A few months ago Google announced their response to the successful social media sites Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Google+ was instantly heralded as an improvement to the social approaches the search giant had previously attempted, Google Buzz. And while initial numbers for the growth of Google+ were astounding, the long term viability of a social network that competes directly with Facebook was still in question.
A few months have passed and its becoming more clear that Google+ is not the long term success that Google and its employees were hoping for. Pageviews and interactions on the site continue to fall and most recently it appears that Google is doing everything it can to push the product in front of more and more people. It is even beginning to feel like Google is getting desperate for social relevance.
Google +1 and Search Result Pages
Shortly before making Google+ available to the public, the company released a +1 button to allow site visitors to show their support and interest in sites that had content they approved. This approach was of course preparatory for Google+, but also a move to compete with the Facebook Like button that is found across the internet. Many questioned the value of +1, but it became clear how the service could offer value if Google+ itself was a success.
Google eventually added a +1 button next to each result on their Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). The idea was that users would approve of the results by clicking the +1 icon if the page provided the information that they were looking for. But most recently it appears that very few people are engaging with the +1 icon on SERP pages. In fact, Google has recently started prompting users to click the +1 button when they return to the SERPs with a small tooltip that highlights over the +1 button and includes text like “You’ve visited this page 3 times. +1 it!”
In addition to pushing the +1 button on users of their search engine, Google also has done its best to draw attention to the Google+ link in the menu bar found on Google web properties. A few days ago Google was advertising the social network on its main search page with a large arrow pointing to the Google+ link. The advertisement coincides with the announcement that Google+ was now in open beta and available to everyone with a Google account.
Google has a dominant hold on the search engine market and it is clear that they are going to try and leverage those pageviews to propel themselves into a better position in the social networking market. So far it seems that their approach has short term validity but over the longer term users are drawn back to Facebook for social connections, Twitter for quick conversations, and LinkedIn for business connections.
Why Search and Social Don’t Easily Mix
Combining search and social is not an easy task, even for Google. I believe the reason for this is that people are not always interested in what their friends and connections have searched for on the internet. I know that I spend a lot of time searching for information and products that help me stay informed about the SEO industry. I can only think of one of my friends that would have any interest in the topics I’ve been searching.
Just because I found something valuable on a particular topic through Google’s search engine does not mean that my friends will find that same information interesting or of value. Even if they find themselves searching for the same phrases they may not feel that the result I +1’d was the best result for them. What has always made Google great is that its search engine allows users to find information that is helpful to them quickly and easily. Combining social features with SERPs may only confuse the process.
If Google is serious about establishing a social network, my suggestion would be that they do not try and squeeze into the market by leveraging (or some may argue compromising) their search engine. After all, we don’t see Facebook trying to create a search engine that competes with Google. Instead they focus on improving their social product which makes the gap between them and their competitor’s even larger.