Google Revamps Search with Heavy Social Results

Google has announced the launch of what they’re calling “Search, plus Your World.” This is a major change to the base Google search that heavily incorporates Google+ posts, pages, and profiles into the search engine results. In addition to public Google+ information, Google will also include private posts and comments that you have access to (as long as you’re logged in, of course).

This is another expansion of the universal search approach, and like images and videos, it’s likely that Google+ will have a dedicated section of the search engine results on many searches. This will further occupy the organic search results and push actual algorithmic sites down. Google’s hope is that finding these results will be more meaningful for their users.

This change is rolling out to all users over the next few days.

Twitter Speaks Out Against Plus Your World

Google has said that this feature is not specific to Google+ and that they would like to include other social platforms; however, they don’t have the access they need to include them. This is mostly directed at Facebook, which hides a lot of its content from search engines other than Bing, with whom it has a deal. However public pages in Facebook are not included in Plus Your World, and notably Twitter feeds, which are just about all public, are also not included.

In fact, Twitter publicly spoke out against the Plus Your World, calling it a bad day for the internet:

We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.

Google responded pointing out that they once had a deal to get access to realtime Twitter data, a deal that was not renewed and instead went to Bing:

We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer, and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.

Google’s statement is a bit odd and, to be blunt, seems designed to be misleading. Even though Google no longer has access to the realtime feed from Twitter, they can still crawl all of Twitter just like any other site — in fact Google appears to have more than twice as many Twitter pages in its index as it does Google+ pages. The rel=nofollow comment is another red herring. Twitter makes outbound links nofollow, which means that they pass no link juice; however that is just their outbound links (and Google has admitted that they do in fact follow nofollow links anyway (but they don’t count the link juice from them)). The point is the nofollow has nothing to do with the fact that Google has access to all those tweets and could include them in their new Plus Your World base search if they wanted.

Opting Out

The new search feature will give users two ways to opt out of the personalized search. The first is the standard search settings section, where users can permanently change their search features to have no personalization (they’ll still have localization though). The other is that Google says they will put a toggle switch on the search page to turn personalization on or off on a search by search basis.

Of course by default it’s turned on, and we have yet to see how prominent that search placement is.

Plus Your World Explains Hiding Keywords

Google infuriated the SEO world last year when it started hiding keyword data from webmasters, by encrypting its search results for anyone logged into Google (at least for organic — pay per click advertisers were still able to see what keywords searchers used, making the change look pretty hypocritical).

The launch of Plus Your World finally explains why Google did that. Because the Plus Your World search results will show items from Google+ that were marked as private, Google has to be sure that no one else can those results, and so they encrypt the search.

Plus Your World Probably Bad for Search Quality

Here I’m getting purely into the realm of opinion, but if Plus Your World is as heavily incorporated into search results as images and videos are, it’s going to be bad for search results and lower the overall quality.

The idea of social results and influence is pretty simple: most people care what their friends have to say on a topic more than strangers or even experts. If you’re looking for a good place to go eat, you don’t really care how many stars a restaurant has if your friend tells you the dirty truth of how awful it was.

There are two problems with this:

1.) You trust your friends more than random people. This is the core concept of social search and influence. Unfortunately, the structure of social media means that most of us are connected to a lot of people who are not friends — they’re just random people. Since Plus Your World will be unable to separate people you trust from the guy who sits next to you that you didn’t want to insult by rejecting his friend request / not adding him to a circle — both he and your best friend are going to have the same weight to influence your search results.

2.) Your care about your friends opinion in a very specific subset of searches. There are really only two kind of searches where you really want to see what your friends had to say: a search specifically for your friend or a social event (effectively a deliberate social search) or a search for a review/recommendation. And to be fair, the review/recommendation type of search is one that Google does incredibly poorly and is plagued with money-hungry Yelps and their blitz of corporate PR fake reviews. So it makes sense to use social as a way to deliver meaningful results.

If the Plus Your World were limited to these two scenarios — social searches and review/recommendation searches — I think it’d be great. But instead it’s being incorporated in search in general. Let me tell you, if I’m looking for information on history or science, if I’m looking for directions to someplace, if I’m looking for instructions on how to do something — all of these search results are going to be way worse by having cousin Billy’s Google+ post inserted in there. Those social results are guaranteed not to succeed in answering my search query, but I’m going to have to scroll past them to try to find my answer.

Google divides search intent into three categories: know, go, do. The idea is that searches either want to know something (gain information), want to go to a specific site but don’t know the URL, or they want to do something (buy something, for example).

Of these intents, Plus Your World will only benefit a very small segment of the Do crowd — specifically people who would want a recommendation on where to do their thing (where to vacation or buy those earrings).  And even then most of them still won’t benefit from social. When I search for “where to buy X” I’m always pissed off when I get review sites in the search results — I want a list of places to buy X after all, not a list of sites that will give me a list of places to buy X. But Plus Your World is going to give me more of just that.