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Google+ SEO

January 20 2012 // SEO + Social Media // 228 Comments

This comprehensive Google+ SEO guide covers every aspect and angle of Google+ and how it impacts search. My normal TL;DR has been replaced with a Google+ SEO Best Practices section located at the bottom of this post.

I will be periodically updating this post (updated January 23, 2012) as things inevitably change. Please don't hesitate to comment or contact me with observations or when certain features change. I also thank the many people (on Google+) who helped in the research phase of this guide.

Google+ Search

Most of the attention is on the integration of Google+ in Google search results. However, internal search on Google+ is a fascinating product and lays the groundwork for search integration.

Google+ Search Facets

Google+ search queries return results with a standard selection of facets.

Google+ Search Facets

Sometimes Google selects these facets for you. Specifically, it will default to People and pages for many queries. These are generally category or head terms like SEO, Photography, Chef, CEO, Gardening etc. But a query for something like 'banana bread' will not return a preselected People and pages facet but just provide an Everything feed of content.

You can select certain types of content using what I call the content facet.

Google+ Search Type Facet

This is all pretty self explanatory. I'm still not certain why Sparks has survived though. Next is what I call the universe facet.

Google+ Search Universe Facet

Here you can select what universe of results you want to search. The 'From you' option is extremely handy in finding your own Google+ content. And finally there is what I call the location facet.

Google+ Search Location Facet

At present you can search for Google Check-ins in certain cities. This facet does not get trigged when you use a location modifier. This isn't super useful right now but it does point to future local search opportunities.

Google+ Search Results

The actual results are a live stream of Google+ content.

Google+ Search Time Facet

Most recent is just what it sounds like. So the real-time search everyone thought was going to transform the world is a small feature in Google+ search.

You can switch to Best of which delivers results based on a combination of who is in your Circles and engagement (+1s, comments and shares) on those items with some Sparks content thrown in for good measure. There's some sort of time component at work here as well that skews results to more recent content.

I see this in action when I search for 'I did not wake up in' which returns a number of posts from my personal travel meme, the first few of which are from this week. (Please note that your results may look vastly different than mine.)

Google+ People and Pages Results

The content results are, therefore, pretty straightforward from and SEO perspective. It's the People and pages that are far more interesting and potentially valuable. The question is how these People and pages are selected.

Google+ Search Results

Google+ search results are personalized but through some crowdsourcing I've been able to determine the search signals.

The most important signal is whether the query term appears in the Introduction, Employment, Education or Places lived section of your profile. Danny Sullivan rarely shows up in a search for SEO because he doesn't have the term in any of those fields. He does in his tagline but that's not used in the internal search algorithm. Or if it is, it's not heavily weighted.

Google+ Danny Sullivan Profile

After the query match it's all about who you have in your Circles. If you have more than six people in your Circles who also match the query then it comes down to a mixture of Circle count (heavily weighted), name verification (moderately weighted) and engagement (lightly weighted).

Occupation is not used. How do I know this? I've had Purple Jellyfish Farmer as my occupation for months. A search on this phrase returns no results.

Google+ Purple Jellyfish Farmer Results

Bragging Rights is also not used for People and pages search.

At present results also seem to favor People over Pages. But if you don't have enough People to fill out these results Google backfills with Pages that have that query term in the name and a high Circle count.

Circle count is clearly important but some sort of engagement metric might be at play when the set of people returned is low. It's difficult to say if or to what degree engagement plays a part right now.

Using a new Google+ account I was able to see 'unbiased' results.

Google+ Search Results for New User

While Jonathon has SEO in both Introduction and Employment (having it both places seems to help a lot) and enjoys a solid Circle count I find his inclusion here over others to be curious. These results point to a slight added weight on those who are verified. How you get verified is still a mystery to me. I'm hoping to figure this out in the very near future.

Google+ search results can change quickly. Here's my search for SEO the day after my initial research.

Google+ Search Results for SEO

Danny Sullivan is now appearing instead of Bill Slawski. Why?

Google+ Danny Sullivan Profile Updated

Yup. Including SEO in his Introduction now ensures that Danny will be returned for internal Google+ queries on SEO.

The Places lived section is also used for internal search purposes.

Google+ Search City Modifier Results

The problem here is that I haven't lived in Elkins Park in the last two decades. And if users are looking for people and pages using Google+ then there will be a lot of false positives.

Google+ Search Spam

Clearly there's also an invitation to spam the Places lived section. If I wanted to show up for searches in numerous cities I could just say I lived in all those places. In fact, there are a lot of areas ripe for spam right now.

Google+ Spam for SEO

Arpeet is ranked well up in a search for SEO. I don't know Arpeet. He might be a fine SEO but I found it curious that he was ranked among some of the better known folks in the industry.

Google+ Other Name Spam

Clearly Arpeet is dropping every SEO related keyword in his Introduction but he's also spammed Google+ by claiming his Other name is SEO.

Education can also be spammed.

Google+ Education Spam

The Google+ spam cop (who is not Matt Cutts) will need to keep an eye on these and other methods of spam and over-optimization. Right now it seems way too easy.

Search+

Sorry but I am not going to use that silly name or acronym and instead will refer to the new integration of Google+ into search as Search+. While I will speak to the controversy  surrounding this integration my focus will be on the implementation and what it means for SEO.

In a nutshell Search+ transforms your search results based on the connections, interactions and activity you have on Google+. It is the largest search personalization effort ever attempted by Google.

Search+ can be turned on and off using icons near the top right of the page.

Search+ Icons

This helps to address critics of the filter bubble phenomenon. You can set the default view by clicking the gear icon and selecting search settings.

Search+ Settings

Among other things on the page you can set your Personal results preference. This doesn't mean that you won't be able to access one or the other, it simply sets one as the default view for your search.

People and Pages

One of the bigger features of Search+ is the promotion of People and pages for certain topics.

Search+ People and Pages Example

A search on SEO returns the profiles for Rand and Danny. The screen capture above is in a logged out session. If I were logged in I'd see whether these individuals were in my Circles. If they weren't I'd be given the opportunity to add them right from the search result. Powerful stuff.

So, as it stands the rich seem poised to get richer.

Because Circle count is a primary factor in how these People and Pages are selected. It's not the only thing as I'll soon show you but it's a large part of the equation.

But first, how useful is it to see People and Pages that are already in my Circles? Might it be more interesting to show People and Pages I don't have in my Circles?

Danny and Rand might be the most relevant results but are they relevant if I've already 'found' them. If search is about discovery, then you'd think that the default should be to present people you don't already know. This would actually make this feature interesting for a wider audience.

The assumption here is that all search is about discovery. But it's not. Prior attempts at personalization provided Google with insight into how we use search to re-find content. This can be as simple as navigational search or as detailed as searching for a phrase in hopes of it returning 'lost' content.

While I believe that Search+ tries to address this intent I'm not sure the People and Pages section should be applied to that task. But I digress.

How are People and Pages selected?

First you can click the See more link and look at the list of people.

Search+ See More Results

This is the same personalized list you get when doing an internal G+ search. But the order doesn't map to the selections for People and Pages. In fact, we know that Danny wasn't even optimized for SEO until just recently. Yet, during that time he was being presented in People and Pages for SEO.

So is it just flat out Circle count? No. Here are the People and Pages for Social Media.

Search+ Social Media People and Pages

Makes sense right? But if I click See more I find that Robert Scoble is returned.

Search+ Social Media See More Results

And we all know that more people have Robert in a Circle than Brian or Chris. In fact, he has more than them combined. So it's not just about Circle count. Instead they feel like curated lists. Yet, that flies in the face of Google's steadfast reliance on algorithms.

But it's pretty clear that there is a list of people for each of these terms. Some lists are longer than others. For 'blogger' you can refresh and get a few different people.

Search+ People and Pages BloggerSearch+ People and Pages BloggerSearch+ People and Pages Blogger

But try as I might, no matter how many times I refresh, only Rand and Danny are returned for SEO and Brian and Chris for Social Media. I'm left to conclude that People and Pages are defined, curated lists of people by topic. That means there's nothing you can really do to optimize for these slots. Cue the torches and pitchforks.

[Update 1/25/12] The lists for both 'seo' and 'social media' have been expanded to include a handful of other people. Hit refresh a few times and you'll see them cycle through the list for that topic.

Google+ Posts

Of course what we're paying the most attention to is the actual Search+ results.

Search+ Personalized Results Example

My search for great science fiction returns two personalized results in the 2nd and 5th position. Each of these posts contains a link to a site outside of Google+, as well as a those that lead directly to Google+. While a lot of attention is focused on the latter (Google is biased they scream!), I'm more interested in the former. Because here's what the non-personalized version of this query returns.

Search+ Unpersonalized Results Example

The two sites in my personalized results do not appear in these results. In fact, a site I've already visited (NPR) appear below these personalized results. To optimize for Search+ it is vital that sites produce relevant content that is easily shared. Of course the other element is the reach of those sharing that content. Those who are in more Circles and get more engagement will provide greater exposure for that content.

And if it tips and turns up in What's hot, the reach for that item could be quite substantial. As an experiment, do a Google search for OCD and see if I am one of your personalized results.

This is where Ripples provides some insight. How is your content transmitted through the system? Which users helped to provide your content more reach? Identifying those people and engaging with them could help give your content more search visibility.

Search+ Algorithm

The current Search+ algorithm seems fairly rudimentary and is composed of only a few factors which can sometimes produce results that are less than desirable.

Search+ Algorithm Issues

This humorous post by Steven Hodson won't help me if I'm looking to purchase a mirror.

One of the over-riding factors in the Search+ algorithm is a simple text match on the query. There is no real determination of context or intent which can often produce these types of irrelevant results. This is a real achilles heel in the current implementation from my perspective.

This text match only occurs on those who you have in a Circle. This does limit the potential for spam since you'd hope you haven't Circled a spammer. This also means that your Search+ results will, in large part, be a product of the number and type of people you Circle.

I have a fair amount of people Circled so my Search+ results can often look chaotic. Someone using Google+ just for family might have fewer personal results. Will they be more relevant? Well, think about posts on Google+ (or Facebook) from your own family and decide for yourself.

Where those results rank within Search+ results is another matter. It's clear that engagement, both with that person and on that specific piece of content, is important. Content from people you engage with more often or content that is more popular overall will rank better. 

When content was shared on Google+ also seems to be an influence with Google placing a moderate to heavy weight on recent content. We're still in the beginning phase of the integration so I'm not sure exactly how much weight is being put here yet.

