Google recently announced that they will now begin to integrate search results with the content made available from Google+.

What does this mean for search?

In effect, the search engine will take into account and give prominence to the information available on Google+ and tailor search results according to that information. However the changes in how the search engine works currently will only affect those who have Google+ accounts and are logged in whilst using the search engine.

Google is introducing three main features:

Basically, if you have a Google+ profile, your results will be curated by the search engine according to the people and contacts you have on Google+. If you search for a holiday and one of your friends happened to have been to that destination before, Google+ will include their posts or photos from Google+ or Picasa in your results. Alternatively, if you decided to search for an individual, the new feature will analyse your relationships and potential connections to make sure that the top result is the person you are indeed looking for.

Google promises “unprecedented security, transparency and control” with regards to Search plus Your World (aka Search+). They promise that as long as you are logged in to Google, your search results are protected by the same high standards of encryption that Google Mail currently offers.

So the innovators at Google now offer us the opportunity to enhance our online browsing experience by promising us highly targeted and very relevant results dependent on our social circle.

So what is my problem with this leap in technology?

I used to love Google in that their search results were very relevant and yet unbiased. Their algorithm chooses high quality results from the thousands available on the internet and ranks them according to their accuracy and the credibility of the publishing site. However, with the new feature, Google has chosen to put their business growth ahead of the user experience.

They promise to improve search by including personal recommendations from our friends. Great. But that also means that the search engine is effectively making the decisions for us over what we want to see online and what we will find interesting, to the detriment of other higher quality results. Suddenly, the search engine is biased.

Currently Google+ is still a niche social network catering to early adopters with very slow growth among the general public. But what they are now trying to do is to stimulate growth within this network by leveraging their best product – search results. By making their social network more prominent during your browsing experience, Google aims to persuade more users to join its networking platform.

Forget about SEO, it seems that it’s all about friend recommendations. The quality of the results you will be seeing will no longer be about the content but would be ranked according to the +1 ranking signals that your friends award it.

What does this mean for SEO and online marketing?

Effectively, SEO ninjas will have to come up with two very different SEO strategies, wherein one caters to those who choose to have “No Personal Results” and those who choose “Search plus Your World”.

In the past, links were the strongest ranking signals. Now, instead of relying on SEO, marketers will have to rely on individuals who have a high influence over a large portion of their followers. All a marketer would then have to do is pick a highly influential individual who has a sizeable online following. For example, let’s say that Lady Gaga loves to stay at the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas, can you imagine how many her fans will suddenly see the Bellagio at the top of their search results when they research a holiday to Vegas? Suddenly, results for other competing hotels are pushed down despite their quality in favour of Google’s proprietary ranking signal.

No doubt, this is a scenario that marketers will use and abuse when the time and opportunity arises.

More than ever, who you have in your Google+ circle is important as they will affect your search results. However, it appears that who HAS you in their circles will be of far greater importance as you will then have influence on their browsing experience in the future. It appears to me as just one other way for a handful of individuals to push their message and their agenda onto others, albeit in a deceivingly “organic” way.

If this current enterprise takes off, Google is effectively creating a “walled garden” within its own search engine. One can only hope that Facebook and Twitter continue to resist opening up their sites to Google searches in an effort to maintain the complete openness and freedom that the Internet once offered.

In our quest to create an über personalised browsing experience and by allowing ourselves to be subjected to hyper-targeted content, we risk containing ourselves in smaller and smaller boxes; thus leaving no room for anything but our own constantly reaffirmed (sometimes flawed) beliefs.

Many people will disagree with my point of view and see Google’s step as a move towards a more user-centric approach as a good thing. You might ask, what’s the big deal when you can turn off all the new functionality anyway with a click of a button? My point is, what happens when you can’t switch it off anymore?

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