How Google+ might affect Google search results

For some, the question lurking in the background is this: Will Google’s switch to the “+1” system change the way Google ranks and if it does, how?

Google’s direct response, according to Google spokesperson Rob Shilkin, is this:

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.

To figure out what this means, I talked with someone who knows a lot more about Google and its algorithm, Greg Brewster, Director of Center for Advanced Network Studies of the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, Chicago.

“”It looks like the number of +1 clicks may influence the ranking of the search results,” Brewster said. “I would object if the Google ranking were based only on “+1″ s. If they are using it to sway things a few percentage points one way or another, it seems reasonable as an addition to their page ranking system.”

Public web pages already feel they are disadvantaged if they don’t have a Facebook, Linked In or Twitter. Eventually the +1 is just going to be one of those things that everybody’s got to have.

“Yes admittedly that means if +1  is used it will push you up in the search rank,” Bewster said. “If you don’t have one of those on your page then you are disadvantaged. “

I can chose to turn off the “+1” recommendations when I do a Google search by signing out of Google+, but as I wrote on Wednesday if I’m not a member of Google+ I won’t see the “+1”  at all.

But how does Google work? Basically Google has a program — webwalkers —  software that begins on a web page and walks through all the web pages on the internet. It keeps track of how many times each page gets referred to, how many links point back to each pages.

And it also indexes key words on each page so that when you type something into Google it uses the index words to match the words you’ve typed.

Brewster said Google  uses a page rank system where it is supposed to give you back the pages that have the highest relevancy (that is, the pages that contain the most matches with your search terms) and that have the most links to them first. If more people refer to your page then it pushes your page up higher in the rankings.

“Google also wanted a system that is hard to spoof,” Brewster said. For instance gaming the Google+ system would be clicking plus ones repeatedly.

But Google’s traditional page rank system has been hard to manipulate that way, Brewster said. “Google doesn’t just count links, it counts how important the pages are that the links come from.”

That would thwart a hacker or gamer who just kept clicking.

“It is a well known technology challenge to be able do search and ranking in a perfect way,” Brewster said.  “How you can get it done technologically and how you can do it fairly are big questions.”

“Google is just kind of the heavy weight champ of search engines,“ he said.

Others have told me that whatever Google does with Google+,  it will keep its basic algorithm pure.

“That makes sense to me,” Brewster said.

“The whole system comes up with an order which may not conform to a system that people want,” he said, “But they have to do it somehow. It’s just part of the problem of being a search engine provider. “

To me, the addition of the Google+ feature makes sense from a marketing point of view.

When you’ve signed up for Google+ and the social sharing system is in place, what you have is a kind of personal search engine that shows you the purchasing behavior of your friends and family.  I like that.

If you are more private, you might not want to share this information. It goes without saying that we all have different levels of privacy needs.  Most local businesses will have plenty of customers who enjoy sharing their experiences.

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  • Patty McEnaney

    Sally, I was at a MasterClass in July and you were in the row behind me working on a blog entry for 435 Digital. Would like to find out how/where you learned HTML. Thanks very much.

    Patty McEnaney

    • Sally

      Hi Patty – I took an HTML basic web authoring class in 2000 or so at a place called Mac U. But frankly, when you are working in wordpress or most of the other CMS you can pick up most of the HTML you need as you go. I barely need to use it anymore and when I find I need to code something, I usually Google the code and find a solution that way. I think WP, Drupal, Joomla have changed the Web dramatically. These tools are so easy to use the user can concentrate on his or her strengths, rather than having to become a coder. Hope this helps and thanks for the comment! Let me know what you would like to learn about so I can add it to my agenda for writing here…

      • Patty McEnaney


        So sorry it took me so long to respond. I asked because I know you are a writer and involved in social media, and I asked another friend who is a website content manager at a bank. I am a marketing consultant, and thanks to your response and my friend’s, I don’t think I need to know HTML to be a good advisor about SEO and social media. But, in terms of writing on a topic, I think people who are new to social media might think they need to be more tech-savvy to really feel comfortable before jumping in. I think there are a number of barriers to entry to the social media world on the part of small business owners, and that mistaken belief of needing special technical skills is one of them. The MasterClass I took in July was really helpful in terms of getting started with social media and encouraged me to not be afraid to experiment. Thank you so much. (I lost track of which of your posts I had commented on, and didn’t find your return comment until tonight, hence my late return response!)

        • Sally

          No problem on the delay, Patty. As you say, the social web is really just learning how to listen and how to talk online. It’s as easy and as complex as that. These days, with these great tools, you don’t need to be a techie, you just need to be persistent and most of all – be yourself. It’s a whole new world of authenticity and I think most small business — being the enthusiastic bunch that they are —  will welcome that. I am glad that the MasterClass helped and I encourage you to keep coming back here and to the classes.