Real-Life Examples Of How Google’s “Search Plus” Pushes Google+ Over Relevancy

The new Google “Search Plus Your World” feature — which I’m now simply calling “Search Plus” — has just gone live for me. Huge debate erupted yesterday over whether it somehow favors Google+. I can see now that it clearly does, even more than I thought. Here’s a closer look at the changes, including how […]

Chat with SearchBot

The new Google “Search Plus Your World” feature — which I’m now simply calling “Search Plus” — has just gone live for me. Huge debate erupted yesterday over whether it somehow favors Google+. I can see now that it clearly does, even more than I thought. Here’s a closer look at the changes, including how they turn Google+ into an essential social network for any search marketer.

Even Signed Out, Google+ Suggestions Offered

This is a search for music:

Music Google Search

I got these results even though I was not signed into Google. In fact, I was in “incognito” mode in Google Chrome, which means as far as Google is concerned, I’m a brand new searcher it has never seen before: no Google+ account, no personalization of any type that should be happening beyond language and geography.

The arrow points to a “People and Pages on Google+” section that appears. Some of Google’s prime ad real estate is supplanted with this new box, which suggests that searchers consider following Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg and Mariah Carey on Google Plus.

Only Google+ Offered, Even Though Facebook & Twitter Pages Known

Britney is on Google+ here. She’s also on Facebook and Twitter. But there’s no suggestion of following her on those pages from competing social networks.

It wouldn’t be hard for Google to figure this out. After all, right on Britney’s verified Google+ page, she’s explicitly linking to those other accounts:

Britney Spears Google+

Despite this, Google suggests it can’t figure out or lacks permission to suggest Britney’s other social profiles.

Being Relevant Means Going Beyond Google+

Why does that matter? It’s Google’s search engine, after all! Two reasons.

The first is legal. By having a dominant position in search, Google might ultimately be responsible for going above-and-beyond to include competitors. That’s part of what the current anti-trust investigations into Google are all about. One complaint over today’s move — though likely mostly about privacy — is already being readied.

The second is about relevancy. Google’s job as a search engine is to direct searchers to the most relevant information on the web, not just to information that Google may have an interest in.

These suggestions would be better if they included other services, and that’s the standard Google’s search results should aim for, returning the best.

What Google+ Might Not Have

Would listing Britney’s Facebook page be better? Maybe. After all, if you want to follow Britney socially, you won’t find a picture she shared of her and Snoop Dogg on Google+ (where she has 1.4 million followers). She only shared that on her Facebook page, with her 16 million followers there:

157 Facebook

If you follow Snoop, you would find the photo on Google Plus, as he shared it both there and on Facebook. But we’re talking Britney. Is her Google+ page the best to show? Should her Facebook page be shown instead? If not, should it at least get some type of link?

If You’re Not On Google+, You’re Not A Suggestion

What about musicians who aren’t on Google Plus? Katy Perry has one of the most popular Facebook accounts out there, with nearly 40 million people. She’s not, as best I can tell, on Google+. So she doesn’t get to be mentioned as an artist for music (which she’s pretty relevant for) unless she wants to start using Google+.

Indeed, at the bottom of the suggestions is an invitation saying “Learn how you could appear here too” leading to a page encouraging people to sign-up:

Related People And Pages · Inside Google Search

Google+ Takes Over The Search Box

Now look at what happens when I start typing in Britney’s name:

Britney Spears Google Search 1

Notice how her Google+ page is being suggested to me. Again, other pages could be suggested in the same way — Britney’s own web site, or a Facebook page or her Twitter page. Google’s even done this type of thing before. But Google+ is given this special treatment, and for someone who’s not logged into Google.

If you select that suggestion, then special results appear, filling the top of the page with Google+ profile information. Here’s what’s visible on my laptop:

Britney Spears Google Search 2

If I skip the suggestion and do a search for just her name, here are the unpersonalized results that I see (I had to piece this together from three separate screenshots, as I don’t have my full-page screenshot tool installed, but it’s exactly what I saw):

Britney Results

Her Google+ page doesn’t get listed in the main results. Twitter does, ironically, given how it worried yesterday that it was potentially being locked out. Her Facebook page doesn’t make it into the top results. Her MySpace page does, which makes me chuckle. Both Twitter and MySpace are marked with orange arrows.

Note the red arrows. Because Google ties “author” links back to Google+, Britney’s Google+ account gets mentions anywhere you see the red arrow.

Google Can Figure Out Alternative Video Links But Not Social Accounts?