Anecdotally, I've also noticed that non-Public content seems to be given a lesser weight. I'll look to validate this moving forward since this, in some ways, seems backward.

Looking forward I would think that Search+ would need to better understand context and intent to deliver the type of relevance most users are seeking. Don't get me wrong, it works well sometimes but the signal to noise ratio can go sideways quickly, particularly if users are increasing their Google+ Circles and usage.

One way Google may think about solving these issues is by using and automatically filtering by Circle, particularly if they start to provide self-organizing Circle suggestions based on their acquisition of Katango. So instead of searching all your Circles Google may identify the query as being about photography and personalize those results based on your 'Photographers' Circle.

But we're a long way off from that. For now it's all pretty much spaghetti against the wall.

Google +1 Button

The prevalence of explicit social annotations has diminished since the introduction of Search+. The +1 button on search results is now only shown when you hover or rollover that result. The implication here is that the primary use of +1s is to deliver content into the G+ environment where it can then be used for Search+ personalization.

So instead of getting a bunch of visual cruft about how many people +1 this result and that result, they've decided to leverage all that data to deliver personalized results.

That doesn't mean the +1 button isn't important. It is. You want people to +1 your content so that it shows up on Google+ where it can drive traffic and engagement. The total number of +1s may be a social signal, but I'm unsure to what degree.

Google+ +1 Button

The +1 button number only reflects +1s from that URL. It does not take into account the +1s that occur on Google+ as a result of that initial +1. I sense that the latter metric might be more important to Google than the former.

Though if Google wanted to boost the adoption of +1 they could match Facebook and base this number on the +1s of that content from that URL and on Google+ as well as the total number of shares and comments. A higher number presented on the +1 button creates stronger social proof and may actually create additional +1s.

Either way, having the +1 button prominently available is vital for Google+ SEO optimization.

Google+ Social Snippets

I mentioned above that making content that is easily shared is vital. This means that you should make your +1 (and other) buttons easy to find and use. I've had great success with the floating share bar on this blog and on client installations.

Making them available is only half of the battle. How those snippets look is the next part of the optimization process. I have a detailed guide on how to optimize social snippets but will provide a few examples of why it's important to get this right.

+1 Button Optimization Gone Wrong

Google is actually one of the worst offenders when it comes to snippet optimization. They can get away with this but you can't.

+1 Button Optimization Problems

eConsultancy might not be getting as much social engagement on this item because of the poor snippet. The description here is clearly not related and the image, while branded, does nothing to tell me anything more about the story.

Optimizing your social snippets leads to more clicks, more comments and more shares. This is your content on the go and presented in an environment where people are scanning very quickly. Forget the 5 second test, this is the 2 second test.

This isn't even that bad of a snippet since they do have their brand image. Worse is when you see a big RSS or Facebook icon. It happens. It happened to me before I decided I no longer wanted to shoot myself in the foot. So if it's happening to you, get up and do something about it.

Google+ Content

It's not just about content being shared on Google+. Content created on Google+ can also rank well under certain circumstances. This was true well before Search+ was launched. I innocently asked if people would know what I meant if I said 'half measure and full measure'.

Search+ Native Google+ Nonpersonalized Search Results

Sure enough, there I am as the 7th result for this query with an Authorship treatment that is likely to get me a fair amount more clicks than a normal 7th place result. This Google+ post has been as high as 4th. Now, it's a long-tail query but make no mistake, you can create content on Google+ and get it to rank without personalization.

But now we'll look at this same query with Search+ personalization turned on.

Search+ Native Google+ Personalized Results

That post ranks 9th in personalized results but only because of the research I did recently for this very post which now ranks 2nd.

Search+ Personalized Results for Half Measure and Full Measure

In fact, the speed in which Google+ posts are indexed is incredible, sometimes showing up within minutes of being published.

Google+ Formatting

Also notice that the Titles for Google+ posts are optimized in the personalized environment.

Search+ Personalized Title

Compare that to what it looks like without personalization.

Search+ Unpersonalized Title

That prefix is pretty ugly from my point of view and reduces the chances that someone will click on that result. But let's think about this for a moment.

Most users really just scan Titles to decide which result is most relevant or will satisfy their query intent. What would happen if users clicked on a Google+ result without knowing it was going to Google+?

That prefix is a very big and loud sign that tells users that the content is different. Sure, the result is in a SERP leading to Google+ and it has a fancy Authorship treatment but Google is also making it very clear where that click leads.

You should also format your Google+ posts to optimize for this presentation. That means creating a title for each post using bold formatting. You do this by placing a * at the beginning and end of what you want in bold (i.e - *This is the title*). When you share that post the * will disappear and the text between will be in bold (i.e. - This is the title).

Make your Google+ posts as readable as possible.

Google+ Brand Pages

You want to grab one of these and use it for, at a minimum, reputation management. The issue here is how much interaction and time you'll need to dedicate to this social media outpost.

Managing a Facebook page (the right way) is actually a lot of work. A Google+ page would be just as much work, if not more. The major difference between the two is that Search+ can deliver a lot more people to your Google+ brand page.

Search+ Brand Page Result

A branded search for AT&T brings up the AT&T Google+ page. This only occurs for a very small select group of brands right now. The question brands have to ask is whether they want that much exposure? Conversations are right there on the search results. A lot of negative sentiment could then be just one click away. So if you're not prepared to really be social, I'd be wary about this type of implementation.

Of course, brands can also show up as People and Pages suggestions.

Search+ People and Pages for Cars

The actual conversations aren't visible which is less scary in my view. I should note that Ferrari and BMW are the only two that show up for this query, further supporting the idea that these are curated lists.

I see this as a war of attention or perhaps a war of resources. How much time is a business willing to spend maintaining a social presence on both Facebook and Google? Surfacing the brand pages in search forces that issue.

Google+ Page Optimization

Optimizing your Page is far more difficult than your personal Profile. There are fewer fields to fill out, the current algorithm relies heavily on the Page Name and verification via rel="publisher" is rather confusing.

The first thing to understand is that Pages do seem to be second class citizens from a search standpoint.

Google+ SEO Consulting Results

Here you can see that I don't get a full set of People and pages results even though there are others that could qualify here (both People and Pages.) But in nearly every instance Pages are trumped by People.

That might not always be the case though so we'll explore the current ordering by clicking View all.

Google+ View All Link Building Results

I've switched to a 'link building' query and am showing the second page of results after a host of people such as Eric Ward, Julie Joyce, Ivan Dimitrijević, Jim Boykin and other notables. These folks are all doing a bang-up job of optimizing for this term by having the keyword in their Introduction and often in their Employment as well.

But once I get past those in my Circles it really becomes about the Name field, even more so if it's a Page. That's not surprising since the only relevant fields for a Page are Name, Tagline and Introduction. While all of these fields do seem to be used the Name is given an enormous weight for Pages.

That doesn't mean you should change your Page name to rank. That's short-sighted and won't help your brand. But you should be cognizant of this current limitation and ensure you fill out the Tag Line and Introduction thoroughly to boost your chances of being returned as this algorithm evolves.

The other reason not to change your name willy-nilly is that you will break your Page verification.

Rel="Publisher"

A Google+ Page can and should be verified.

Verification badges helps users to confirm the authenticity of a profile or page. This way when you find a profile or page about a celebrity or popular business, you can be sure that the profile or page actually belongs to them.

Jon Ray got me pointed in the right direction about the mechanics and requirements of getting verified. The first step is linking your Page to your website. This is actually pretty straight-forward.

Google+ Page Verification Link to Website Instructions

So far so good. But now you have to link back from your website to your Google+ Page.

Google+ Page Rel=Publisher Verification

Two things to understand here. First, the rel="publisher" link must use the canonical version of your Google+ Page. The problem is that the canonical URL is never actually presented to users. Here's what my Page URL looks like.

https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/105091680524136911230/105091680524136911230/about

But here's what the link must look like.

https://plus.google.com/105091680524136911230

This isn't a big deal for me but it certainly introduces a substantial area for user error.

More importantly, you should only place the rel="publisher" link on your site's home page. Yet, there are instructions on the Google+ Pages help page and within the badge generation code that tell you to place the rel="publisher" link in the <head> section of your page. That essentially places the rel="publisher" link on every page of your site.

If you implement it in this way and are also using rel="author" (which you should be) then the Rich Snippets Testing Tool will give you this error and warning.

Google+ Rich Snippets Testing Tool Error

So instead you need to find a way to place the rel="publisher" link only on your home page. Thankfully my sidebar is dynamic and I'm able to present a link just after my Blog Roll list that contains the appropriate mark-up.

Google+ Rel="Publisher" Mark-Up

To confirm that you've set this up correctly you then drop your home page into the Rich Snippets Testing Tool.

Google+ Rel Publisher Success

This is what you want to see. You'll want to test both your home page and a post page to make sure that you are verified appropriately from a publisher and author perspective.

Done right? Wrong.

The last step is to submit a Google+ Page verification request. But before you do make sure you meet all of the requirements.

Google+ Page Verification Requirements

1,000 people must Circle your Page to be eligible for verification. Not a trifling amount for a small business. While I still recommend implementing the rel="publisher" mark-up, you'll have to decide whether it's worth the time and investment to get to that 1,000 mark.

Google+ Authorship

Google+ is an identity platform. One of the primary benefits is the ability to confirm authorship of your content.

Google+ Authorship

Authorship delivers a rich presentation that increases the click-through rate on that result. The image immediately draws the eye, just as other rich snippets do on search results, while the Circle count delivers additional confidence via social proof.

There is a clear short-term SEO benefit. But it's the long-term benefit that might be more important. I'll get to that a little later on.

If you're interested in Authorship (and you should be) I have a Google Authorship guide to help you set it up.

Authorship Links

The Authorship presentation also has links to that author and a link to More by that author.

Search+ Authorship Presentation

The author link just goes to the profile page but the More by link does something different.

Search+ More by Author

The More by link produces a compound search of sorts with your name and the keyword term. In this instance it does a nice job of pulling up some contextually relevant posts from my blog, a random Tweet that was archived by Buzz and my own post on Google+ that contains a link to the Bounce Rate vs Exit Rate post. Overall, I'm pretty pleased and it's mildly compelling for users.

But it doesn't always work that way.

Search+ More by Author Bad Example

If you were to find my post on Tom Wilkinson and then click More by AJ Kohn the compound search would provide the above results.

The two other posts referenced from my blog are not related except for the fact that they were the previous and next post. The remaining results match on some or portions of the compound search but are not at all related. And more to the point, they are not authored by me.

