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INTERNATIONAL: A Guide to the Google +1 Button

by Martin Orliac, July 18, 2011

Google has started to release its Google+ strategy with the introduction of the +1 Button followed by Google+ itself. These two new releases are just the beginning, and as we already know, Google is planning to roll out more Gmail integrations, a Google+ iPhone app, and more.

The +1 Button and Google+ are the first social move since the launches of Google Wave and Google Buzz, and this time, it appears very convincing. With the ability to granularly select who can view individual posts, Google+ will suit all those who were struggling to manage different public and private profiles across different platforms.

The +1 Button seems like a simple element on the Web, but it's not. There are a number of key factors to take into account when implementing a +1 Button, or even when +1'ing content.

It is now clear that publishers as well as users will have to get used to the +1 Button, which has already been installed on more websites than Twitter's Tweet button, and the main challenges will be correct implementation for publishers and privacy issues for users.

From the basic definitions to the technical details through to privacy issues, that +1 little button has a lot to say.

For those who want the quick version, here are the key takeaways:

  • +1 is a public social endorsement for a URL.
  • +1 is only available to signed-in users on a Google Account.
  • You can undo a +1 by re-clicking the +1 Button.
  • Users cannot opt out of +1.
  • +1 can be done on an organic or paid search result, on the +1 Button for websites and on Google+.
  • All the +1's for a URL are accumulated from all sources.
  • The canonical tag is being used by Google to assign the +1 to the canonical URL.
  • To +1 a target URL on an article or product listing page use the href element.
  • Introduce the +1 Button to your users. (recommended by Google)
  • Be clear about what the user is +1'ing.
  • Don't buy or incentivise the user to +1 your page.
  • Don't use the +1 Button on locked or paid content.
  • +1 Button is not yet available on mobile devices including mobile phones and tablets.
  • +1 Buttons in AdWords ads is automatic.
  • +1's on paid results does not incur any cost to the advertiser.
  • Do not make users mouse over your social sharing widget to +1.
  • The Google +1 Button is not yet available with the Google Toolbar.
  • Impact on SEO: "Google will incorporate the clicks on +1 Buttons as a signal that influences the rankings and appearance of websites in search results."

+1 and the Button

What is +1?

  • The +1 is a public endorsement for a URL, so anyone on the Web can potentially see that a user has +1'd a page. This is why it is important that a user truly endorses a page he or she +1's.
  • +1 can be used to bookmark content as +1's will be displayed on the +1 tab of the Google+ user profile.
  • However, Google has specified that is currently not optimised for that use. Delicious is safe for now.
  • +1 is only available to signed-in users on a Google Account.
  • Users cannot opt-out of +1.
  • You can undo a +1 by re-clicking the +1 Button.

Where can we +1 stuff?

  • +1 can be done from +1 Buttons in:
    • Google search results pages on organic and paid search listings.
    • Websites that have implemented the +1 Button.
    • Google+ to +1 content in your stream.

How does it work?

  • All the +1's are accumulated, whether they have been +1'd from an organic search result, a paid search result, a +1 Button on your site or on Google+.

+1 on the Web

+1's are public

  • Anyone on the Web can potentially see that a user has +1'd a page, hence its intended use is for a page that the user really endorses.
  • Google will decide who should see which +1 to a page, based on social relevance (see below).

Social relevance

  • The social connections would therefore mostly benefit from a user's +1. The social connections have been defined as:
    • People in your Gmail (or Google Talk) chat list
    • People in your My Contacts group in Google Contacts
    • People in your Google+ Circles<
    • People you're following in Google Reader and Google Buzz
    • Connected sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
    • Publicly available social graph data (Facebook OpenGraph)
  • The social connections above will also drive search results for Social Search. To use social search, just click on "More search tools" and then on "Social".

