
OK, this is a bit sneaky but it works. Links move with a 301, +1’s don’t. In the example above, if you want to get +1’s to a page that the industry influencers likely won’t +1 there’s only one route to go.
What you'll need to do is find something topical and relevant to these individuals (maybe write a piece on them and send them the link). Once the +1 is in place, you'll wait a while to make sure traffic isn’t being driven to the page via Google+, then move the page to a new URL on the site and move on to the next influencer (same URL as the first +1'd) until at least many of the people you view as influencers have +1’d that page. Now you'll 301 the actual eBook page to the URL you’ve been attracting the +1’s to (after moving the content) and voila – all the main influencers are seen as +1ing the eBook and anyone who looks up “seo ebook” or “seo tips” or whatever keywords you've focused will be affected.
Whether the +1 will impact global search results or just personalized ones down the road – this technique will see improved rankings to the target market as well as increased click-throughs and conversions due to the name recognition of the people who +1’d the eBook.
The Future Of +1 SEO
We all know that it’s too early in the game to fully know where the +1 is going as far as its influence on organic results. Perhaps, as the scary (and since removed) Forbes headline suggested, the answer is simply this: “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Dies.”
All we know for sure right now is that Google +1 clicks will have an impact. How much and what it affects are the question we can’t answer yet.
That said, any organic strategy needs to include a +1 strategy. It may simply be the addition of the button on the site or as complex as a full-scale Google profile network but it will need to be implemented. So brainstorm how to get +1’s to your site and be creative.
There are some tips above but this is all in the early stages of testing – surely more opportunities will present themselves over time, so be sure to keep reading Search Engine Watch daily and sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter. And if you find anything great or have any other tips, we’d all appreciate your comments below. And a +1 of this article of course – so more people can read what you’ve written.
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