Google’s +1 Button Updates Rankings

Aug 31, 2011 8:00 AM PST

LOS ANGELES — The curve balls being thrown to search engine marketers by Google just keep coming, with word that its +1 program will alter search functionality.

Google says it is seeking to fight spam and more fully integrate the latest social search technology into its offerings, with the announcement of its plan to use information the company is collecting from its +1 button users to dynamically re-order search results.

According to a Google spokesperson, the company will study the clicks on +1 buttons “as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results.”

“The purpose of any ranking signal is to improve overall search quality,” the Google spokesperson added. “For +1’s and other social ranking signals, as with any new ranking signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals are related to quality.”

Critics wonder how new sites or those that choose not to display the +1 button would be able to compete in organic search listings, given such a climate — a concern echoed by lawmakers in the U.S. and abroad.

The company counters that its efforts are designed to combat spam and low quality sites that appear above more relevant ones, sometimes due to deceptive marketing tactics. Google is also seeking to downplay perceptions that its own services enjoy an unfair boost in its search rankings.

“There are more than 200 signals that we use to determine the rank of a website,” the spokesperson offered, noting that last year, Google “made more than 500 improvements to the algorithm.”

Ongoing algorithm improvements are vital to the company as it strives to stay ahead of the building Bing juggernaut.

“Google’s biggest weakness is the possibility that someone will figure out how to build a better search engine — and there’s many who bet the way to do that is to make search involve more of a human touch and less of a machine’s,” Ryan Singel wrote for Wired.com. “But if Google’s going to start using those +1 votes, the company is virtually inviting the world’s spammers and blackhat SEO magicians to flood its social networking system with fake profiles and fake votes — potentially ruining it and possibly making the problem of search spam even worse.”

Regardless of how it plays out in the end, preliminary reports are making it clear that for sites that are able to do so within the company’s terms of service, adding a Google +1 button to content pages is an easy and free way to boost traffic.

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