Google Search, Plus Your World – Social Networking Becomes SEO

The toggle provided by Google Search that lets you switch between regular and personal search results.Google Search, Plus Your World is being rolled out this week and by now most of you have probably heard about it and even used it. From a personal point of view, it wasn’t a huge change for me. I can toggle it on or off, and it’s off when I’m not signed into Google Plus (which is often the case). If I’m doing a Google search for a specific technical topic, I don’t really need to see personal search results. But if I’m searching for restaurant reviews and care about what my friends are saying, I could definitely see the benefits of results that pull from my social networks. However, as Deidre Drewes points out in her first impressions of Google Plus, some of us prefer an “online separation of church and state,” and if you’ve invested years of time and effort on Facebook, there isn’t much motivation to be distracted by Google Plus.

Google Plus Can’t Be Ignored Anymore

For businesses and brands it’s a different story. If you’ve been ignoring Google Plus for the most part up until now, it’s time to get busy. If your potential customers are active on Google Plus and search for something related to your business, there’s a chance that their personal search results are going to take precedence and push your website further down in the results. If you sell evening gowns and everyone’s sharing content on Google Plus about the evening gowns their favorite celebrities wore at the Academy Awards, that clutter could push your rank lower in the personal search results. Will all of your search engine optimization efforts go to waste? Not at all. SEO best practices are still as important as ever. In fact, Google Search, Plus Your World adds another dimension to your search engine optimization efforts.

Optimizing Your World in Google+

Whether people are choosing to use the personal search option of Google Search, Plus Your World or not, you obviously still want to rank as high as possible. However, it appears that actively participating on Google Plus is the secret sauce to boost your rankings in either scenario. Here’s how to do personal search engine optimization with Google Plus:

Images and Videos Rank Higher in Personal Search

In the following screen shots, you can see how images are ranked higher in importance with Google Search, Plus Your World’s personal search results. Searching for “mountain” in regular Google brings up images as the 8th item in the search results.

The Google Search results for a regular search of the word "mountain". Images appear in 8th place, at the bottom of the screen shot.

But when I search for “mountain” in my personal Google search, images are up top in the 4th position, with a combination of pictures from my connections on Google Plus, along with 4 images that are not from Google Plus. My friend, Ben, is a professional climbing photographer and has lots of posts about mountains and many pictures of mountains. The 5th position has a personal item from Ben with more photos of mountains. The photo of a kayaker isn’t a photo of a mountain, but his post is about the Teva Mountain Games, so the photos that go along with that event get included, evidence of how important keywords are.

Screen shot of a search on the word "mountain" when in the personal search mode of Google Search, Plus Your World. Images  show up in 4th place.

This means that even if your images are not on your Google Plus page, well optimized images that rank high in a Google Image Search will rank even higher for people using Google Search, Plus Your World. Worth noting is that Google Image search shows you your personal search results first (but video search results aren’t affected… yet). While Ben has some nice photographs, without personalized search results from the blending of Google Search and Google Plus, it would be unlikely that his photos would rank higher than the classic Matterhorn images.

Screenshot from Google Search, Plus Your World search results of images for "mountain" showing Google Plus images first.

Online Social Activity Gets Indexed and Helps Builds Links

Your activity on Google Plus is another form of link building from within a social network framework. Google can now index your activity, and your activity builds references back to your Google Plus page, where your Google Plus page links back to your website. Think of it this way – basically you’re performing the same tasks as general search engine optimization best practices but within the Google Plus world – providing updated, meaningful and relevant content, engaging frequently with your target audience, spreading brand awareness as much as possible, and making it easy for others to share your content. You’re creating additional content for Google to index and rank. SEO and SMM become one and the same in the new world of Google Search, Plus Your World.

Predicting Future Trends for Social Networking Sites

Will enough people join Google Plus and become as active as on Facebook? I don’t have a crystal ball, but consider how Facebook, once limited to college communities, caught on with the mainstream public. Many of my adult friends joined to spy on what their teenagers were doing, and got drawn into the experience themselves. Then their friends joined because they wanted to see what their friends were doing and see their latest photos. Businesses found a huge audience of eyes hungry for content, so they made themselves visible on Facebook. Those business owners and marketing employees who joined to promote their business started using it more for personal use as well. And the community grew and grew. With Google Plus, something similar may happen but led by the business community. Businesses will realize that they must have a strong presence on Google Plus in order to rank high in the personal search results. They will have personal pages too and start sharing information with each other and may enjoy the Google Plus experience outside of the workplace. And the community will grow as their friends join to see what’s going on. We may end up with two huge social online communities. Eventually people may get burnt out trying to keep up with both Facebook and Google Plus (as well Twitter and all the other online communities), and a winner may emerge while the other goes the way of MySpace. Here’s another thought – what if Facebook partners with Bing and starts serving up personalized Facebook results in Bing searches? Will there be a war between Google Search, Plus Your World and some sort of Facebook/Bing combination (I think BingBook would be a good name!).

Not sure what the future holds, but I’m sure it will be interesting. In the meantime, I’ll be busy spending more time in Google Plus doing search engine optimization and you should be too.