Is Google +1 Destined To Fail?



google logo

Google has entered the social sharing game arena with their newly launched +1. Judging from the pages and pages of “how to install the Google +1 button” in the search results, I would say it has been warmly received (I suppose it is always beneficial to write about the big guy).But, we know that warmly received in the blogosphere does not always equate to conversations and mass amounts of Google users being eager to +1 an article/search result. Not everyone really knows what it is, how it will be used and, really wants to share their hat tips with the search giant. Sure, Google has explained it but for many they cannot get past that it is a copy cat to Facebook likes.

Google +1 in Search Results

Back in March, Google touted the + 1 ” … as the right recommendations right when you want them – in your search results.” Google goes on to say that the +1 is:

enabling you to share recommendations with the world right in Google’s search results. It’s called +1—the digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool.” To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1’s will then start appearing in Google’s search results.

Appearing in Google search results. Hmh. This raises some eyebrows for sure as already social signals were being pulled and displayed from our social circle so now we would have a +1 button that does what? Appears in search results. How?

How Google +1 Displays in Search Results

The +1 appears next to each result to your query when you have a Google profile and only when you are logged in.  Seems like some  pertinent criteria those not as engrossed in social networking and not using Gmail as their email provider, may not necessarily have and if they did, would they really press the button? There is no real incentive to do so as there is no interaction like we see on Facebook, no new page to look at and enter a contest or receive a coupon; in other words no tangible rewards. So, for the casual or even heavy user, what is the incentive to press the button to give props for a search result? Oh the social sharing where  your +1 is seen by your social circle. This is if you have created a social circle (if you are not a heavy gmail user or your friends are not on gmail, the answer to this is probably No). This now attracts our need to belong or for the attention to show our friends that we know things which has NOTHING to do with search results.

Is Google +1 Destined to Fail?

Maybe. The products before have and being that there is not really a niche like a Yelp, a Facebook where there is an entire interactive platform behind the Like we have to really think about the success of this. Sure, there is the blogging community but while there are millions of blogs, I am not so sure that we will all rush to +1 our competitors to push them ahead of us in the rankings. Which bring me to some other aspects to consider:

1. Adoption. It is a shiny new tool. Within days there was a WordPress Plugin available and numerous articles on how to add it to your site. Despite having some heavy hitters that had added the button early on and encouraged users to test it out, this does not automatically mean that users were just not taking it for a test ride and clicked it and moved on. Also, when we are searching, are we paying attention to the social sharing or the results themselves? Well, we would be paying attention to the result itself and would have to use the back button to return to the search to +1 as we probably would not just +1 from a preview in the right sidebar (or click it on the site if it was installed). Also, as it is translucent, does everyone see/is  paying attention to it?

2. Credibility. The credibility of the search results can be compromised and diminished. If our search queries are yielding mediocre content or content that has us searching for more, then we will not be as trusting of results. The more +1 an article/website receives, the higher the rankings. Google had to tie this to rankings or it would already have failed. Of course there are other factors considered within the algorithms but we would be naive to think that +1’s do not have some considerable weight. The flip side is that we may go deeper in the pages to find those golden nuggets that were not heavily promoted with +1’s but satisfy our search queries. Google already seems to give Likes from Fan page (as they cannot search the personal pages) rankings as we saw recently in an experiment with Rand Fishkin as explained in depth by Danny Sullivan.

3. Google Profiles Privacy. This is where we may see a lot of people not be so keen on clicking the +1 button. When we +1, it is stored in our Google Profile and we can keep it private so that only we can see each article/website/page that we have +1 or we can make it public.

google profile +1 tab private

However, even if we have it private, our social circle will always see what we have +1 if it matches their search query/result. The public setting appears to mean anyone on the web.

google profile +1 tab public 4. Abuse. With anything we will more than likely see this is as the new black hat SEO. There will be those that game the system as the more +1, presumably the higher the ranking. We all want #1 rankings and lots of them so what will stop some sleazy companies from promising and guaranteeing rankings though a proprietary means that is being offered exclusively to only 10 companies? Or a strong group that comes together that reciprocates +1 to push one another’s rankings? We know it will happen and this reverts us back to credibility. If the search results suck and there are a lot of complaints or we see Bing bridging the gap, +1 will fade away like the other Google mishaps before it.

Google as a Search Engine

Google is a search engine and a damn good one. I never use any other site for search. It does not always yield the results I would like (it is not a miracle worker) for this site or my queries when I am eyeball deep in research however I trust the results and would never stray. However, Google is trying to tread into some murky waters. They are trying to be a social site and a competitor of Facebook. Now, we can argue that Facebook is trying to be a search engine and is “learning” with Bing and eventually will overtake Google. People like to be social on social platforms but on search engines? Do we really want everyone to know all about us? Is that the purpose of a search engine or is it to provide comprehensive results? Does this matter anymore or are we just only trusting of our friends and instead of calling, texting or even FB’ing them we would perform a search and see that they +1’d it and immediately trust and run to buy? What if it is someone that we dislike will this dissuade us not to buy? Plus this is saying that we as consumers are much more simple than once thought as we rely upon review sites that have actual reviews and not a +1 that does not have any negativity with a -1 and some commentary.