Personalisation

  • By default, +1 personalisation is enabled, which means Google can use profile information to better target ads to the users. If a user chooses to disable this feature, he or she will not be able to see the names of his or her connections displayed next to the +1 Button; the +1's will be aggregated in the total number of +1's instead. It's unknown if the +1 ads personalisation feature and the fact that users cannot see their connections' +1's are technically related, but Google may be thinking this would be another incentive for users to leave that feature enabled.
    • Google states in the +1 privacy FAQ that they will keep a user's information for "usually less than 2 weeks".
    • Google will store:
      • The +1'd URL
      • Your profile information
      • Your IP address
      • Browser-related information

Implementing the +1 Button

The +1 Button code is available at http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/.

Placement

  • Consider introducing the +1 Button to your users as they may not know what it's there for. Google recommends using "Click +1 to recommend this page in Google search."
  • Be clear about what the user is +1'ing; don't place the +1 Button near ads or other content.
  • Do not make users mouse over your social sharing widget before being displayed with the +1 Button as this will impact engagement. +1 Buttons should be visible by default to maximise their usage from your users.
  • Don't use the +1 Button on locked or paid content.

Platforms

  • The +1 Button is not yet available on mobile devices, including mobile phones and tablets.

Advertisers

  • +1 Buttons in AdWords ads is automatic; no implementation is required by the advertiser.
  • +1's on paid results do not incur any cost to the advertiser.

On a side note, we just wanted to point out that for the first time in its history, Google has linked organic and paid search listings, which were traditionally completely separate. Indeed, the big spenders will have more chance to collect +1's to their advertised URLs, which will result in more +1's on the organic listing of that URL, which could improve CTR and rankings. This might effectively force advertisers to combine their SEO and PPC landing pages so they can aggregate their +1's under the same URL. It might also encourage them to bid on a smaller number of URLs so they can gather more +1's on their key landing pages to improve their CTR on the organic search results. As a consequence of a smaller number of URLs targeted by some advertisers, the total number of keywords getting bid on might also diminish as there would be less relevant keywords for a smaller number of URLs, which would effectively raise the bids, incurring more profit for the search giant. Smart move, Google.

Specifications

  • The canonical tag is being used by Google to assign the +1 to the canonical URL.
  • To +1 a target URL on an article or product listing page, use the href element.
  • The order of priority for Google is href, then canonical, then URL of the page.
  • Include the counters in your button so users know how many times your content has been shared and improve engagement with your +1 Buttons.
  • 4 parameters to take into account:
    • size: small, medium, standard, tall
    • count: true, false
    • href: to specify the target URL to +1. This is very useful for websites with article or product listings as they may choose to have +1 Buttons on each listed article or product on a particular page. In that case, the URL to +1 is not the page the user is on, rather the target article or product page, which can be specified using this attribute.
    • callback: To allow publishers to trigger a custom JavaScript function when users click the +1 Button such as changing the website environment or unlocking exclusive content. The paradox is that Google forbids publishers to incentivise +1's in any ways. So it seems there is fine line between "unlocking exclusive content" and "not promote prizes, monies, or monetary equivalents in exchange for +1 Button clicks". The rule of thumb is to exclude monetisation as an incentive to +1.
    • From Google: "Say a user is logged into your page, you can track +1's to their identity to improve their experience. You can also use the callback function to change the page when someone +1's it, such as unlocking exclusive content."
  • 2 advanced parameters:
    • lang: to specify another language for the button which will affect:
      • the button
      • the ALT text
      • the sign-up flow
    • parsetags: to specify when the button will load, 2 options available:
      • onload: the +1 tags will be replaced with buttons on page load
      • explicit: allows specification of when and how the +1 tags are parsed
  • 2 options to render the button:
    • .go: default rendering, loads the button in the container specified
    • .render: custom rendering, useful for AJAX, requiring 2 attributes:
      • size: small, medium, standard, tall
      • count: true,false
  • Publishers can customise the copy of the text displayed to their users when they mouse over the +1 Button
  • For large +1 Button publishers expecting more than 100 queries per second or 900,000 per day:
    • Contact Google. If you exceed this rate, limits may be enforced that restrict the button from properly rendering on your site to ensure that Google's systems are not disrupted due to large amounts of unexpected traffic.
  • +1 Button load time:
    • The button loads using HTTPS. Using HTTP instead of HTTPS will incur a redirect to HTTPS, which takes time.
    • Using the explicit rendering in conjunction with the .go or .render JavaScript functions will speed up the load time for the +1 Buttons.
    • Include the scripts tag at the end of the body section of the page so the browser loads all the other elements on the page before loading the +1 Buttons.
    • Google will continue working on improving load speed for the +1 Button.
  • Using +1 with ShareThis or AddThis is similar to using Google's +1 Buttons.
  • Clicks on +1 Button in a private environment such as a staging server will result in an error button. Either you ignore the error message and assume the button will work live, or you place a canonical tag on the staging URL pointing at the public counterpart to make the button work.

