Google has always been reluctant to call Google+ a mere social network. Even though it looked like a Facebook clone at launch, the company has consistently said it was a bigger project that would permeate the entire company.Today, it became really clear how far-reaching Google’s ambitions for Google+ actually are. In fact, Google+ could change the entire way we use the Web — and drive millions of Web sites who depend on Google to change how they attract customers.
This morning, Google announced that it’s adding a bunch more information from Google+ into its search results to make them more personal.
For instance, today when I search for “Las Vegas,” I get a bunch of hotel ads up top, followed by a visitor’s guide, Google Map info, and the official city of Las Vegas site.
But in the future, those search results will be populated with information from Google+. If one of my friends recently shared with me a bunch of pictures from a crazy bachelor party, I’ll see links to them. If another group of friends just got back from CES, I’ll see posts and photos of smartphones and TVs. And so on.
That’s only the beginning. As Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch pointed out this morning, Google has a lot of other products that contain personally relevant information. Google Docs has documents, Gmail has contacts and calendar entries, Google Music has playlist information, and so on.
Now step back to the beginning of 2011 for a second. Google was facing a lot of criticism that its search engine had become less relevant, and was littered with spammy links. An engineer from Microsoft’s Bing even accused Google of profiting from these spammy links — a lot of them linked to pages with Google affiliate ads.
So Google made some major changes to its algorithms — the most publicized one was called Panda — and as a result, some sites got a lot less traffic than they used to. So-called “content farms” with lots of questionably useful short posts were particularly hurt.
Google defended these changes as improving the search experience and making it more relevant.
Now imagine what happens as Google+ and other “social” signals on Google’s sites (Gmail contacts and so on) become a greater component of Google’s search relevance algorithms.
More and more search queries start containing mostly personal information instead of links to third-party Web sites. Which means:
- Forget SEO. Suddenly, the game of search engine optimization (SEO) totally changes. Instead of trying to figure out how to get sites to appear high up in organic search results, businesses will have to figure out how to attract real people to post information about them on Google+. That’s bad news for SEO companies who can’t change quickly, but great news for startups focused on social marketing like Lithium.
- Google’s revenue mix tilts more toward first-party ads. As Tom Foremski recently pointed out over at ZDNet, in 2010, revenue from Google’s third-party advertisers was growing faster than its revenue from ads on its own sites. In 2011, that trend suddenly changed. Foremski credits (or blames) algorithmic search changes like Panda, which guided more users toward major brand pages and less toward Google affiliate partners. Google keeps all the money from ads sold on its own sites, so this is great for Google’s business — but not so great for the affiliates. (My opinion: tough luck.) Putting more “personal” data from Google properties high up in search results means that affiliate sites will probably have an even harder time placing.
- Get ready for screams of outrage to regulators. Business owners complain every time a change to Google’s algorithms buries them in search results. But imagine if Google makes a wholesale change to its entire business that makes it much harder for ANY business or third-party listing to appear among the top results. Some of those businesses could start complaining to regulators, as Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman did to the U.S. Senate in September.
In other words, under the guise of launching a Facebook clone, Google has actually embarked on a major plan to improve search relevance AND shift its revenue mix to the much more profitable first-party ads. If Google can get away with this — and there’s no reason it shouldn’t, unless regulators decide that it’s got a monopoly in search and has to be subject to special laws — it’s an amazing coup.
No wonder Larry Page made every Google employee’s bonus dependent on Google+.