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Google+: The Ultimate You-Sourced Search Engine

Posted by Erica McGillivray

Google+ has crept into SERPs near you. From getting hyper-personalized results popping up everywhere to recommending people to follow or showing you results you've +1'd or posts you've made, Google+ isn't giving you the choice to ignore it. (Unless you use Bing, Yahoo!, or another search service entirely.) Sure, there are ways to depersonalize it; but who has the time for another click, unless you're really getting results you aren't happy with or being an SEO super-sleuth. From author spotlights or highlights from those you've circled, it seems the closer you are to a keyword and its SERPs, the more intense the personalization gets.

Check out my entire page of personalized results when I search for "SEOmoz":

SEOmoz SERP personalized for Erica McGillivray

As anyone knows who's tried to do a little bit of personalization to customers, personalization is hard. There are zillions of factors and complex algorithms to work through. But we also know when it comes to conversions, personalization is a huge win-sparkle.

But Google has the employee bandwidth and some of the best minds of several generations working on making personalization happen. Despite their numerous products, search is Google's crown jewel; 80% of searches are done there because they generally deliver better results than their competitors. (Sorry, Bing and Yahoo!, but "Google" is a verb.) In the long-run, personalized results are going to be easier for Google and provide more relevant results for users, which will keep users coming back for more.

Google+ Worker of a You-Sourced Search Engine

Have you signed up for a Google product? Congratulations, you are now a Google volunteer. No, you don't get any benefits except one: using Google's (mostly) free products. Instead, as you surf the web, your movements will make your own crowd-sourced engine. Or as a crowd of one, you-sourced.

When you search for "angel," are you looking for a brooding vampire, not ethereal creatures or charity networks? Don't worry, Google already knows because you're subscribed to the Tumblr Angel Does Stuff and you wrote a blog post about how much you love Lilah Morgan. Not to mention, you've visited Angel's IMDB page while rewatching it with your sweetie and playing "who's that actor?"

Maybe you're new to a field, say it's "SEO." Go ahead and circle Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, or Aaron Wall, SEO influencers as suggested by Google, and bam: their recommendations guide your results.

SEO SERP recommending me to follow Danny Sullivan and SEOmoz

Note: Danny Sullivan, more circlers than Lady Gaga.

Got Authority? Yes, You Do.

A huge problem Google has right now is site authority and quality. Page rank and domain authority are attempts to inform rankings which sites have authority and quality content. But this doesn't always work. Spammers and black hats have had years of perfecting the dark force to beat Google.

Last year's Panda algorithm change was a direct assault on sites with duplicate and weak content that were squeezing into rankings. Panda didn't happen to cause SEOs to tear our hair out. No, it was a direct punch against snake oil SERP results and results that made all of us go "meh." You can argue that some sites didn't deserve the hit and got caught in the crossfire, but Panda tossed out a lot of junk. 

Now in combination with Panda's tweaks, Google+ creates the ultimate SERP authority: you. You are awesome, and no one knows what you want better than you. Google+ just isn't sending you SERPs based on your subtle hints and wish list anymore; now, it's going directly to you, the source. And if you don't know about it, perhaps your "circles" will.

I've told Google that I love Sherlock, the BBC series, and think way too much about it. Google serves me "Sherlock" SERPs completely filled with what I love. No mention of the books, other TV or film, or various businesses, services, or products using the Sherlock name. My personalized SERP kicks off 3 links that "normally" rank in the top 10. Including a pub chain in Texas, which I'm sure fought hard for that ranking.

Sherlock SERP personalized for Erica McGillivray

Additionally, by giving bloggers the incentive of authority and our tiny photos in SERPs, hooking in your Google+ profile to your blogging platform creates a type of article authority Google hasn't had before. There's a reason Rand has a ridiculous number of Google+ followers; if he put out crap, they'd uncircle him. Now Google knows that Rand's articles are quality content -- mostly likely around SEO, inbound marketing, and entrepreneurship -- Rand's content becomes an extremely strong "safe" ranking factor to serve results on. And he gets his smiling face as a recommended follow for "SEO."

If you haven't started building your authority with the articles you're writing, it's time to jump in. You too can become a safe SERP in your field, interest, or hobby. Are you an authority on something? Is your brand an authority? It's time to start creating content, curating content, and building up your following. If you're considered an authority, your rankings may jump higher than they've ever gone before.

