Earlier this week Google announced a major update for logged in users that they dubbed “Search Plus Your World”. SEO’s and Social Media Marketers almost immediately reacted negatively to the news viewing it as an aggressive push for Google’s own social media network. Protesters claimed it is destructive to the current social websites enjoyed by hundreds of millions of users around the world and disruptive to the natural organic rankings that Google is so well known for.
Danny Sullivan has been covering the issue from the moment the word was announced and has sided solidly with the rest of the industry. However, Google is not backing down. Matt Cutts Tweeted about it and Google had read-write-web cover the launch. Some have said it effectively just made Bing the best search engine; others have hailed it as big step forward for the search giant.
If you’re a website owner you probably don’t care about any of the arguments about the open web, how this ruins Google’s credibility, how creepy it is that your privately shared content is now showing up in search results, how this might attract more attention from the FTC or how this makes it harder for Eric Schmidt to tell congress that Google doesn’t have other products besides search. You probably just want to know how it might affect your ability to market your website and gain traffic in the search engine.
See that? When a user is logged in and has “personal” set (which seems to be the default) they get a nice big social highlights box above the ads on the right hand side. If you use PPC and thrive in the position 4 or 5 your honey hole is about to dry up.
With the introduction of images in this social highlights box (or more correctly the Google+ highlights box) users are going to be more drawn and attracted to this area and since these are above the ads you can expect to see a lower click through rate (and lower quality score?) on your ads. That means, depending on your industry, you could see more competition for the top 3 ads and that means the ads will become more expensive thanks to the bidding process.
Somewhere I hear Aaron Wall silently nodding his head and whispering ‘I told you so’, or shouting it pretty loud…one of the two. Just like with the “not provided” data from logged in users the line from Google will probably be that this will be of minimal impact to your PPC and they might even do some sort of adjustment so the cost doesn’t skyrocket, but there won’t be a lot of ways to get traffic back to those advertising in the right hand column, it’ll be time to pay up or find a new source of traffic to replace the lost visitors.
Google has been doing Universal Search for years pulling in content from their vertical search services like Images, News and Video; and displaying this content somewhere in the SERPs. These Universal listings generally take up the same amount of space or just slightly more as a normal SERP listing for a webpage.
The new Search Plus Your World comes with some universal like content with images and posts from the individuals Google+ friends and from content they have uploaded or shared on the social network. This makes fighting for attention in the SERPs far more difficult and increases the value of having your content shared on Google+. Something that the search engine is likely trying to accomplish with this controversial move.
If you’ve been noticing a considerable percentage of “not provided” keywords coming into your site for the past few months then you can likely anticipate a percentage of traffic loss from Google as the search engine rolls this feature out to all users. The amount of loss to anticipate is hard to decipher due to the fact that Google decided to not provide website owners with some way of knowing the keywords that brought logged in users to the website. Currently the only search terms that appear to be trigging the ‘Plus Your World, feature are very generic in nature, like “music” which is depicted in the screenshots above. So if you live off of the long tail you can breathe easy for now.
[side note: We’ve been working to figure out a process for discovering traffic loss. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments below].
What the future holds for Google’s Search Plus Your World feature is anyone’s guess. Will they be forced to stop this by government entities or industry pressure? Will Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm and other social networks get invited to be featured in the highlight box? Will marketers get any data from logged in users such as keywords or when content from the social graph is included in search results? For now we have to sit on the sidelines and watch as Google undergoes dramatic changes.