This seems like a bug that should be fixed since the intent of that click is to see more by that author. More by author links do not deliver on the implied promise or fulfill query intent.

I'm doing all of this without Search+. Turn it on and in some ways this gets even worse.

Search+ More by Author Personalized

The photo with Billy Idol and the Beastie Boys is on another post and makes it here because of the previous and next text attached to that image. That's not relevant but it is authored by me. But down below is a result from Matt Cutts. I like Matt and it's not a bad thing to be associated with him but that post is not authored by me. Nor is the one below it (not pictured) which comes from Quora.

I am participating in conversations on these other sites, but that's just not the same. I'm not thrilled with this but from a personal brand standpoint it might not be terrible. I stand behind the dialogs and conversations I have on other sites.

If I'm a publisher I'm probably freaking out because you could potentially be sending users to other destinations. But before we freak out lets think a bit more about intent.

Authorship and Intent

If I'm searching for 'bounce rate vs exit rate' my intent is to learn about the difference between these two metrics. The idea that a substantial number of users would click on the author name or More by link instead of the link that fulfills their query intent is, well, ludicrous.

Some users might click those links by accident. But what do you think happens then? If they click the author link and wind up on a profile, that doesn't fulfill the query intent. The majority will likely return to the search result and click the correct link.

Click the More by link and the odds are that they'll wind up at the same end destination link because it's at the top and it's the most relevant to your initial query intent.

The number of clicks that are lost to Google+, other sites or abandoned searches as a result of the Authorship implementation is extremely low when you layer on query intent. That tiny loss is more than made up for by the increase in visibility and click-through rate.

Google+ Influence

I've written a number of times about Google creating an influence metric that will impact how content is ranked within search. Google+ and Authorship are at the center of this effort. The long-term potential for AuthorRank is not a fantasy. We're not talking about some Klout number that is essentially a reflection of activity. No, this would be a far more nuanced metric that would never be made public.

Not only will Google be looking at the quality of the content you produce, they'll look at how it is received. Google+ allows Google to mine the engagement graph. Who shared your content? How many +1s did it receive? How many comments? How many shares? What was the sentiment of those comments? Were those comments valuable? Who made those comments? Were those comments from people influential on that topic?

Remember that Authorship is attached to content created on Google+ as well, both posts and comments. So your +1s and shares and comments are all being analyzed. The push for more engagement on Google+ is, in part, to expand the engagement graph and acquire more data so it can implement an AuthorRank algorithm with confidence.

Panda separated low-quality and high-quality sites. AuthorRank would do the same for people and their associated content. As the tidal wave of digital content roars in Google's ears finding ways to sort the good from the bad quickly will be of increasing importance.

Content without Authorship could become a second-class citizen.

Circle Count

What can you do, aside from Authorship and creating great content, to increase your Google+ influence. First and foremost is to have a large following or Circle count.

Circle count isn't as easily gamed on Google+ because of identity. While the pseudonym debate has gone silent I wouldn't be surprised if Google didn't assign a confidence score to each account. If you have a large following from accounts that Google doesn't fully trust, your large Circle count will be less meaningful.

Obtaining a high Circle count means sharing and creating a lot of great material. One personal tip I can share is that your content doesn't need to be on just one topic. If you look at my Google+ stream I'm all over the map. It's essentially a look at what I come across and am thinking about from day to day.

That means you'll get what I feel are the best articles on SEO, UX and other professional disciplines as well as inspirational images and a healthy does of LOLcats.

What that really comes down to is sharing more of yourself. Be human.

Engagement

I am sure that some people will say they do all that but no one engages with them. The truth is, this isn't easy and it takes a lot of work on your part to make it happen. You can't just post and think the world will engage with you. I see far too many experts claiming that Google+ is a ghost town because of this phenomenon. I don't often say this but, those people are doing it wrong.

If you're in the 1% of Internet celebrity then engagement will follow you from platform to platform. Robert Scoble, Ben Parr, MG Siegler, Danny Sullivan, Thomas Hawk are established and will see engagement no matter where they go. They've put in an enormous amount of time and effort to get there.

The 99% of us left have to do the same and earn engagement. So how do you do that? There's no real formula but here are my personal observations and tips.

Post to Public. By not doing so you limit yourself and the ability for others to find you and your content. This means you should be aware of what you're posting. You can be personal but you should have boundaries.

Respond to engagement. If someone +1s your post go and Circle them if you haven't already. If they comment, reply to that comment using their @name. If someone shares your content go and +1 that share and add a thank you comment if appropriate.

Flag people down. Use the @name function wisely to reference people who might have a view on that content or to which you want a response. Do not over do this or you will piss people off. But done right you can actually bring the right people into a great debate.

Create conversation. Comments meant to engage should not be of the 'great post' variety but should be valuable. Thoughtful comments that bring up issues and add value are more likely to get a response.

Cultivate engagement. Keep track of the people who engage with your content most frequently. Put them in a Circle and you can share directly with them, kick-starting engagement on your post and increasing the probability of more engagement.

Circle people. Circle people in your area(s) of expertise. You're not looking for them to follow you back (though some will) but instead you're looking to interact with the content they produce. It's that engagement that will translate into more people Circling you.

Monitor real time searches. You can quickly find, monitor and engage with specific content by searching by keyword and jumping into the real time stream of results. Yes, real time can be useful in this instance.

Google+ Real Time Results

Find some searches that work for you and save them so you can access them again and again. This is the way I was able to monitor and respond to those who were sharing this guide.

Google+ SEO Best Practices

Here's a quick checklist of 9 items critical to your Google+ SEO success.

Optimize your Google+ Profile

Fill out your Introduction, Employment, Education and Places lived understanding that the text in these sections is used for Google+ search. If you want to be returned for the term 'SEO' you need to have that term in one of these fields.

Placing the term in two or more fields seems to deliver some added benefit. Do it if it makes sense but don't go overboard.

Get Verified

A verified name with that small checkmark icon seems to have some influence on Google+ search. When I figure out exactly how to make this happen I'll let you know.

Confirm Authorship

Google+ is an identity platform that allows you to claim Authorship of your content. Doing so delivers a type of rich snippet in search results that will increase the visibility and click-through rate on your content today and may put you in the catbird's seat when Google implements AuthorRank.

Use the +1 Button

Put the +1 button on your site prominently so users can deliver your content to Google+. Not only will this result in traffic to your site, it allows Google to understand how people are engaging with your content.

Optimize Social Snippets

It's not enough to just create content and have the +1 button on your site. Optimize your social snippet to ensure you're getting the most engagement out of your content.

Create Great Content

Put this in the 'no duh' category, but really, create great content. It's not enough on its own but everything gets easier if you do this.

Share Great Content

Great content takes time so you won't always be sharing your content. Instead, share the great content of others. Make your Google+ feed valuable and interesting and you'll be rewarded.

Format Google+ Posts

Just putting a URL as your Google+ post won't cut it. Create a bold title for each of your (longer) posts. Not only is this easier to read it's what Google will use as the browser Title on Search+.

You should also start to use hashtags, sparingly, to ensure your posts are aggregated appropriately.

Use Google+

Really use Google+. Using it for the express purpose of SEO won't be successful. Do or do not. There is no try.

Facebook Launches Search

September 23 2011 // SEO + Social Media // 6 Comments

Facebook rolled out the razzle and the dazzle during f8 2011. Yet behind all the glitz, all the music and all the cool were fundamental changes that put Facebook in direct competition with Google.

Facebook Launches Search

 Dude, Wait, What? LOLcat

Did you miss it? I almost did too. It was wrapped up in the Social News Apps part of the presentation. Zuckerberg demonstrated how you would see all of the stories your friends were reading about a certain news topic.

That's search.

Facebook is returning a set of results on a topic curated by your friends. In search speak that's returning a set of documents based on a query, sorted by a social signal. They're talking about it in relation to news but they could do this with any type of document or media.

The Open Graph

Facebook Open Graph

Facebook can do this because of the Open Graph. Both Zuckerberg and Bret Taylor spoke about building on and expanding the Open Graph with Apps. The original Open Graph App is the Like button, and we've been dutifully clicking that button for well over a year now, telling Facebook where we are and what we Like. People are buzzing about the new Open Graph Apps, and they should be excited.

Web Intents

The new 'Read', 'Listen' and 'Watch' functionality is essentially a frictionless, more nuanced Like. Some of these new verbs will be delivered through Open Graph Apps from media companies like Spotify and Netflix. Facebook doesn't want to interrupt your activity attention.

No more clicking.

But this isn't something that Facebook is sitting in a room dreaming up laughing a Dr. Evil laugh. A lot of this is also being explored via Web Intents, a reference to an Android feature. A great post by Glenn Jones describes web intents and an idea for a web intents management dashboard, banishing pesky button sluts from the Internet landscape.

At f8 Facebook announced it wants to be that dashboard.

Patterns

Patterns

There was a lot of talk about uncovering patterns in the behavior of your social graph. Maybe Facebook thinks patterns is a more palatable term than algorithm, but that's basically what they're talking about. The Open Graph contains a representation (i.e. - index) of the Internet, but 'crawled' and 'indexed' by people through social gestures or web intents (choose your buzzword).

Thus far the only real social gesture has been Like. New Open Graph Apps reduce the friction and increase the diversity of social gestures entering the Open Graph. Facebook wants more data to mine and they want better context with that data.

Facebook is making it easy for you to help them build a better web index.

Timeline

So why all the focus on the timeline? I think there is a human desire to delve into our past, whether it be scrap-booking or genealogy or plain nostalgia. Facebook seems to be the platform where a lot of those connections (to those high school 'friends') persist. So it makes sense from that stand point.

But it also provides a very clear infrastructure for ensuring that important documents are preserved. It's not easy to find certain pieces of content from five years ago. Even with savvy search parameters locating old content can be difficult. Trust me, I do this a lot and I'm amazed at how tough it can be.

Remember, digital content is exploding! Capturing the 'right' and 'good' content is getting more difficult. Facebook is using crowdsourcing to tackle this problem via Open Graph Apps and tucking it away in a time based archive for easy retrieval.

If the timeline works, Facebook creates a well curated repository of documents and social gestures.

GraphRank 

Minority Report Interface

The other concept introduced was the idea that Facebook can understand what is personally relevant to you through GraphRank. I've seen a lot of people complain about EdgeRank (which I assume has now been replaced by GraphRank). People didn't want Facebook to make those decisions and Eli Pariser was irked and sold a lot of books.

