As the digital marketing world tests, pokes and prods to see if Google+ activity has an impact on search engine results, the search giant finds itself in a precarious position. It has finally broken the ice on having a social media product that people seem to like, yet is potentially on the verge of not only ruining its first chance at social success, but of betraying its own company mantra: Don’t be evil.
Holding the linchpin for the company is its own ability to keep search results as fair and unbiased as possible. The more fair and accurate they are, meaning the top results for each keyword need to be damn close to the most relevant piece of content on the web for that query, the more people trust Google for search. With still a 65+% hold on the search marketplace, Google remains the most trusted resource for the public’s search activity. It has been very good at being fair and balanced. Too bad they don’t produce television news.
But now, Google is studying how to incorporate data from its own social network into its own search results. Social networks and search engines have never gone hand-in-hand before. Frankly, I’ve often thought it silly Google was so worried about Facebook and having a social product. Their competition is Bing and Yahoo. But I suppose if you want to dominate the web and the web is evolving to a more social environment, you have to tread into new water.
The problem Google faces is that it has the ability to not only use Google+ data (+1s, links shared, activity around those links, etc.) as additional points of influence in its search algorithm, but it could conceivably weigh those social signals greater than those of other social networks. A +1 or link from Google+ could mean more than a Facebook Like or link from that network, a Tweet, etc.
If Google chooses to weight its own content greater than that of its now social competitors, it crosses the line and becomes what it set out to avoid becoming: Evil. Prioritizing Google+ activity in search results would, by definition, make Google+ a more important social network than others. This would inevitably drive more activity on Google+.
Think of it as Bank of America offering lower interest rates for automobile loans for Ford vehicles only, assuming Bank of America owned Ford.
Should Google choose to do this, I’m afraid Google+ would quickly become irrelevant to most individual end users because it will be overrun with SEO specialists and marketers trying to engineer the search engine results pages (SERPs). That would lead to an exodus of everyday folks, which means Google’s social network suddenly lacks the only thing you must have to be social: people.
And no, I don’t count marketers and SEO types as people. Yes, I’m included in the group of non-people in this context. By “people” I mean everyday folks. Not marketers or others trying to get business or commerce out of the system.
The challenge before Google now is to resist the traditional business mindset and do what’s right, what’s fair and what’s transparent. They have to treat their own social data on equal terms from that of other networks. If they do, then Google+ can continue to grow and thrive. And so will Google’s search results.
If Google can turn its back on the traditional marketing and business-first mindset and do something that resonates with its customers, then it will, perhaps for the first time, be social.