The pressure is on for Google to develop a social strategy. With +1 Google is making a smart move by using its current power in search to try to gain traction in social. But Google can and should leverage the combination of +1 and its users’ Google identities. Google is still behind when it comes to the social graph, but with the concept of identity, Google starts from a much stronger position.
Publishers will love +1, but what about people? When Google makes available the “+1″ buttons for publishers, there will be significant incentive for publishers to add the buttons since it will add critical SEO value to the URL. Google may use this data to rank results, but even if it doesn’t, users will be influenced by the number of +1’s displayed in search results when they decide what to click. I believe that unlike the failed “buzz” button, which never got traction with publishers, the +1 button could be very attractive.
Thus, the hurdle for +1 lies not with publishers but with consumers. To be successful, Google needs people to click +1, but that’s a harder task than it may expect. Consider the Facebook “Like” button. People click “Like” not because they want to contribute to an object or company’s ranking, but because they want to show off their association. “Liking” something broadcasts an association with content or products to your feed and therefore your friends. So with no opportunity to show off, Google may get no clicks. But there is a way for Google to help achieve a critical mass of +1 data that doesn’t require a user actually clicking +1.
Here’s how: Social Sign On – an identity play. When a user authenticates with a site by using their Google credentials, giving permission to that site to access their profile information and social graph, that act is a “+1 equivalent action”, and should be treated as such by Google. And Google can build this into the social sign-on process explicitly; I’ve illustrated one option in the graphic to the right.
Identity as the Foothold for Google’s Social Play
Increasingly, sites are enabling users to sign-in with their existing identity on social networks or other providers. Look at the Huffington Post and other publishers like Fox News, CBS and ABC. It’s clear that users prefer to sign-in using an established online identity rather than create a new one on each site they visit. Passwords are dead.
Currently, no identity provider is as popular as Facebook among B2C websites. More than 1M sites enable Facebook for sign-in. The reason Facebook is so popular among websites (as compared with OpenID or other solutions), is that there is real value for the website associated with that Facebook sign-in.
Whenever users sign-in to a site with their Facebook identity, Facebook provides the site with rich user profile data. This type of connection also enables frictionless sharing, which results in more traffic to the site. Yes, Google provides APIs for sign-in, but currently they do not provide enough value — data or otherwise — for websites. As a result, there is insufficient adoption across websites of Google Social Sign-on. With the wide Facebook Connect adoption by websites, people began to use their Facebook identity across the Internet far more often than their Google identity.
So Google needs a killer value proposition for sites to drive adoption of sign-in with Google. To provide one, it needs to continue to leverage its most sacred asset – search. When a user signs-in to a website with Google, over some number of days, Google should give higher weight to results coming from that site for that specific user. It makes sense that if I read articles at cbsnews.com, that site’s results will appear in my news searches above other news sources. Because Search is such a critical source of traffic channel for most websites, sites would implement Google sign-in tomorrow if it meant that their page rank would increase for users who use Google to sign-in into their site.
This could also be the first olive branch from Google Search to websites. For too long SEO has been a black hole for sites that never know when changes in algorithms could adversely affect them. It would be good for Google’s relationship with sites to collaborate with them, giving them a white-hat way to improve search result relevance.
What’s in it for Google? Being one of the leading identity providers gives Google permission-based access to user data that will enrich any service it offers – from search to commerce to social. Google is the leading search engine, but how loyal are its users? Identity can equate to commitment. Having a strong play in identity is Google’s key to building a long-term relationship with its users while increasing the value of Google services to websites Pleasing both parties will put Google well on its way to creating a defensible position in social.
Rooly Eliezerov is co-founder and product strategist at Gigya, a SaaS company providing technologies that make websites social.