Google +1 Button The New PageRank?

    August 30, 2011
    Chris Crum

Let me start off by being very clear. Google is not getting rid of PageRank in favor of the +1 button. Google is, however, looking at the data from the +1 button as a signal of content quality, and +1s will no doubt continue to be largely coveted by webmasters and content creators web-wide.

Will +1s become more important than PageRank? Just as important? Share your thoughts here.

It’s been pretty clear since Google first announced the +1 button (even before they announced Google+) that the feature was designed to send Google signals for quality content. It was essentially billed as a way for web users to tell Google when a piece of content is good enough to be considered a good search result.

Wired is running a story now saying that Google has confirmed its plans of turning the button into “a crowdsourcing tool that helps re-order search results and fight web spam”.

“Google will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results,” a Google spokesperson is quoted as saying. “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.”

Of course it is unwise to place too much emphasis on just a single ranking signal. At least that’s what Google would have webmasters believe. They’re tossing around very similar language with regard to the +1 button ranking as they historically have when people worry about PageRank too much: “There are more than 200 signals that we use to determine the rank of a website, and last year we made more than 500 improvements to the algorithm.”

Just as you’ve seen plenty trying to boost their PageRank through black hat tactics, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that these same people will try to exploit the +1 button. A major weapon against this that Google has is its strict Google+ account name policy, which has been a bit controversial thus far.

It became clear in recent days that Google+ is all about identity as far as Google is concerned. Eric Schmidt drove this point home, as discussed here. While this makes sense for a variety of reasons (including the potential integration of Google+ with products like Google Wallet), it also makes a great deal of sense in that it shows Google exactly who is +1ing what, which should in turn help them enforce any policy (current or future) concerning abuse of the button for gaming search.

In terms of white hat tactics, you may do well to consider things like this research comScore just shared. +1’s now mean more sharing of content to the actual Google+ network – people’s circles, which should (in theory) translate to increased traffic from Google+ itself. So, it may help to know about the kinds of people who are using Google+, as opposed to Facebook, for example. comScore’s data looks at those searches containing the Google+ and Facebook brands. It’s probably not exact, but many of those searching for Google+ content are likely going to be users of the service.

“The most striking differences between Google+ searchers and Facebook searchers are in Age and Income level,” says Eli Goodman, who leads the business development team at comScore. “Google+ searchers overwhelmingly skew towards 18-34 year olds. Clearly Google+ is a popular brand with the younger segments, and good knowledge for Google to have as they develop their acquisition strategy and evolve their user base. Since Facebook is a much more mature brand in the social networking space, their search audience falls closely in line with the search population at large.”

“The income skews are even more distinct, essentially polar opposites of each other,” he adds. “More than 32% of Google+ searchers have a household income of $100K or greater, compared to 23% of Facebook searchers. Google+ is definitely off to a fast start in reaching the most desirable income segments, which may make it more attractive to advertisers.”

google plus search vs facebook search - comscore

Google’s quest for quality

In terms of Google using the +1 button as a way to combat spam, this also goes hand in hand with another new(ish) announcement from Google that it is calling upon users to report scrapers in some new algorithm testing.

“We are asking for examples, and may use data you submit to test and improve our algorithms,” the company says on a “Report Scraper Pages” form, found here.

Scrapers getting you down? Tell us about blog scrapers you see: We need datapoints for testing. 3 days ago via Tweet Button · powered by @socialditto

This followed another recent announcement from Cutts about a major refresh to Google’s spam reporting process.

Google seems to be putting more emphasis on quality of results than ever before (I haven’t even mentioned the Panda update in this article…or the domain blocking tools Google launched this year). It does appear that Google’s grand social plan with Google+ is a major factor in that, and is sure to have everyone clamoring for +1s, which will not only provide a boost in ranking signals for content, but potentially traffic from the social network itself. And you can bet that WHO is +1ing things matters, just like with PageRank – WHO you’re getting links from matters.

Between things like Google’s emphasis on identity with Google+ itself and the authorship markup it’s pushing (which links people to their Google profiles), it’s clear that who you are matters in the Google world, and that also means that it matters who THEY (the people +1ing your content) undoubtedly matters too. Build your personal brand.

Is the +1 the new PageRank? Tell us what you think.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.