But Google wants the same thing really. They've talked about psychic search and about knowing what you want before you realize it yourself. Here's what Eric Schmidt had to say four years ago.

“The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”

“We cannot even answer the most basic questions because we don’t know enough about you. That is the most important aspect of Google’s expansion.”

That puts Google+ into perspective doesn't it?

Search Re-imagined

GraphRank seems like the introduction of a continuous frictionless search. Sure, it's passive search but there are more and more ways to pivot that into an active search. Isn't this just another take on what the Google Related Toolbar is doing?

My 'More Like This' concept could now be executed without a click and instead deliver a set of related 'stories' when I hover over that item. One only needs to check out dontclick.it to see what could be.

Search as we know it today may not be what it looks like tomorrow. Facebook made me think that the way we discover information could change and that the definition of search is mutating.

TL;DR

Facebook launched their version of search at f8. It might not be the traditional search you imagine, but it's search nonetheless. Building on the Open Graph, Facebook will rely on Open Graph Apps to create a more diverse and frictionless social stream that will become the bedrock for information discovery interfaces of the future ... and past.

Google Influence Metric

September 19 2011 // SEO + Social Media // 7 Comments

Is Google building an influence metric? I think so. And they're doing it by mapping the engagement graph.

Connecting the Dots

On June 3rd Google acquired PostRank. On June 7th Google began supporting authorship. On June 28th Google began to highlight authors in search results, the same day they launched launched Google+.

The next day +1 data began to appear in both Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. On August 9 Google simplified authorship markup for single author sites and blogs. On August 24 Google connected the +1 button to Google+.

Finally, on September 15, Google rejiggered the Links section on Google+ profiles. The last change created three sections of links 'Other profiles' (Identity), 'Contributor to' (Authorship) and 'Recommended link'.

Taken together I see a company aggressively building a new way to measure authority, influence and engagement.

What is PostRank?

PostRank Logo Big

The name itself is fairly self-explanatory, don't you think? The service ranks blog posts. Here's how PostRank describes it.

The social web connects people where they share, critique and interact with content and each other. PostRank is the largest aggregator of social engagement data in the industry.

Our platform tracks where and how users engage, and what they pay attention to — in real-time. PostRank social engagement data measures actual user activity, the most accurate indicator of the relevance and influence of a site, story, or author.

The emphasis is mine but , seriously, can it get any more clear? With this acquisition in place Google's emphasis on identity and authorship makes perfect sense.

PostRank Data

If you're a PostRank Analytics user you're still getting a daily engagement report which gives a fair amount of insight into what is collected and tracked.

PostRank Daily Engagement Report

Social Activity is essentially an aggregate dashboard report. Directly below this is the Activity Stream.

PostRank Activity Stream

The data here is rich and ripe for further analysis. Google now knows who, how, where and when someone reacted to a piece of content.

The Ws

The Google Version of The Spanish Inquisition

I'll bastardize the standard Five Ws journalism concept for my own purposes. Google wants to know who wrote the content, when and where was it published, what it was about and how it was received. (There's an Inception like element here since how spawns another set of Ws.)

Google has long understood the when and where through their normal crawling and indexing activities. The what is an ongoing refinement process of relevance using various natural language processing and machine learning techniques. What is ... what made Google the leader in the search.

Google+ and rel="author" give Google the who (identity and authorship matter) and PostRank tells Google how that content was acted on.

The Engagement Graph

What we're seeing is the emergence of an engagement graph. (I know, like we need another graph, right?) I think this differs from your social graph since many of the people who engage with your content are not part of a traditional social graph. For example, I don't know everyone who bookmarks my content on Delicious.

An analysis of engagement might also help to mitigate social graph manipulation. Isn't it curious how a minute after some sites publish a blog post they've already generated 20+ Tweets? Robo-syndication represents a very low level of engagement. Personally, I'd handicap any resulting engagement based on the manipulation of social proof. But I digress.

Mapping and measuring engagement is a difficult business. PostRank was able to create a very simple scoring metric. Activities were scored based on the level of engagement: Trackback (13), Comment (10), Tweet (7), Bookmark (5).

Google can do far more with the PostRank data and create a nuanced scoring metric. Was the trackback from a respected blog? Was it linked to contextually within the post or as part of an automated 'related links' block?

Was the comment from someone with subject matter expertise, authority and influence? What were the contents and sentiment of that comment? Was the comment free of spelling and grammatical errors? Did it include a link?

Who Tweeted the content? How influential is that person? Are they a subject matter expert in this area? What is the velocity of Tweets for that individual? The latter could be very interesting. You could conceivably apply a type of PageRank metric to a stream of Tweets, dividing the influence of a Tweet by the number of Tweets delivered within a specified time frame.

Beyond these silos they'll likely look at whether it's the same people engaging with your content again and again. The diversity of engagement should be a positive signal, whereas a very uniform engagement profile might raise some red flags. If you haven't already figured it out, many of the same principles of the link graph apply to the engagement graph.

Of course Google will add other sources to the mix including +1 button data and all Google+ interactions.  They paint a picture of influence by applying a deep analysis of engagement against a large data set of actions from verified authors.

Influence By Numbers?

Color By Numbers

The debate about influence is as hot as ever. Does your Klout or PeerIndex number really provide an accurate picture of influence? I think these metrics are interesting but I certainly wouldn't rely on them. In fact, AdAge recently had to change their Power 150 calculation because the PostRank API was no longer available. (Yeah, Google doesn't seem to want to share this data. That should tell you something.)

A recent blog post by Mark Schaefer was refreshingly honest and insightful about the AdAge 'apocalypse'.

I think this pokes about at a recent theme of this blog — social proof and the fact that oftentimes on the social web a numerical rating provides a more important symbol of accomplishment than actual accomplishment. But this time it really hit home. Even if it’s a fake badge, the business benefits of being on the list can be real.

I can't think this is Google's view of influence. In fact, I picture a passionate lecture about why this is completely and utterly wrong. It's a meritocracy not a popularity contest. No, I don't think that Google will be releasing an influence number. Ever. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Influence will exist where it counts most, in search results.

TL;DR

The launch of Google+, the promotion of rel="author" and the acquisition of PostRank make it clear that Google is mapping the engagement graph and establishing a new metric of influence that will impact search results.

Optimize The Google +1 Button

September 01 2011 // SEO + Social Media // 16 Comments

Last week Google made a major change to the +1 button, allowing users to share a +1 with Circles on Google+. Essentially, the +1 button now has similar functionality to Facebook's Like button. I'd been procrastinating on Like button optimization so this was the impetus I needed to finally do something about it.

Google +1 Button

Here's what I did to optimize the Google +1 button. Let me state up front that I am not a coding guru. But I know enough to be dangerous, enjoy tinkering and am not afraid to break my site as I experiment.

I recommend this only for those using a self-hosted WordPress blog.

Speed

When the Google +1 button first came out it was s l o w. It was the last of my buttons to load. But that changed when Google released asynchronous code. If you haven't made the switch yet, go and get the new code.

Google +1 Button Asynchronous Code

I use the Smart Sharing plugin for my floating share bar. So I just dropped the appropriate code snippets into the 'Custom Codes' area. This is really easy. After doing this, the +1 button is often the very first to load.

Placement

Where you put the Google +1 button matters. The floating share bar on this blog, powered by the Smart Sharing plugin, did require a fair amount of CSS customization to display properly. (Thank goodness for Firebug and other sites who use a similar display.) But the customization has been worth it!

It's not just about where but how many buttons you present. A huge row or drop down full of buttons can cause indecision. Too many choices are bad. So pick the buttons that are meaningful to your audience and use them.

I get far more social engagement with a handful of  floating buttons than a slew of buttons at the top or bottom of the post.

Snippet

Now that speed and placement are taken care of it's time to optimize the snippet. The snippet is the title, description and image displayed when someone shares your content through a Like or Google +1 button. Controlling what this looks like is important.

Here's an optimized snippet from this blog.

Optimized Google +1 Button Snippet

And here's a non-optimized snippet from the Official Google Blog.

Non-Optimized Google +1 Button Snippet

Now, maybe Google can get away with a poor snippet but the rest of us probably can't.

Structured Markup

Optimizing your snippet means adding some structured markup to your page. This is a lot less complicated than it sounds. In fact, both Facebook and Google are omnivorous and will parse your site looking for any way to cobble together the best snippet.

How Google Populates the Google +1 Snippet

Google recommends using the new Schema.org microdata. But they seem happy to fall back on the more ubiquitous Open Graph protocol (funny how they don't mention the word Facebook) or normal meta title and description tags. In fact, the only method they don't recommend is having absolutely no structured markup at all.

Don't obsess about implementing microdata because Google certainly isn't.

Most of you probably have the title and description taken care of, but it's the image that might be causing you some heartburn. In many ways though, that might be the most important part of the snippet. People scan content and a good image is like a stop sign for the eyes.

For a long time Facebook was using my Feedburner chicklet for my snippet image. I got tired of seeing this and created a default image for all of my posts. It wasn't optimal but at least I didn't look like a buffoon anymore. Read on to see how I took things to the next level.

Plugins

Like millions of others, I rely on a number of plugins to add features and functionality to my WordPress blog. It's important that you understand the plugins I'm using since it will impact how you might implement snippet optimization with your own WordPress configuration.

I use the Like plugin to generate my Open Graph tags. It's worked well, though I may think about doing it myself after going through this process. In general, this plugin is easy to use and efficient. It's this plugin that allowed me to hard code a default image for my snippet.

I use All In One SEO to optimize title and meta description, among other things. I hear good things about WordPress SEO by Yoast, but haven't had any real reason to switch. I may eventually, but I use other plugins that may have to be deactivated to take advantage of the full feature set offered.

I tried the Schema for WordPress plugin and admire the effort, but find it too complex and onerous. In addition, I don't believe it supports the Schema meta tags which is what the Google +1 button seems to want.

How to Customize Your Google +1 Snippet

Frankly, this is part of the problem with the microdata implementation. Do I put it in the head or the body? Or both? It's almost too flexible.

Custom Field

So, with all those Plugins in place, my main task was to find a way to generate a different image for each post. That's where a custom field comes in handy. Custom fields sound complicated but they're actually pretty straight forward. I created a custom field that would contain the URL of the snippet image.

You'll see the Custom Fields option in your normal Edit Post window.

Enter a new Custom Field

Click 'Enter new' and you'll now be presented with an entry field.

Configuring a Custom Field

Just enter the name of your custom field (I used og_img but you could name is something different) and the value you want to give that custom field for this post and click the 'Add Custom Field' button. In this case enter the full URL path of the image you want to use for this post's snippet in the value field.