SEOs: No Longer a Pain in Cutts' Butt

Google+ radically changes an SEO's game strategy towards rankings. Good luck getting another SERP into my results for "SEOmoz" the old-fashioned way. That said, the cries of "SEO's finally dead" still remain highly exaggerated. Sloppy SEO and some black hat tactics are certain staked in their tracks. Your keyword stuffed article isn't going to get my +1.

Now I don't expect Google+ to remain ungamed. There's a whole subset of the SEO industry who's made their way on gaming every change Google's made. But the amount of time and energy you'd have to put into gaming Google+ to convince me that you're not a bot...I think you got a little bleach on your hat there.

Ultimately, white hat tactics of quality, linkbait content will prevail in the world of Google+. Whether you're focusing on how-tos or selling jewelry, your content isn't going to get the love of the +1 if it doesn't appeal to the people.

Nowhere Near Perfect

Right now, Google's crowd-sourcing is nowhere near perfect. Not enough people are using Google+ on a regular basis to make a huge impact. Yes, Google says they have 90 million users (800 million on Facebook and 200 million on Twitter for comparison), but no one's sure just how many people are actually using it. 

I know my personal information stream seems a little bare with a few heavy-weight champions *cough*SEOs*cough* dominating my results. Not to mention, my own information comes up a lot. This is great when I share out a link, and I'm trying to find it again. This is not so great if I'm say looking for an image of Doctor Who as I still have those on my harddrive. Or if I'm searching for videos of adorable baby pandas (very likely) and Google serves me White Board Friday Videos posted on SEOmoz's Google+; no offense, SEOmoz teammates, but I'd much rather watch the bears with the giant heads.

Besides mass user adoption, the biggest hurdles left are of the philosophical nature: privacy and group-think.

Privacy, know our friend "not provided"? Know how Google Analytics went to court in Germany? Or how SOPA came about? When the non-web marketer sees their friends showing up in their SERPs, they're going to start freaking out. I have a feeling that zombies are on the way out and Skynet and killer robots are back as the villains reflected in our cultural subconscious. 

Subtle personalization has been happening for a long time. We like seeing ourselves reflected back in the mirror of advertising, and the best inbound marketing reflects what we need to see, not just what we want to see. 

"I'd rather make a show 100 people need to see than a show that 1,000 people want to see." -- Joss Whedon, producer/writer of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Firefly

I love the above quote from Whedon because this is what personalization does at it's best. It gives us what we need, not just want we want. And in giving us what we need, we're less likely to call shenanigans on Google's privacy policy. (Just look at Facebook, who may have even better access to personalization data than Google, and a platform that people get lost on for hours.)

By giving us what we need, Google will also give us diversity of opinions and our feeds can avoid group-think. If my results are completely personalized based on my searches and my circles, they are unlikely to carry thoughts that aren't similar to my own. Seeing only results from other liberal-minded, web marketers who are giant geeks isn't what I need, even if that's the feed I may want to live in.

Diversity of ideas

In order to be truly innovative and understand humanity on the whole, we need a variety of ideas. I need to know that people disagree with my opinions, whether political, personal, or otherwise. And our "circles" have an inherent selection bias in that we generally surround ourselves with people like ourselves. 

Not to mention, our circles aren't experts in everything. My coworker Jen Lopez found that her circles don't know anything about hotels in Madrid:

Search for Hotels in Madrid made useless by personalization

Google+ Personalization: Easy-as-Pie Win-Sparkle.

As Google+ builds and more people find value in adopting it as part of their social world, the SERPs will improve. And given that Google adjusts its search algorithm over 500 times in a year, I suspect there's already geniuses working on these problems. The more Google builds out Google+ for personalization and pushes its you-sourced engine, the better the results will get and the easier it will be for Google to serve each of us what we need.

As we head into a world of personalization, we SEOs are going to focus on the creation of content and distribution of content more than ever. We're investing in building our authority on subjects for our businesses and hobbies, and there's nothing better than getting in on the ground-floor.

Make Google+ personalization a win-sparkle for you and your customers. Embrace better content, build your own authority, and make the you-sourced search engine even cooler.

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