Be Careful Where You Put Your +1s, They Might be Domain Based

Be Careful Where You Put Your +1s, They Might be Domain Based

26th April 2012

The +1 button, are you using it a lot? Expressing your appreciation for a specific page you landed on. Just like the Facebook “like” button. It is a nice way of saying you like a page, and it has some other benefits, namely your authority showing up in the SERPS.

But you have to be careful, because it can have a totally different effect as well and you might show up where you don’t want to.

Now with the Facebook button you know that it might show up on your Facebook profile page, which means your friends can see that you’ve liked that specific page and if you go to a specific page you can see which one of your friends liked that page or website. Just look in the sidebar of State of Search and you will see some of your friends who liked this site (hopefully 😉 ).

Google Plus largely works in the same way. You won’t see a “+1” popping up in the G+ stream but you will see on a page if someone has +1-ed that specific page (also see the right sidebar). There is however one extra ‘benefit’ to a +1: they might show up in the search results.

Showing up in the SERPS

Personalized search has undergone some quite significant changes in the past few years. Where in 2009 it might have been one or two results which would get another position and in 2010 you might see some ‘results from your social circle’ at the bottom of a page, now social and personalized have integrated completely.

This makes that if you do a search when logged into Google you are going to see results which are accompanied by small pictures of people you know. People who have +1ed a page. And in some cases it doesn’t have to be someone you know directly, it can be someone from within your social circle, which is bigger than just the people you are connected with.

Google does this because it might give you an extra incentive to click on a link (or not ;)) because you might trust that person. “If he +1-ed it, it must be a good page”, that idea.

For marketers this is an interesting opportunity to create some more visibility in the SERPS. First make sure your social network is large enough and after that its easy: start sharing. This means they can show up for pages which actually add value to the searcher.

It however also sometimes leads to spammy situations where a simple search leads to a page full of +1s which are ‘obvious’. They seem to have been +1-ed simply to become visible in the results. This was the case a lot when Google had just implemented this, Google seems to have a bit more control over this now.

But things can go wrong

There is a danger however. Things can go wrong sometimes, and that can have a huge effect. The example below shows a few things, the most important one being you have to think about what you +1.

When looking at the impact of Google’s latest updates I did some searches on topics which are usually quite spam-sensible. One of those searches being on the term ‘viagra’. Here’s what I found (anonymized for privacy purposes):

Now first of all notice that I am getting personalized results on this! How is that possible? First of all the person “recommending a site” to me is not recommending viagra at all. This person is not even recommending a site which has anything to do with that term. The site actually was a site about search.

It looks like the site which is recommended has been hacked, clicking on the results takes me to an error page. It was about a different topic and not in the least related. Yet because it was +1-ed (for a different reason) and then hacked it shows up here.

The hacked content makes the connection with the term. The fact that it was +1ed made it show up in my results on the first page of Google.

Now as a person I don’t think you want to be seen in the SERPS in relation to these kind of terms and as a website owner you don’t want to be either. The second part can be taken care of by making sure your site doesn’t get hacked.

The first part however shows you need to think about what you +1, because it can show up on places you don’t want it to show up.

But there is more…

Does Google show +1-ed pages or sites?

Think about this: an interesting question for marketers here is whether +1-ing a specific page will show them in the search results for that specific page or for the entire site. There have been several posts about that online already, some also focussed on the Adwords part of this. One of the examples of research like that is this post from Rishi Lakhani.

Looking at the image above it looks like Google is showing personalized results and the images based on the domain, not the actual page itself, because it is a tag-overview-page.

That would mean +1-ing one page would help an entire domain. Now this again has two sides to it (like most stories 😉 ).

First there is the marketers side: IF it is true (which is not proven!) that a +1 shows the domain not the single page, you can really focus with gathering +1s since you don’t have to get them for all pages. One will even do.

Second there is the personal side: what if you +1 a perfectly normal page, but another page on that same website, which you might not have seen, or is even hidden, does NOT have the kind of information you support. Then what? Then you might show up in the search results ‘recommending a page’ which you might not want to be associated with… Or image what that can do to negative SEO…

To be continued without a doubt… and in the words of Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there” and to Google I would want to say: if you are ‘cleaning up’, you might want to clean this stuff up too.


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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