Saturday, 14 January 2012

Google Search Results Get Major Shake Up

Googles latest update, "Search plus Your World", has turned the search engine world on its head. Announced on Tuesday on the official Google blog, results pages for searches on google.com will now include:

- personal results: including the Google+ posts from you and your connections

- profiles in search: relevant Google+ profiles appear in search results

- people and pages: pages & profiles related to your query

For users that are signed in to Google (through Google+), this means radical changes in both which results are displayed and how they are displayed.

What does this mean in practice?

Let's take an example.

For the search query "music", within the results are 5 "personal results", which are posts from my Google+ contacts. Also displayed is a status update I made (highlighted in red). On the right hand side (highlighted in green) are pages & profiles from Google+ related to my search term "music".

Bearing in mind I am not an active user of Google+ (I have just 4 people in my circles), major changes in the way results are displayed (for example, the suggested profiles & pages are above the ads in the right hand column) could mean huge differences for those hooked on the social network.

The change is also apparent in the search box - as soon as you start typing in the name of a Google+ user, Google suggests you click on their profile (as illustrated below, with a search for Taylor Swift).


So, what's the big deal?

This update means that Google has put more importance on results from Google+ than ever before. Effectively, it means that better rankings and will go to individuals and businesses that are active and optimising their Google+ profiles.

At the moment, the "personal results" are comprised just of (potentially) private information (including updates & photos) you've shared on Google+. Not a mention of info shared on Facebook or Twitter, as Google is not currently permitted to crawl these pages.

While perhaps not surprising that Google use its significant power and market share in search to push its social network, it's natural that not everyone was too happy about this latest update:

- Twitter's lead lawyer, Alex Macgillivray suggested it was "a bad day for the internet", echoing Twitters' fear that Google is warping search results by boosting posts from Google+
- the US privacy watchdog EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Centre) has requested the US government investigate Google due to potential privacy violations and anti-trust concerns

How could it affect my business website?

Firstly, the changes have so far only been rolled out in the US (on google.com), and while the update changes results for both users signed in and not signed in (for further details, read this article by SearchEngineWorld), signed in users can switch between personalised/ not personalised results at the click of a button.

Google+ users are also still a minority compared to Facebook. Whether this will be a turning point, only time will tell. It's certain that for marketers, if these changes stay in place, it will become a necessity to have an active presence on Google+ - even if solely for SEO reasons.

What do you think? Is Google abusing its power as the worlds favourite search engine to unfairly promote its social network? Will you create a Google+ page for your business as a result?

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