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Q&A: Google's struggle to keep its social network relevant

Q&A: Google's struggle to keep its social network relevant


A recent post on a4uexpo London speaker, David Naylor’s, blog caused a bit of a stir in the social-influenced SERP world. The post, written by Alex Graves, discussed recent comments from the Google’s Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts. He was quoted as saying that there’s, “not really a direct effect” from Google+ on search engine results pages.

A4u decided to quiz Naylor, who’s Director of Search Marketing at Bronco, on the general health of Google+ and the impact of these comments. Read on to discover his thoughts.

Matt Cutts said Google+ has no direct effect on rankings, was he implying there was an indirect influence? If so, what?

Anyone that makes use of Google+ or even has an account on there will have seen that there is evidence that Google+ does offer some influence on the search engine rankings that we are presented with when we search for any given term, however that influence that we have all witnessed is related to personalised search rather than organic.

The reason that we see content that has been shared, or +1’d, is that the content which is being presented has been shared by someone that we have indicated to Google that we know in some format, by adding them into our social ‘circles’ feature within the Google+ platform, which Google clearly take as a signal that you have similar interests to that specific person, so they want to present you with the same content that they are giving their own ‘recommendation’.

You will have seen the introduction of this content as you make your way down the search engine results that you have been presented following a successful search, often displayed anywhere between just below the fold of the results you are shown to the bottom result of on the first page of the sites that Google return based on your query.

Evidence of increased influence has also started to appear following the release of the Google Authorship programme which allows content creators to be able to not only add an image of themselves into the search engine results pages, but also has been seen to increase the visibility of additional content that they have provided through the introduction of the programme, pulling in other items under a heading of ‘More from this author’.

During the video that we shared within the original post which saw Matt Cutts rule out the chances of Google+1s directly increasing the search engine rankings of a site, we also witnessed that he made reference to the fact that Google are now looking to allow this authorship programme to populate their rankings in order to open up a wider spectrum of information for any search engine users that could potentially be interested in finding out more from one particular writer, saying to us that Google Authorship being added to your site is now something that needs to be done, after all, even though it will not directly affect your ranking, it will indirectly increase your visibility within the SERPs when paired with personalised searches.

On top of increased visibility for authors, we have seen that Google+ has begun to play a more central role within personalised and localised search, pulling information on local businesses that hold Google+ business pages into their search results and generating useful information such as presenting a map to the user that have queried the search or for those that use mobile devices, presenting the user with a quick and easy method to be able to make contact with that particular business through the presentation of a ‘Call Now’ button within the mobile browser.

Is Google+ a healthy social network?

DN: Google+ was originally intended to be able to create competition for some of the leading online social networking sites in the world, but I think that we can all agree that the latest offering from Google has failed to represent anywhere near the threat that they initially wanted to pose. However, our answer has to be shaped on the way in which you look at Google+ overall. Do you look just at the online platform or the product as an entity?

Many Google+ users on the platform tend to have a reason for being there. It could be the draw factor of being able to offer their website users the chance of another way to share the content that they like. Alternatively, the could simply have their Google+ business page found within the search engines to increase the visibility of the business, but it certainly isn't drawing the crowd like social networking giants Facebook and Twitter are.

Break free of the mentality that Google+ is just that plain looking online platform and look at the large picture of what Google+ is and the potential to improve and develop is certainly there and they do have Facebook and Twitter ‘on the ropes’ in one element, the increased prevention to be able to pretend that you are someone that you aren’t on the site due to the level of integration that the site has with other Google based accounts that you own, whether that be Google Mail or Android based.

The fact that Google+ pulls information from these accounts means that creation of ‘dummy’ or ‘spam’ accounts is considered to be harder, due to the auto synchronisation that the platform makes between them but on a wider scale focus. It means that any Android or Google Chrome users are potentially Google+ users which would signal that the number of users who have a Google+ account is on the increase based on statistics such as Android smartphones making up 64% of the number of smartphones dispatched within the second financial quarter (Q2) of the business year.

Does Google’s attempt at knitting Google + into its search engine’s fabric show cunning or desperation?

DN: I believe that the implementation of Google+ into the Google search engine is a cunning move from Google. They have successfully been able to add a new element into their offering that has been able to improve the search engine experience for not only the users, but also the businesses that they present. It has been achieved through the feeding of business information into related searches, enhancing the ease of finding the information that you are looking to find through the search query that you enter.

The way in which Google has used Google+ within its search engine does already make accessing information easier than before. I also believe that there is a much greater scope to what Google would be able to offer through this movement such as a reviews platform that could be presented to users based on their location.

Picture this: You are sat in a bar and you are presented with a small pop up box on your Android phone that would allow you to make a quick review of that venue without the need to log into any platform. It could be a quick and easy to pass comment as well as a one touch voting platform. A reward could be offered for the completion of those reviews.

For me it seems like Google has an an image of what it wants to achieve, but at the moment it doesn't have all the pieces that it needs to be able to complete it. However, they have the potential and the capability to be able to forge that image through further development over the upcoming years.

What are your thoughts on Google potentially moving away from search to become a knowledge engine?

DN: Taking a knowledge engine approach would ensure that users are fed relevant information based on the queries that they presented. However at the back of my mind, I can’t shake loose the feeling that it wouldn't be greatly accepted. The switch could potentially remove one element of the internet that seems vital for users all over the world, the chance to be able to view the information that they feel would interest them the most.

I think that if Google was to become a knowledge engine, it would have to direct users down one learning route. It would see them pass through specific information that Google believes it could use to answer their query, but that would mean that users would lose the right to individual choice when it comes to sourcing what they want to view, something that could be disliked by many.

If you were responsible for the future of Google search what strategies would you implement?

DN: One of the biggest things that people are calling for from Google is the chance to have more clarity from them. The first thing that would need to be implemented is further transparency in the Google Webmaster Tools.

Secondly I would reinstate the analytics data that webmasters had taken from them which is now being presented as ‘No Referrer’ or ‘Not Provided’ data. The removal of that information has meant webmasters have lost partial clarity in relation to the organic traffic that their site is receiving. It has resulted in smaller amounts of information to be able to edit and adapt a website in ways that would be better for the search engine users.

I think I would turn my attention to the commonly abused platforms which are presented within the search engines. I would make the decision to remove these from the organic search results all together, allowing for cleaner results from the moment that they are removed.

Finally, I would have to address the instances of clear abuse that we can see demonstrated within the search engine rankings at the moment. They not only mean that sites are being able to wrongfully rank for unrelated terms, but the success of leading others into taking that same risk in order to compete with the competition they face.

Instances such as cloaked linkage, links from Chinese link farms and low quality linkage in general all need to be addressed in order to clean up the rankings and a strong and firm movement on these would prevent others from trying to replicate the process.

Do you have anything else to add?

DN: I would like to thank a4uexpo for presenting me with the chance to be able to answer these questions. I'd also like to remind all the readers that I will be speaking in London at the next a4uexpo London, which takes place on the 16th and 17th of October. I hope to see some of you guys there.

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Simon Holland

Simon Holland

Simon is the news and research reporter at Existem. Previously a technology journalist, he now spends his time investigating both future and developing trends in performance marketing whilst producing editorial content for

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