It just seems that the +1 is catering to the SEO conscious audience and not to the searching audience. Begs the question again of what is in it for the user to click +1? Makes them cool or influential to their friends when they are searching for the same thing? Having no -1 already puts this at a disadvantage as with review sites users can express dissatisfaction. To differentiate Facebook and get people on board to use this, a -1 really would have set it apart and excited users and kept us talking.

Add this all together and this could be a recipe for failure and +1 may end up in the toilet.

Have you installed it on your site? I quickly installed it here with the plug in so it is floating front and center and will monitor its use to decide if the sharing buttons up top will be reconfigured.

What do you think, is Google +1 destined to fail?

Google Lego photo credit: Gayle Laakmann McDowell


  • Interesting perspective of Google +1, Suzanne! I particularly agree with you on the ‘incentives’ of clicking on +1 and the potential abuse of it. For the +1 to work, Google have to make the advantages known beyond just seeing what your friends have +1ed. If all it does is to push links up the search ladder, then I can surely imagine bots doing the job exceedingly well.

    • Jan

      Exactly! There has to be something else as an advantage or I just do not see it succeeding. It may last as we have seen with digg, stumbleupon and other voting sites but at the same time is that really what we need now – another voting site? I am not going to be so eager to +1 a great blog that will outrank me merely because I and some others gave it a +1. Popularity will play a role and in search results we need more than that. Great content, backlinks etc. Those may be viewed as popularity as well and add in tweets, but at the same time, we know that Google had been smarter than that. Is that integrity going to continue? If they want +1 to catch on and really succeed we have to wonder.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Great to see you stop by!

  • I’ve asked this question on multiple blogs that have written about Google +1 and not received a response, so maybe you can help me.

    If I enact this (and I’m cautious to do so, mainly because I want to be in control of personalization controls on search engines), what will a typical declaration look like? Because Twitter messages are indexed on Google, when I’m logged into Twitter, such a Google result will indicate, “Suzanne Vara likes this.” Will I now see, “Suzanne Vara +1’d this?”

    • I can only answer from how I see it for things I have +1 immediately underneath the result headline it says “you +1’d this publicly”. What it does not show is the others who have +1 so I have to presume that they have it set to private. I will keep digging around and if I find something I will send you a screen shot and also put it as an update on here.

  • You know you can consider me kind of an early adopter 😉 I don’t know where it will lead, I think that Google made everything they can in order not to FAIL again, but this doesn’t mean they’ll get things right of course. As I often say, we’ll see, not much we can do apart from waiting and keeping our eyes open.

    • Gabriele

      I agree. Your article was very good on how to install, so good that it was my first +1! Which you can see above in the screen shots I took of my profile.

      We know they do not want to fail but I keep going back to that it is a search engine and while we are socially connected, I just do not see this as anything more than them trying to capture our likes (which they cannot with FB except on fan page) and bring that to the table for advertisers. I am all about advertising however attaching it to what we +1, especially for those of us in the industry who are heavy blog readers, I can only imagine the amount of wrongly targeted ads that I/we will get.

      It is a wait and see for sure. I have not seen many sites that have an overabundance of +1 so what will determine their success? I am all about helping search results/suzanne’s search results but at the same time I want to be able to get quality search results or I will get frustrated.

    • Gabriele

      I agree. Your article was very good on how to install, so good that it was my first +1! Which you can see above in the screen shots I took of my profile.

      We know they do not want to fail but I keep going back to that it is a search engine and while we are socially connected, I just do not see this as anything more than them trying to capture our likes (which they cannot with FB except on fan page) and bring that to the table for advertisers. I am all about advertising however attaching it to what we +1, especially for those of us in the industry who are heavy blog readers, I can only imagine the amount of wrongly targeted ads that I/we will get.

      It is a wait and see for sure. I have not seen many sites that have an overabundance of +1 so what will determine their success? I am all about helping search results/suzanne’s search results but at the same time I want to be able to get quality search results or I will get frustrated.

  • Visiting many medium sized blogs this week it is noticeable how few have had their +1 buttons clicked. Even take up on articles on sites like Mashable seem low compared with shares on Facebook & Twitter. 

    I’m not sure there is the same incentive as there is with established share options, you are not curating in the same way and there is little validation.

    As for SEO I am sure Google will trap the +1 spammers before they get a chance to game it.

    • Sean

      I have seen the same thing! Tweets we see a lot of as people can see what you have retweeted and the same as likes. It is great that a friend did a +1 of something but it is not attached to anything where I can interact. I can only join the crowd or lack thereof and also +1. No real substance to that as me +1’ing a lot of results is not going to sway someone into buying. Reviews, yes, a +1 nah.