This creates that custom field in the database and associates the URL for that custom field for this post. This does not mean that you are assigning this value (this URL) to every post. This is just the way you get the custom field ball rolling.

Custom Fields in Drop Down Menu

Now you've got the custom field in place for that post and you can select that custom field from the drop down menu for all other posts from now on.

In fact, that's how you'll specify the image snippet for each post moving forward. You only use the 'Enter new' to create the custom field. Once created, always select it from the Name drop down menu.

Yes, this means that you'll be taking one extra step each time you publish a blog post. I see this as a small price to pay for an optimized image snippet and lump it in with writing an optimized title and description. They're simply part of the publishing process.

Image

The image you use can make or break your snippet. It's not just about the content of that image but the size of that image. You could have the best, funniest image ever but if it doesn't translate on social platforms then it's all for naught. In this case size actually refers to the dimensions of the image.

A square image (e.g. - 300x300) is a safe bet. If you're not using a square or squarish image then you want to pick vertical rectangles over horizontal rectangles. Obviously, really long vertical rectangles won't work either. Use commonsense, test and learn as you go.

Image Snippet Size Guide

One other thing to note is that the image you use doesn't actually have to be in the blog post. I personally think it should, but you can upload any image to use as your image snippet. This might come in handy if you don't have any images in a post (not recommended) or images that won't translate onto social platforms (such as a horizontal code screen capture.)

Header Code

Creating the Custom Field only gets you half way there. Then you have to use it within your theme. That means you'll need to tinker with your header.php file by navigating to Appearance -> Editor -> Header (header.php)

Edit Theme Header

First things first. Copy your entire header.php file into a text file just in case you really screw something up and need to revert back. Just copy everything in that window into your favorite text application.

Next, you want to place the following code into your header.php file between the head tags (<head>, </head>). I recommend placing the code in just before the close (</head>) tag.

<!-- Facebook Open Graph Image -->
<?php if(get_post_meta($post->ID, 'og_img')){ ?>
<meta property="og:image" content="<?php echo get_post_meta($post->ID, 'og_img', $single = true); ?>" />
<?php } else { ?>
<meta property="og:image" content="http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/blind-five-year-old-150x150.png" />
<?php } ?>

This code creates an og:image tag using the image in your custom field (og_img) or, if there is no custom field for that post, will use the default image specified instead. This is essentially the code that starfly describes in this WordPress forum post.

Make sure you change the custom field name appropriately (if you didn't use og_img as I did) and that you use your own default image instead of mine. The first line of this code is non-functional and is there only to help you identify it amid all the other code.

After you've entered this code, click 'update the file' and you're done!

Validation

To test whether it works you can first look at your blog post and view source. Look for the og:image tag and make sure that it's populating correctly. If that's not your cup of tea, you can also run your blog post through Facebook's URL Linter Debugger.

Facebook Debugger Validation Results

Finally, try sharing your post on using the Google +1 and Like buttons and make sure it's optimized to your liking.

Where's the Microdata?

I intended to show you how to cover your bases and implement an additional set of microdata in your header. It was going to be pretty darn clever. In fact, I spent two days figuring it all out, cursing PHP and breaking my site for hours on end. Trust me, I want to show it off!

But as I did due diligence on this post the microdata seemed to confuse Facebook and was, overall, just too brittle to use at this point. Honestly, do you really want to maintain two different types of structured markup?

I can see using microdata in other ways, but not for snippet optimization.

Google +1 Button Optimization

Two Birds with One Stone

So, in short, I'm using All In One SEO and the Like plugin along with a Custom Field to generate Open Graph tags that are then used by both Facebook and Google in their button snippets. Two birds with one stone!

I welcome questions on my implementation as well as feedback from others who can improve my code or have found other ways to optimize these snippets.

Comment Censorship

August 07 2011 // Rant + Social Media + Technology // 15 Comments

In the past month I've left a number of comments on blogs only to find they were never published.

Fry Meme Spam or Blog Censorship

I'd like to believe that the blog owners simply didn't see my comment. That it fell into their spam queue which they rarely, if ever, look at. Because the alternative is that they saw the post and decided to suppress it. Now, it's their blog - their little corner of the Internet - but this type of censorship is troubling.

Comments Content

What about the content of my comments? To be fair, in some instances I was disagreeing with some or all of the content in that post. But I did so in a constructive manner, using links to my own thoughts on the topic or to other material to help round out my argument.

I regularly publish comments on this blog that are contrary to my own opinion. One only has to look at the comments on my Stop Writing For People post for examples. I'm free to respond and defend myself, but having the debate in the open is important. It builds trust, much like having bad reviews on a product is actually a good thing.

Comments are incredibly valuable because they provide additional information on the content. They make your content better through clarification, confirmation, addition and debate.

Comments = Content.

Comments are a rich source of meta information that deliver value to both readers and search engines. This extends to links as well! Relevant links in comments help create a web of information that users now and in the future will find useful.

Yet it is those links that may be at the root of the problem.

Comment Spam

It's like the Internet version of a plague of locusts. One of the most popular ways to combat comment spam is to screen comments that have links. This is one of the default setting in Akismet.

It makes sense since many spammers will drop a link or links in comments. But links are not the problem. Spammers are the problem.

What's wrong with contextual links to relevant content? This is not behavior that should be penalized. In fact, it should be encouraged. In many ways, the comment spam problem threatens the link graph.

ratio of comment spam to real comments

Not only that but, anecdotally, it seems that comment spam sometimes pushes people to disable comments altogether. When the ratio of comment spam to real comments is too high, many simply give up. I understand the decision but it's depressing that it gets to that point.

Outsourcing

Fed up with comment spam and general comment management, have we decided to outsource engagement to social networks? Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ are all happy to provide venues in which comments can flourish. Make no mistake, these venues understand the value of comments.

Is our obsession with amplification and generating social proof robbing us of the real value of comments and conversation? Certainly there is some hope that it's like a rubber band. The content goes out, but then snaps back, drawing more comments to your content. It works to a certain extent, but by how much and at what cost is an interesting debate.

The Filter Bubble

Of course these bloggers may have seen my comment and simply decided not to publish it. Eli Pariser argues that personalization and 'invisible algorithmic editing' as a real danger but I think comment censorship (whether intentional or accidental) is the true menace.

I believe much of the hype around the filter bubble is FUD. Personalization is rather minimal in most cases though I do agree with Gabriel Weinberg's view of how to deal with personalization.

Personalization is not a black and white feature. It doesn't have to be on or off. It isn't even one-dimensional. At a minimum users should know which factors are being used and at best they should be able to choose which factors are being used, to what degree and in what contexts.

Personalization deals with the fact that some content isn't being made readily visible. Comment censorship excises content from the Internet altogether.

Identity

So what could help get us out of this morass? How can we ensure comments are once again a vital part of the content ecosystem? Identity.

Identity

The reason why many embraced Facebook comments was because comments are attached to an identity. Not only that, but an identity that people cared about. This obviates the need for aggressive moderation. You might run into a troll, but it'll be a troll you can clearly identify and block.

Identity essentially stops comment spam because you can't post as Best Miami Attorneys. Comment moderation is suddenly manageable again.

Censorship

A commenting system that uses identity removes most of the uncertainty around comment censorship. If my comment isn't published, it's likely because that blogger made an active decision to toss it into the HTML version of The Bermuda Triangle.

Cat Censors Blog Comments

If the filter bubble can be managed through making personalization transparent, so too can comment censorship. A third-party, identity-backed comment system could track the number of comments censored on each blog. A grade or score could then be shown to let users know how much of the conversation was being censored. In some ways it would be like Charity Navigator but for blogs.

So perhaps the blogger who touts the benefits of community actually censors 32% of blog comments. That might be an interesting thing to know.

Could this get messy? Sure. But you can build a system of checks and balances.

Reputation

Bad Reputation by Joan Jett

Joan Jett might not care about her bad reputation but you should. Whether it's a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, number of Likes, sentiment analysis, length of comments, spelling and grammar or other metrics, a savvy comment system could begin to assign reputation to each user.

So the censorship percentage wouldn't be flat in nature. If you blocked a known troll, no worries. If you censored someone who had a history of abusive comments full of foul language, no problem.

On the other hand, it would be disturbing if you censor someone who consistently adds value to conversations. The reputation of those you censor would matter.

Confidence

I'd like to be confident that I'm not missing good comments that wind up going into spam.

I'd like to be confident that if I take the time and effort to comment on a blog that it will be published and, hopefully, spark further comment and conversation.

I'd like to be confident that the comments I read are not biased and simply a form of self-curated cheerleading.

"Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence." - Vince Lombardi

The Internet desperately needs more confidence.

Google Plus, Identity and SEO

July 25 2011 // SEO + Social Media // 23 Comments

Google+ has seen unprecedented adoption over the last month and it is clearly the best social effort Google has produced to date.

But why is Google pursuing social in the first place?

G+

Some see G+ as proof that Google is chasing tail lights, while others see it as a natural extension of Google's mission, which is 'to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.' In this instance, that information is social in nature.

I see two compelling reasons behind G+: search and advertising.

G+ provides Google with a primary source of social data to mine and use for search purposes. Can you blame Google for not wanting to rely on Twitter or Facebook for social signals?

G+ also seeks to break the stranglehold Facebook has on attention. This is important because the ad business runs on attention. If you're on Facebook for 55 minutes a day, that leaves less time for other sites. G+ doesn't have to beat Facebook it simply needs to fracture its monopoly on attention.

Identity

Who Album Cover

One of the more controversial aspects of Google+ has been Google's insistence on people using real names.

Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you’re connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.

I probably won't make many friends by saying I completely agree with this policy.

Some believe that sacrificing anonymity will sacrifice risk-taking, honesty and whistle-blowing. There may be less of that, but it won't stop. And is it so bad to encourage people to take risks and be honest without the crutch of anonymity? For those of you who think I'm not personally aware of the issues here, let me disabuse you of that notion.

Back in 2008 I dashed off a quick email to the editor of The Contra Costa Times. It wound up in the paper and was attributed with my name and city. About a week later I got this in the mail.

coward writes a letter

This person found my address (which was not in the paper) and sent me this erudite note. It was unsigned and did not have a return address. It was a bit chilling. Yet, the anonymity used belies a cowardly nature. This person also can't seem to get my name right, but who cares about details like that when you just want to call someone names.

