A Short History of Google Plus

The release of Google Plus has had internet nerds going wild, but lets be honest, these people are excitable. We’re talking about the kind of people who care about trending hashtags, after all. But is this really big news?  In a word: yes. For the uninitiated, Google Plus is Google’s attempt to build a comprehensive social networking platform complete with social bookmarking. In short, Google is attempting to out do Facebook.

Google_Plus

To understand the evolution of Google’s new venture, lets take a look at some recent internet history. Since 2009, Facebook users have been able to “like” content posted by their friends, a gesture that allows users to indicate approval without writing a comment. This simple change lowered the barrier to entry for participation, and presumably increased social interaction across the platform.  At the F8 developer’s conference in April of 2010, Facebook announced that the “Like” button would now be available for 3rd party websites to install (and 50,000 sites did so within a week of the announcement).

Allowing outside websites to use the “Like” button had important consequences. While previously a “Like” was a purely social action performed in response to a friend’s post, the new “Like” blended the commercial and social aspects of the internet. The “Like” became both a tool to bookmark interesting content, as one might “like” a blog post or news story; and a show of allegiance to a brand entity, as one might “like” Nike or Coke.

Brands quickly recognized the value of “Likes,” as a type of free marketing and as a meter stick of general popularity.  Although the dollar value of each like is highly debated (and may be subject to variation across different industries), brands agree that “likes” are a good thing to have.

The real coup, though, was the announcement of the integration between Facebook’s “Likes” and Microsoft’s Bing search results.  As part of the “Open Graph” announcement, Facebook and Microsoft revealed that searches would include the “likes” of your Facebook friends underneath their results.  Not only does this make searches more relevant to the user, but it also has an extra effect for businesses: people consistently report trusting their friends’ opinions more than advertisements.  The “like” button now serves as a seal of approval from friends for everything from apples to zombie films.

But who cares about Bing results, you might wonder, when Google is the search behemoth (although recent data suggests that Bing commands about 25% of search traffic)?  Enter Google Plus, stage left.

Google has long been envious of Facebook’s 500 million users, and was correct to see Facebook’s integration with Bing as a threat. They had a failed attempt to create a social network with Google Buzz, and were forced to go back to the drawing board to create something new.  Early reports suggest that Plus is the real deal. Preliminary users are especially happy with the “circles” and “hangout” features, and many people seem ready to leave Facebook.

Thanks for the history lesson, but what does this mean for me?

Essentially, you have an opportunity to increase your SEO by encouraging users to “plus 1” your page. Google’s search algorithms have started to take into account how many “plus 1s” you have, using them as an indicator of quality and importance.  This is good news for legitimate websites that provide value, since nobody is going to “plus 1” a website with poorly worded articles laden with keywords.  Although we do not know exactly how “plus 1s” will be used within Google’s algorithms, it is safe to say that savvy webmasters will begin to incorporate Google Plus into their SEO strategy.

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