Google is jumping into the button game along side Facebook, Twitter, Digg and many others to introduce their +1 button.  Webmasters can now add the +1 button to their websites so visitors can essentially endorse a webpage and recommend it to their friends.

A New Form of Spam?

There is a common cycle in the SEO world that goes something like this:

New feature/ranking factor is released by search engines –> People learn how to game it –> Gaming it works for quite awhile until search quality suffers –> Search engineers tweak the algorithm to diminish the effectiveness of the old ranking factor and come out with something new

This has been extremely evident when talking about link building.  Google was one of the first search engines to heavily emphasize inbound links.  Although they still do, they have adjusted over the years and become a little more sophisticated.  However, they have yet to win the purchased links battle and likely never will.  So they move on to social signals…

One problem with incorporating more social elements is the obvious ability to game them by using services like Mechanical Turk or other methods to inflate your social signal.  Google will soon (if they aren’t already) have to try to identify websites who are artificially inflating their +1’s.

So How could Google’s +1 Button Hurt Your Rankings?

Here are 2 theories – keep in mind they are only theories at this point:

1. The Rich Get Richer -Sites with established readership will have a huge advantage at getting more +1’s.  Google has a recent track record of promoting big brands, almost regardless of how relevant it is to the search query.  With +1 being another ranking factor, it aligns with their goal of pushing big brands.

2. User Data – The recent Panda update definitely hints that Google is trying to incorporate more and more user behavior data.  Panda specifically targeted low quality content.  Let’s say you add the +1 button to your website and have a low +1 click through rate for some reason, would that be an indication of low quality?

There is no telling what direction Google takes with this.  It’s entirely possible that +1 has little ranking impact at this point but that can easily change in the near future.  Google continues to make attempts at incorporating social into their search algorithm so I expect the +1 data to stick, whether it’s accurate or not.

Bryan Phelps
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