I'm not saying all anonymity leads to this type of behavior. Nor do I downplay the need for anonymity in certain situations. Speaking out in other countries could have dire consequences. But one of the reasons people embraced Facebook's new commenting system was the fact that identity would reduce spam and needless flame wars. No more anonymous pot shots from the peanut gallery.

Could Google be doing a better job in how they handle the policy? Yes. But I believe they're far more concerned with ensuring that spam doesn't enter this new ecosystem, both for user experience and data integrity.

What's In A Name?

Nick Halden Alias

I don't think Google is saying you have to use your true name. I'm assuming that Mark Twain could sign up, but so could Samuel Clemens. And it's not that hard to set up a new persona online. Maybe we'd even see profiles for both Neil Caffrey and Nick Halden.

But why does Google care so much about identity, particularly on G+? What does it really do for them? Here's where I think the rubber really meets the road.

Identity allows Google to map the web of people.

Since Google launched, they've indexed the web using links. That's worked amazingly well, despite what many competitors and faux-academics have contended. Mind you, there's still a lot of room for improvement.

Today we know that there are people behind sites and documents. Facebook understood that people were 'hiding' behind websites and they wanted to reveal who was visiting (and Liking) those sites. Google, on the other hand, seems more interested in who created those websites and documents. They're looking to augment the web of links with the web of people. That's why identity is so important.

Without identity Google can't create a web of people. They can't mine the interactions on G+ to determine trust and influence. They need a primary key for establishing a new social database and name makes a whole lot of sense.

Yes, Google will want alternate email addresses, pseudonyms and even usernames, but they need something to pivot around. Mapping the social graph necessitates this type of approach. Google's already pretty good at this, which is why you may be presented with suggested links in your Google Profile. One look at your Social Connections should give you an idea of how much Google knows. (Really, go look at this today!)

SEO

Carrots

The carrot that Google can wave to encourage identity is search. Rel="author" is the first overt way that Google is rewarding identity in search results. But that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as I can tell.

Getting your smiling mug on search results will certainly help your click-through rate and boost your ego, but long term Google can begin to map all of your social interactions. They'll encourage you to link more and more of your digital self so they can confidently perform this analysis.

I'm a firm believer that Google has a GIGO problem. The explosion of digital content has made everyone an author, an expert and pundit. Jason Calacanis certainly doesn't suffer fools gladly.

There are a lot of stupid people out there ... and stupid people shouldn't write.

I don't agree with that statement but I do with what Jason said next.

There needs to be a better system for tuning down the stupid people and tuning up the smart people.

Google needs a better way to sift through and determine quality in an age where content can be produced and distributed with such ease.

Instead of going from the document level and building up, what if you used an 'author' filter? Google's Panda update created an A and B pile for site quality. Google could do the same for author quality. Yes, it's a scary thought that Google might pass judgement on your corpus of content, but in the end that's pretty much their job.

This doesn't mean that B pile authored content wouldn't rank, but it may need to exhibit other signals to outrank A pile authored content.

AuthorRank

AuthorRank

AuthorRank will help augment the rickety link graph. The reliance on a Google Profile, insistence on a real name, the implementation of rel="author" and the whole of G+ makes me believe that authorship is a vital part of how Google wants to measure the web. I'm hopeful that Google can determine a better way to measure these social gestures, beyond what KloutPeerIndex or others currently provide.

Could Google transform trust and influence from a popularity contest to a meritocracy?

Google could look at the speed of sharing. If the time between my interaction with that content and my sharing of that content is too short, I'd like that to count less. This may eliminate much of the robo-syndication that persists today and even reduce the sheep and ego mentality of promoting luminary content.

In addition, comments are a rich source of data, both as meta data on the shared piece of content but as a signal of depth and breadth of engagement. You'll have noted that some of the Internet famous get a slew of comments on G+. But how many of them are in the 'brilliant post', 'totally agree' and 'Yes!' variety? What percentage of your comments are productive versus congratulatory?

AuthorRank could provide real value to search right out of the gate. Imagine if blogs without real identity were given less prominence? Suddenly splogs would disappear as would many of the exact match keyword domains with MFA (Made for AdSense or Made for Amazon) content.

TL;DR

Google+ requires identity so it can confidently map a web of people and use authorship to better refine search results. In the process, and as an added bonus, they may also break Facebook's monopoly on attention.

Google+ Review

July 07 2011 // Social Media + Technology // 19 Comments

(This post is an experiment of sorts since I'm publishing it before my usual hard core editing. I'll be going back later to edit and reorganize so that it's a bit less Jack Kerouac in style. I wanted to publish this version now so I could get some feedback and get back to my client work. You've been warned.)

I've been on Google+ for one week now and have collected some thoughts on the service. This won't be a tips and tricks style post since I believe G+ (that's the cool way to reference it now) will evolve quickly and what we're currently seeing is a minimum viable product (MVP).

In fact, while I have enjoyed the responsiveness that the G+ team has shown, it echoes what I heard during Buzz. One of my complaints about Buzz was that they didn't iterate fast enough. So G+, please go ahead and break things in the name of speed. Ignore the howling in the interim.

Circles

Circles is clearly the big selling point for G+. I was a big fan of the presentation Paul Adams put together last year that clearly serves as the foundation to Circles. The core concept was that the way you share offline should be mirrored online. My family and high school friends probably don't want to be overwhelmed with all the SEO related content I share. And if you want to share a personal or intimate update, you might want to only share that with family or friends.

It made perfect sense ... in theory.

I'm not sure Circles works in practice, or at least not the way many though they would. The flexibility of Circles could be its achilles heel. I have watched people create a massive ordered list of Circles for every discrete set of people. Conversely, I've seen others just lump everyone into a big Circle. Those in the latter seem unsettled, thinking that they're doing something wrong by not creating more Circles.

Of course there is no right or wrong way to use Circles.

But I believe there are two forces at work here that influence the value of Circles. First is the idea of configuration. I don't think many people want to invest time into building Circles. These Circles are essentially lists, which have been tried on both Facebook and Twitter. Yet, both of these two social giants have relegated lists in their user interface. Was this because people didn't set them up? Or that once they set them up they didn't use them?

I sense that Facebook and Twitter may have realized that the stated need for lists or Circles simply didn't show up in real life usage. This is one of those problems with qualitative research. Sometimes people say one thing and do another.

As an aside, I think most people would say that more is better. That's why lists sound so attractive. Suddenly you can really organize and you'll have all these lists and you'll feel ... better. But there is compelling research that shows that more choice leads to less satisfaction. Barry Schwartz dubbed it The Paradox of Choice.

The Paradox of Choice has been demonstrated with jam, where sales were higher when consumers had three choices instead of thirty. It's also been proven in looking at 401k participation, the more mutual fund choices available, the lower the participation in the 401k program.

Overwhelmed with options, we often simply opt-out of the decision and walk away. And even when we do decide, we are often less satisfied since we're unsure we've made the right selection. Those who scramble to create a lot of lists could fall prey to the Paradox of Choice. That's not the type of user experience you want.

The second thing at work here is the notion that people want to share online as they do offline. Is that a valid assumption? Clearly, if you're into cycling (like I am) you probably only want to share your Tour de France thoughts with other cyclists. But the sharing dynamic may have changed. I wrote before that Google has a Heisenberg problem in relation to measuring the link graph. That by the act of measuring the link graph they have forever changed it.

I think we may have the same problem in relation to online sharing. By sharing online we've forever changed the way we share.

If I interpret what FriendFeed (which is the DNA for everything you're seeing right now), and particularly Paul Buchheit envisioned, it was that people should share more openly. That by sharing more, you could shine light on the dark corners of life. People could stop feeling like they were strange, alone or embarrassed. Facebook too seems to have this same ethos, though perhaps for different reasons - or not. And I think many of us have adopted this new way of sharing. Whether it was done intentionally at first or not becomes moot.

So G+ is, in some ways, rooted in the past, of the way we used to share.

Even if you don't believe that people are now more willing to share more broadly, I think there are a great many differences in how we share offline versus how we share online. First, the type and availability of content is far greater online. Tumblr quotes, LOLcats, photos and a host of other types of media are quickly disseminated. The Internet has seen an explosion of digital content that runs through a newly built social infrastructure. In the past, you might share some of the things you'd seen recently at a BBQ or the next time you saw your book group. Not anymore.

Also, the benchmark for sharing content online is far lower than it is offline. The ease with which you can share online means you share more. The share buttons are everywhere and social proof is a powerful mechanism.

You also can't touch and feel any of this stuff. For instance, think about the traditional way you sell offline. The goal is to get the customer to hold the product, because that greatly increases the odds they'll purchase. But that's an impossibility online.

Finally, you probably share with more people. The social infrastructure built over the last five years has allowed us to reconnect with people from the past. We continue to share with weak ties. I'm concerned about this since I believe holding onto the past may prevent us from growing. I'm a firm believer in Dunbar's number, so the extra people we choose to share with wind up being noise. Social entropy must be allowed to take place.

Now Circles might support that since you can drop people into a 'people I don't care about' Circle that is never used. (I don't have this Circle, I'm just saying you could!) But then you simply wind up with a couple of Circles that you use on a frequent basis. In addition, the asynchronous model encourages people to connect with more people which flies in the face of this hardwired number of social connections we can maintain.

Lists and circles also rarely work for digesting content. Circles is clearly a nice way to segment and share your content with the 'right' people. But I don't think Circles are very good as a content viewing device.

You might make a Circle for your family. Makes perfect sense. And you might then share important and potentially sensitive information using this Circle. But when you look at the content feed from that Circle, what do you get? It would not just be sensitive family information.

If your brother is Robert Scoble you'd see a boat load of stuff there. That's an extreme example, but lets bring it to the more mundane example of, say, someone who is a diehard sports fan. Maybe that family member would share only with his sports buddies, but a lot of folks are just going to broadcast publicly and so you get everything from that person.

To put it more bluntly, people are not one-dimensional.

I love bicycling. I also have a passion for search and SEO. I also enjoy books, UX, LOLcats and am a huge Kasabian fan. If you put me in an SEO Circle, there's a good chance you'll get LOLcats and Kasabian lyrics mixed in with my SEO stuff. In fact, most of my stuff is on Public, so you'll get a fire hose of my material right now.

Circles is good for providing a more relevant sharing mechanism, but I think it's a bit of a square peg in a round hole when it comes to digesting content. That's further exacerbated by the fact that the filtering capabilities for content are essentially on and off (mute) right now.

Sure, you could segment your Circles ever more finely until you found the people who were just talking about the topic you were interested in, but that would be a small group probably and if you had more than just one interest (which is, well, pretty much everyone) then you'll need lots of Circles. And with lots of Circles you run into the Paradox of Choice.