+1 Button and Google+

  • +1'ing stuff in the Google+ stream works like the current Facebook Like button. You click to +1 and click again to remove your +1.
  • When you +1 something in the stream, your +1 will be visible to anyone who can see the +1'd content.
  • Your +1 could appear with your name attached or as part of an aggregated count of people who've +1'd the same thing.
  • Your +1's tab is private by default, so only accessible by you, but you can make it public by going to your Google+ settings.

+1 Privacy Policies

  • Publishers are not allowed to:
    • disclose or sell any data on the +1 Button.
    • attempt to discover the identity of a +1 Button user other than by using the Google's authorised procedure.
    • alter the +1 Button.
    • place the +1 Button near an ad.
    • incentivise +1's in any ways including prizes, monies or monetary equivalents.
      • This point is particularly interesting as Google also allows you to trigger a custom javascript when someone +1's your content. Google says that unlocking unique content is allowed.
  • Do not spam the +1 Button by pointing it at a different URL than the one displayed to the user. It has to be clear to the users.
  • Google may use its crawlers to analyse sites using the +1 Button to ensure the publishers comply with Google's policies.
  • http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/policy.html

+1 Button Analytics

Google Webmaster Tools

  • Metrics displayed:
    • Activity: What content has been +1'd and on what page
    • Search Impact: Difference in CTR between results annotated with +1's and non-annotated results
    • Audience: Anonymous +1 users demographics including:
      • Age
      • Gender
      • Location
  • Note: For privacy reasons, a minimum of +1's is required before data can be displayed in GWT.
  • http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=1140194

Google Analytics:

  • Works with:
    • Google +1 Buttons
    • Facebook Likes
    • Twitter tweets
    • Delicious was mentioned in a webinar, but we couldn't find any reference in the Google Code library.
  • Google Analytics reports on:
    • Engagement:
      • Time on site
      • Page views
      • New vs. returning
    • Content
  • Setup:
    • The +1 Button does not require any particular setup.
    • Other social media require an additional line of code in the +1 Button's javascript codes: _gaq.push(['_trackSocial', network, socialAction, opt_target, opt_pagePath]);
  • http://code.google.com/apis/analytics/docs/tracking/gaTrackingSocial.html

Final Thoughts

Given the capability, the market share of Google search and Google+, you really cannot ignore Google+ and its +1 Button. Looking at the firepower of Google and its 10,000+ engineers compared to Facebook with 800 engineers, it is clear that Google could not only make a big impact, but potentially become a leader in the social space.

As the race for more relevance and less spam intensifies, trusted social signals are the only real way to ensure relevant trusted search results, and while Facebook currently dominates in the social signals, Google dominates search. Now looking how Google+ is growing with already 10 million users after two weeks, and how strong Google already is with its Gmail, Google Profile, Buzz, or just Google Account subscribers, the future seems very promising. Come aboard the G+ or stay on land at your own peril.

 


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