      Spammers – they will get caught but what about the groups that I do you, you do me and boom, we have better search results?

  • I gave it a pass. Did not want to add +1 to my blog even though most of my fellow bloggers implemented it.

    I’ll wait till Google shelves +1. if that doesn’t happen, oh well, jump into the bandwagon I suppose

    • Ardash

      I held off and only installed it last night when I was writing this article. I am testing it now and will see if it goes anywhere and is helping with the marketing of the company/this blog. I am not sure that it will cause major changes but we shall see.

      Many share your sentiment that hold off as it may not be around too long.

      • Yep. Will wait for some test results. I don’t want to end up changing my design again and again

  • Part of the trouble is that people don’t always endorse things they believe in. This is part of the same reason Bing and its Facebook integration will see issues – for these tools to be effective, everyone on the internet must tacitly agree to explicitly mark everything they actually like. Passing interest and deceptive endorsement ruin the entire premise.

    It’s also tough by subject; if for example you work in a non-gay-friendly workplace, are you going to +1, or Facebook Like a page about sexual orientation equality law? Probably not. Would it be beneficial to your friends seeking the same kind of legal support? Absolutely. But what good is a tool that goes unused because of our personal fears?

    I can’t help but think this is a step in the right direction, but is attached to the wrong tool. I’m a believer in the purity of content relevance to query, not to personal preference.

    • Ian

      Yes – that is what I was saying but never really said it. I hid that under the credibility mask and should have fleshed it out a bit more. However, now that you have … I am good. Thank you.

      Skewed. Results are skewed. We saw this a while ago with Foursquare where no one would check into McDonalds, Walmart, etc however we knew that they were going there. A few started buy yet it became a game. That is what I see will happen here. Obviously I am biased to Google and see Bing as a non existent search engine so I did not do a comparison heavily on their FB credibility.

      I think it goes further than fears, it taps into shame. I am working on something that speaks to the shame so maybe I leaning towards that a bit more than the fear. Shame is contained within fear or maybe better it is a catalyst for fear.

      Love this conversation! As I agree, wrong tool. I would expect this from a quora or an empire avenue (however I have never visited either site). Social should stay with social and search with search.

      Thanks for this comment. Always nothing but excellence from you.

  • Marco G.

    I believe it’s not a good idea in terms of social sharing. “+1” is english terminology.

    Although I know some english, I didn’t know +1 was “the digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool.”” . That’s a pretty serious shorthand.

    Then the thing about the number “1”. It rings like “You’re one more buddy. Nothing special, just one more”.

    Another shot in the foot. Numbering in “like” look-a-like systems (tweeter as well) represent the number of people “liking” determinate content. It is known people tend to click on higher counts buttons and the number “1” is really on lonely picture. No attraction …

    Anyway, I believe the “google” people have excellent ideas but this +1 stuff seems like “Buzz”. It doesn’t “ring” at all.

    Next time hire me …

    • Marco

      Very interesting perspective. One more. Hmh, I had not thought of it that way but now that you bring that out, it does seem that way.

      Google + has now been launched and no doubt +1 will be incorporated into it and have real meaning with search results. If Google+ survives, which it so far is getting a lot of great reviews, +1 should as well. 

      • Marco G.


        Regarding +1 importance in searches. Well, IMHO it has its pros and cons. Social significance might produce undesired results depending on social feedback per user. Imagine a page is judged and classified by its design and not its content. Or because it’s a commercial brand and marketing politics inflates their “+1” counting. That way, in a search engine, content stops being king.

        I believe mainstream information – where 90% of all the “junk information” is – will have the upper hand this way. But you can’t integrate social awareness and give it significance to search results just like that. It just undermines the cohesion of the internet on a “Information and Content” perspective. Content, content, content !

        Then Google+. What was your first impression when you messed with Google+ ? Mine was: “facebook clone”. I know it has great integration with all the Google framework but am I willing to build up one more social character – “myself” – and go through the whole process again ? And most importantly, the same way ? 😉

        • Marco

          I like Google+ for its ease of use, ability to put people into circles and also filter the stream by those circles. I see this more as a professional/business platform and not so much as a personal like Facebook. Facebook was friends first and then pulled in business. Google+ seems professional to the extent of the social folks are all over it and adding people into circles that classifies them. Facebook’s groups, if they came out when FB was started or soon thereafter would have the same response, but, we had to add people after the fact which takes up a lot of time. This platform being new forces us to have to add people but, adding them where we want them. There is less personal that I have seen.

          I do agree with the cons you have above. If +1 plays a stronger role in the algorithms then we will see people play the game and get a whole bunch of friends/community members wash each other’s hands without ever reading the content. It may not be that mainstream as not everyone using search is on Google and has a social presence with friends listed that would appear in the results. I do have some sort of hope that google will keep an eye on this and realize that rankings is not just a popularity contest with a +1.