Conversation

I've never been a fan of using Twitter to hold conversations. The clipped and asynchronous style of banter just doesn't do it for me. FriendFeed was (is?) the place where you could hold real debate and discussion. It provided long-form commenting ability.

G+ does a good job fostering conversation, but the content currently being shared and some of the feature limitations may be crushing long-form discussions and instead encouraging 'reactions'.

I don't want a stream of 6 word You Tube like comments. That doesn't add value. I'm purposefully using this terminology because I think delivering value is important to Google. Comments should add value and there is a difference in comment quality. And yes, you can influence the quality of comments.

Because if the comments and discussion are engaging you will win my attention. And that is what I believe is most important in the social arms race we're about to witness.

Attention

There is a war for your attention and Facebook has been winning. G+ must fracture that attention before Facebook really begins to leverage the Open Graph and provide search and discovery features. As it stands Facebook is a search engine. The News Feed is simply a passive search experience based on your social connections and preferences. Google's talked a lot about being psychic and knowing what you want before you do. Facebook is well on their way there in some ways.

User Interface

If it's one thing that Google got right it was the Red Number user interface. It is by far the most impressive part of the experience and feeds your G+ addiction and retains your attention.

The Red Number sits at the top of the page on G+, Google Reader, Google Search and various other Google products. It is nearly omnipresent in my own existence. (Thank goodness it's not on Google Analytics or I really wouldn't get any work done.) The red number indicator is both a notifier, navigation and engagement feature all-in-one. It is epic.

It is almost scary though, since you can't help but want to check what's going on when that number lights up and begins to increment. It's Pavlovian in nature. It inspired me to put together a quick LOLcat mashup.

OMG WTF Red Number!

It draws you in (again and again) and keeps you engaged. It's a very slick user interface and Google is smart to integrate this across as many properties as possible. This one user interface may be the way that G+ wins in the long-run since they'll have time to work out the kinks while training us to respond to that red number. The only way it fails is if that red number never lights up.

I'll give G+ credit for reducing a lot of the friction around posting and commenting. The interactions are intuitive but are hamstrung by Circles as well as the display and ordering of content.

Content

There is no easy way to add content to G+ right now. In my opinion, this is hugely important because content is the kindling to conversation. Good content begets good conversation. Sure we could all resort to creating content on G+ through posting directly, but that's going to get old quickly. And Sparks as it now stands is not effective in the slightest. Sorry but this is one feature that seems half-done (and that's being generous.) Right now the content through Sparks is akin to a very unfocused Google alert.

I may be in the minority in thinking that social interactions happen around content, topics and ideas far more often than they do around people. I might interact with people I'm close to on a more personal level, responding to check-ins and status updates but for the most part I believe it's about the content we're all seeing and sharing.

I really don't care if you updated your profile photo. (Again, I should be able to not see these by default if I don't want to.)

Good content will drive conversation and engagement. The easiest way to effect that is by aggregating the streams of content we already produce. This blog, my YouTube favorites, my Delicious bookmarks, my Google Reader favorites, my Last.fm favorites and on and on and on. Yes, this is exactly what FriendFeed did and it has, in many ways, failed. As much as I love the service, it never caught on with the mainstream.

I think some of this had to do with configuration. You had to configure the content streams and those content streams didn't necessarily have to be yours. But we've moved on quite a bit since FriendFeed was introduced and Google is adhering to the Quora model, and requiring people to use their real names on their profiles.

Google is seeking to create a better form of identify, a unified form of identity it can then leverage for a type of PeopleRank signal that can inform trust and authority in search and elsewhere. But identity on the web is fairly transparent as we all have learned from Rapleaf and others who still map social profiles across the web. Google could quite easily find those outposts and prompt you to confirm and add them to your Google profile.

Again, we've all become far more public and even if email is not the primary key, the name and even username can be used with a fairly high degree of confidence. Long story short, Google can short-circuit the configuration problem around content feeds and greatly reduce the friction of contributing valuable content to G+.

By flowing content into G+, you would also increase the odds of that red number lighting up. So even if I haven't visited G+ in a day (heck I can't go an hour right now unless I'm sleeping) you might get drawn back in because someone gave your Last.fm favorite a +1. Suddenly you want to know who likes the same type of music you do and you're hooked again.

Display

What we're talking about here is aggregation, which has turned into a type of dirty word lately. And right now Google isn't prepared for these types of content feeds. They haven't fixed duplication detection so I see the same posts over and over again. And there are some other factors in play here that I think need to be fixed prior to bringing in more content.

People don't quite understand Circles and seem compelled to share content with their own Circles. The +1 button should really do this, but then you might have to make the +1 button conditional based on your Circles (e.g. - I want to +1 this bicycling post to my TDF Circle.) That level of complexity isn't going to work.

At a minimum they'll need to collapse all of the shares into one 'story', with the dominant story being the one that you've interacted with or, barring prior interaction, the one that comes from someone in your Circle and if there are more than one from your Circle then the most recent or first from that group.

In addition, while the red number interface does deliver the active discussions to me, I think the order of content in the feed will need to change. Once I interact on an item it should be given more weight and float to the top more often, particularly if someone I have in my Circles is contributing to the discussion there.

Long-term it would also be nice to pin certain posts to the top of a feed if I'm interested in following the actual conversation as it unfolds.

The display of content needs to get better before G+ can confidently aggregate more content sources.

Privacy

One of the big issues, purportedly, is privacy. I frankly believe that the privacy issue is way overblown. (Throw your stones now.) As an old school direct marketer I know I can get a tremendous amount of information about a person, all from their offline transactions and interactions.

Even without that knowledge, it's clear that people might talk about privacy but they don't do much about it. If people truly valued privacy and thought Facebook was violating that privacy you'd see people shuttering their accounts. And not just the few Internati out there who do so to prove a point but everyday people. But that's just not happening.

People say one thing, but do another. They say they value privacy but then they'll give it away for a chance to win the new car sitting in the local mall.

Also, it's very clear that people do have a filter for what they share on social networks. The incidents where this doesn't happen make great headlines, but the behavioral survey work showing a hesitance to share certain topics on Facebook make it clear we're not in full broadcast mode.

But for the moment lets say that privacy is one of the selling points of G+. The problem is that the asymmetric sharing model exposes a lot more than you might think. Early on, I quipped that the best use of G+ was to stalk Google employees. I think a few people took this the wrong way, and I understand that.

But my point was that it was very easy to find people on G+. In fact, it is amazingly simple to skim the social graph. In particular, by looking at who someone has in their Circles and who has that person in their Circles.

So, why wouldn't I be interested in following folks at Google? In general, they're a very intelligent, helpful and amiable bunch. My Google circle grew. It grew to 300 rather quickly by simply skimming the Circles for some prominent Googlers.

The next day or so I did this every once in a while. I didn't really put that much effort into it. The interface for finding and adding people is quite good - very fluid. So, I got to about 700 in three or four days. And during that time the suggested users feature began to help out, providing me with a never ending string of Googlers for me to add.

But you know what else happened? It suggested people who were clearly Googlers but were not broadcasting that fact. How do I know that? Well, if 80% of your Circle are Googlers, and 80% of the people who have you in Circles are Googlers there's a good change you're a Googler. Being a bit OCD I didn't automatically add these folks to my Google Circle but their social graph led me to others (bonus!) and if I could verify through other means - their posts or activity elsewhere on the Internet - then I'd add them.

How many people do I have in my Google circle today?

Google Employees G+ Circle

Now, perhaps people are okay with this. In fact, I'm okay with it. But if privacy is a G+ benefit, I don't think it succeeds. Too many people will be upset by this level of transparency. Does the very private Google really want someone to be parsing the daily output of its employees? I'm harmless but others might be trolling for something more.

G+ creates this friction because of the asymmetric sharing model and the notion that you only have to share with the people in your circles. Circles ensures your content is compartmentalized and safe. But it exposes your social graph in a way that people might not expect or want.

Yes, I know there are ways to manage this exposure, but configuration of your privacy isn't very effective. Haven't we learned this yet?

Simplicity

Circles also has an issue with simplicity. Creating Circles is very straight forward but how content in those Circles is transmitted is a bit of a mystery to many. So much so that there are diagrams showing how and who will see your content based on the Circle permutations. While people might make diagrams just for the fun of it, I think these diagrams are an indication that the underlying information architecture might be too complex for mainstream users. Or maybe they won't care. But if sharing with the 'right' people is the main selling point, this will muddy the waters.

At present there are a lot of early adopters on G+ and many are hell bent on kissing up to the Google team at every turn. Don't get me wrong, I am rooting for G+. I like Google and the people that work there and I've never been a Facebook fan. But my marketing background kicks in hard. I know I'm not the target market. In fact, most of the people I know aren't the target market. I wonder if G+ really understands this or not.

Because while my feed was filled with people laughing at Mark Zuckerberg and his 'awesome' announcement, I think they missed something, something very fundamental.

Keep it Simple Stupid

Yes, hangouts (video chat) with 10 people are interesting and sort of fun. But is that the primary use case for video chat? No, it's not. This idea that 1 to 1 video chat is so dreadful and small-minded is simply misguided. Because what Facebook said was that they worked on making that video chat experience super easy to use. It's not about the Internati using video chat, it's about your grandparents using video chat.

Mark deftly avoided the G+ question but then, he couldn't help himself. He brought up the background behind Groups. I'm paraphrasing here, but Zuckerberg essentially said that Groups flourished because everyone knew each other (that's an eye poke at the asymmetric sharing model) and that ad hoc Groups were vitally important since people didn't want to spend time configuring lists. Again, this is - in my opinion - a swipe at Circles. In many ways, Zuck is saying that lists fail and that content sharing permissions are done on an ad hoc basis.

Instead of asking people to configure Circles and manage and maintain them Facebook is making it easier to just assemble them on the fly through Groups. And the EdgeRank algorithm that separates your Top News from Recent News is their way of delivering the right content to you based on your preferences and interactions. I believe their goal is to automagically make the feed relevant to you instead of forcing the user to create that relevance.

Sure there's a filter bubble argument to be made, but give Facebook credit for having the Recent News tab prominently displayed in the interface.

But G+ could do something like this. In fact, they're better placed than Facebook to deliver a feed of relevant information based on the tie-ins to other products. Right now there is essentially no tie in at all, which is frustrating. A +1 on a website does not behave as a Like. It does not send that page or site to my Public G+ feed. Nor does Google seem to be using Google Reader or Gmail as ways to determine what might be more interesting to me and who really I'm interacting with.