The purple arrows are all YouTube listings. Look closely at those YouTube listings. See how Google has figured out the same videos are also in other locations, and even lists links those? That’s the type of thing it potentially could do with its Google+ suggestions, to show alternative social accounts — but it doesn’t.

It’s also interesting that despite knowing these videos are available in other locations, the YouTube versions are the ones that are picked for the biggest listings. Britney’s YouTube profile also shows up in the main results.

Why Google+ Is A Must-Have For Marketers

Now here’s a different search, for cars. Again, I’m logged out, incognito-mode:

Cars Google Search 1

Is there anyone out there who still wants to say that being on Google+ doesn’t matter? Anyone? Because when being on Google+ means that you potentially can have your Google+ page leap to the top in those sidebar results, Google+ matters. It matters more than ever before.

In my earlier post, How Being “Friends” On Google+ Leads To Better Rankings, I covered how Google+ connections could help personalized results. The example above shows how being on Google+ helps even with “regular” listings

Ferrari, Toyota and Nissan are the only car manufacturers who get listed outside of ads on this page. That’s a pretty nice incentive for marketers to start using Google+, wouldn’t you say? That’s Google taking its weight in search and leveraging it to boost Google+ in a big way.

This Is Relevant?

Now let’s laugh. Here are the search results for Facebook:

Facebook Google Search

Are you kidding me, Google? You’re going to suggest Mark Zuckerberg’s Google+ account as relevant? An account that he’s never posted at:

15 Mark Zuckerberg Google+

That screenshot alone should make it self-evident how wrong Google is in showing these type of suggestions. They aren’t necessarily the most relevant social accounts that should be shown.

For a somewhat similar example over relevancy, see my other post, Twitter Cries Foul Over Google “@WWE” Search, But Google Still Beats Bing. It covers an example that Twitter highlighted today.

Yes, Google Finds “Open Web” Content, But…

I’ll close with two things.

The head of Google’s spam fighting team, Matt Cutts, got some attention today after doing a blog post to clear up possible misconceptions that Google isn’t including content from the open web. From his post:

I was reading some of the comments on tech blogs, and I wanted to clarify something: Search plus Your World does surface public content from the open web, not just content from Google+. For example, look back up to the top-right image from my screenshot above. That’s actually a werewolf photo that Gina Trapani took and it’s hosted on Flickr, not Google.

The debate hasn’t been that Google isn’t showing content from the open web in its web search results. I certainly never wrote that, and if others are, then hopefully his post helps clear that misconception.

…It Doesn’t Leverage As Much As It Could

But Search Plus doesn’t include content from the private web that it potentially could. It’s also not using content and signals from the open web as well as it could. From my response to his post:

First, private & limited shared content on Flickr will NOT appear in your results, correct. If Gina had shared that photo with only you, SPYW (can we call Search Plus your World that?) could not have located that. But if Gina had shared that photo with you on Google+, it would.

That’s because Google effectively has a deal with Google+ to search through Google+ content in this manner. It doesn’t have a deal with any third-party companies to do the same thing, so they’re out of luck. And they’re out of luck in part because some of them wouldn’t agree to a deal even if you asked. But so far, it doesn’t appear that Google has asked about this (Eric Schmidt wouldn’t say), nor did Google post any type of API or news that it was going to try and push for this type of inclusion as part of the launch announcement (unlike some other efforts, say Open Social, where the door would immediately have been swung open to include further partners).

That all really the secondary issue, however. The real issue, at least as I see it, is the Google+ suggestions. Do searches, and Google will suggest some celebrities or other notable people you should follow on Google+ right from Google itself.

It won’t suggest anyone you should follow like that on Facebook. It won’t for Twitter, either. The argument seems to be that you don’t have the data. It feels like you do. But again, it also feels like you haven’t even tried to think about including the other social networks. No door was swung open as part of the launch announcement. It’s been instead mainly a “of course we’d consider” type of thing when you’ve been asked.

Google’s Goal Is Relevancy, Not Settling Scores

Second, I’ve seen some people on Google+ almost turn into a cheerleading squad rooting for Google’s “burn” of Twitter.

It’s not Google’s job to be sticking it to anyone with its search results. Those results are supposed to be showing what are the most relevant things for searchers out there. That’s how Google wins. That’s how Google sticks it to competitors, by not trying to play favorites in those results, nor by trying to punish people through them.

The Google+ suggestions are indeed search results, to me. Right now, they’re search results on who to follow on Google+. I think they could be better search results if they were who to follow on any social network, anywhere.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and MarTech, and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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