G+

I'm addicted to G+ so they're doing something right. But remember, I'm not the target market.

I see a lot of potential with G+ (and I desperately want it to succeed) but I worry that social might not be in their DNA, that they might be chasing a mirage that others have already dismissed and that they might be too analytical for their own good.

Open Graph Business Intelligence

April 06 2011 // Social Media + Technology // 1 Comment

Facebook's Open Graph can be used as a valuable business intelligence tool.

Here's how easy it can be to find out more about the people powering social media on your favorite sites.

How It Works

The Open Graph is populated with meta tags. One of these tags is fb:admins which is a list of Facebook user IDs.

fb:admins open graph tag

Here we are on a Time article that is clearly using the Open Graph.

Sample Time.com Article

The fb:admins tag is generally found on the home page (or root) of a site because that's one of the ways you grant people access to Insights for Websites.

Lint Bookmarklet

You could open up a new tab and go to the Facebook Linter Tool to enter the domain or you can use my handy Bookmarklet that gives you one-click access to Lint that site.

Get Lint Info

Drag the link above to your bookmark bar and then click on it anytime you want to get information about the Open Graph mark-up from that site's home page.

Linter Results

The results will often include a list of Facebook IDs. In this instance there are 8 administrators on the Time domain.

Facebook Lint for Time

Click on each ID to learn as much as that person's privacy settings will allow. You can find out quite a bit when you do this.

In this instance I've identified Time's Technical Lead, a Senior Program Manager (with a balloon decorating company on the side), a bogus test account (against Facebook rules) and the Program Manager, Developer Relations for ... Facebook.

I guess it makes sense that Time would get some special attention from Facebook. Still, it raised my eyebrows to see a Facebook staffer as a Time administrator.

Cat Lee

Cat actually snagged 'cat' as her Facebook name (nicely done!) and says her favorite football team is the Eagles. I might be able to strike up a conversation with her about that. Go Eagles!

I'd probably also ask her why a fake test account is being used by Time.

Tester Time on Facebook

That is unless Time really does have a satanic handball enthusiast on staff.

Dig Deeper

Sometimes a site won't use fb:admins but will authenticate using fb:app_id instead. But that doesn't mean your sleuthing has come to an end. Click on the App ID number and you'll usually go to that application.

Time Facebook Application Developer Information

By clicking on Info I'm able to view a list of Developers. Some of these I've already seen via fb:admins but two of them are actually new, providing a more robust picture of Time's social media efforts and resources.

You'll only be stymied if the site is using fb:page_id to authenticate. That's generally a dead end for business intelligence.

Open Graph Business Intelligence

I imagine this type of information might be of interest to a wide variety or people from recruiters to journalists to sales and business development professionals. You could use this technique on its own or collect the names and use LinkedIn and Google to create a more accurate picture of those individuals.

How would you use this information?

Google +1 Analysis

March 31 2011 // SEO + Social Media // 12 Comments

Yesterday Google launched Google +1. After firing up Haircut 100 and reading Danny Sullivan's review I sat down and gave Google +1 a try myself. Here's what I learned and why I think Google +1 is the start of a war for social data and your attention.

Google +1

What is Google +1?

Google +1 delivers a new set of social search results based on explicit recommendations from your social graph. Right now, those recommendations are made by clicking the +1 button next to a search result - both organic and paid.

In the future, users will be able to recommend content from sites that present the +1 button. At that point, Google +1 will behave similar to a Facebook Like.

All +1s are aggregated and presented on a +1's tab on your Google profile, which begins to look like a social networking platform.

Google +1 User Experience

Google +1 is a heavy feature on the page, with the icon appearing next to every result on a SERP. Do we really need more to look at? The +1 icon (and instant preview icon) will animate and 'light up' as you mouse over any part of that search result.

Google +1 User Experience

These features have nothing to do with each other yet they are presented to the user by the same action. I understand these are 'actions' a user can take on a search result but I'm not sure that's intuitive.

Will the mainstream user even grok the +1 nomenclature? I do, but will the mom in suburban Omaha? Facebook was brilliant in using a term and icon that was instantly recognizable.

I also find the +1 mechanism strange in search results. Am I supposed to search, visit a site and return to the SERP to +1 that result? If search is about discovery, how would I make a judgement on a search result before visiting that site? Am I supposed to search for a whole bunch of stuff I already like so I can +1 those results?

If Google wants to put +1 in search results I think it makes more sense to model their block sites feature that only activates after I've visited a site and returned to search results. Alternatively, Google could use web history and only present a +1 option for those pages I have visited.

In the end, it'll make a lot more sense when there are Google +1 buttons on websites and the search results reflect the +1 count from that page.

Google +1 Social Data

We all know that the link graph is a mess and that Google is seeking other ways to measure trust and authority. I don't think the web of links will die out altogether but it certainly needs to be augmented with the web of people.

Google +1 Social Data

I don't think Google wants to rely on Twitter and Facebook for such an important and emerging part of understanding web behavior. Twitter has been civil but the frog boiling of their developer platform is ominous. Facebook has been outright hostile and recently took steps to hide even more web content from Google.

Social signals matter and Google +1 gives Google their own explicit source of social data.

Google +1 allows Google to mine both your personal social graph (your friends who have +1'd items) but also the +1 graph (the popularity of an item based on all +1 activity.)

One has to believe that Google profiles will become some sort of social nexus where further meta information can be attached to +1s. Today it's a simple list of +1 pages. Tomorrow I might be able to comment on your +1s or Yo Dawg your +1 by giving it a +1. Social proof, curation and the wisdom (or not) of crowds could rise in importance.

As Google begins to look at the +1 data, they may be able to find individuals who have more influence. Not just overall influence but influence for a specific topic.

This means that over time Google could weight a +1 from one individual on a sliding scale. A +1 from yours truly on an SEO site might carry a lot of weight, while a +1 from me on a knitting site might carry little weight.

By mapping topical influence, Google may be able to avoid +1 gaming.

Google +1 Personalization

What does this mean for search and SEO specifically? Google +1 may change the nature of search personalization. The difference between a standard result and a personalized result could get bigger and that would be an interesting SEO development.

Right now, Google's personalization doesn't disrupt traditional SEO. Google (and a many SEOs) talk about it a lot and they have increased the number of queries they personalize, but the personalization is still rather subtle in nature. A result might move up and down a place or two, but not from the top of page 1 to the middle of page 2.

Google +1 might change that. Search results could behave more like Facebook's EdgeRank, which radically changes what each individual sees and experiences.

Google +1 Attention

Google +1 makes Google less reliant on competitors for social data and should help them improve search results. But is that really Google's only goal?

In order to +1 things, you first need a public Google profile. This helps people see who recommended that tasty recipe or great campsite. When you create a profile, it's visible to anyone and connections with your email address can easily find it.

Your +1’s are stored in a new tab on your Google profile. You can show your +1’s tab to the world, or keep it private and just use it to personally manage the ever-expanding record of things you love around the web.

Google profiles could enter the war for user attention, currently being won (handily) by Facebook. People spend enormous amounts of time on Facebook, and that's dangerous since it's only a matter of time before Facebook becomes a real search competitor.

We've seen Google redesign Google profiles and got a glimpse into future social connections like FourSquare and Github. Google profiles contains rich feeds of information from Buzz, PicasaWeb and +1. Google has also paid close attention to privacy, learning from their mistake with Buzz. It all adds up to making Google profiles a true destination for social information.

Google could claim some level of success if Google +1 slows the adoption or ubiquity of Facebook's Like button. Fracturing Facebook's hold on attention seems like the end game.

Google +1 and Circles

Take a spin over to your Google Dashboard and you'll find the (no longer) mythical Circles feature.

Google Social Circle and Content

Click on View social circle and you get an idea of how far along Google is on their social product.

Googel Social Circle

Google has constructed their own social graph and are now building features and user facing tools on top of this expanding data structure. I'd argue that +1 is a data feed to further support a still emerging social networking product.

Will Google +1 work?

Google does not have a good track record when it comes to social, including SearchWiki, Stars, Wave and even Buzz.

The current search interface for creating and viewing +1s seems clunky and the entire visual field seems both too saturated and nebulous at the same time. But I'll hold judgement until +1 buttons show up on websites. It's then that mainstream users might better understand the functionality.

From a search quality perspective, I believe results could get better, but it's not a fait accompli. The integrity of a user's social graph will be paramount. How large is that social graph? Does it contain strong ties or weak ties? Which nodes in a social graph are more meaningful or influential? (e.g. - a +1 from your best friend might mean more than a +1 from someone you met once at a conference.)

Facebook is ahead of the game here with their EdgeRank algorithm. Google will need to further develop their own to make personalized search successful.

If Google really wants to take this to the next level, make a +1 bookmarklet (or bundle it with Toolbar or Chrome for wider use.) That way I can +1 sites and pages that don't have the button on their site. This would expand the reach of social search beyond just those sites savvy enough to implement the buttons.

At the end of the day I think Google needs +1 to work, if for no other reason then to have an independent source of social data. The war for social data and your attention may have begun in earnest.

Google Personalized Search

March 21 2011 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // Comment

Google recently launched a new feature that allows users to personalize their search results by blocking certain domains. What impact will this have and what does it mean for the future of search?

The Smiths

Artificial Intelligence

A recent New York Post article by Peter Norvig discussed advances in artificial intelligence. Instead of creating HAL, the current philosophy is to allow both human and computer to concentrate on what they do best.

A good example is the web search engine, which uses A.I. (and other technology) to sort through billions of web pages to give you the most relevant pages for your query. It does this far better and faster than any human could manage. But the search engine still relies on the human to make the final judgment: which link to click on, and how to interpret the resulting page.

The partnership between human and machine is stronger than either one alone. As Werner von Braun said when he was asked what sort of computer should be put onboard in future space missions, “Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft, and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.” There is no need to replace humans; rather, we should think of what tools will make them more productive.

I like where this might be leading and absolutely love the idea of personalized results. Let me shape my own search results!

Human Computer Information Retrieval

I've been reading a lot about HCIR lately. It's a fascinating area of research that could truly change how we search. Implemented the right way, search would become very personal and very powerful.

The challenge seems to be creating effective human computer refinement interfaces. Or, more specifically, interfaces that produce active refinement, not passive refinement.

At present, Google uses a lot of passive refinement to personalize results. They look at an individual's search and web history, track click-through rate and pogosticking on SERPs and add a layer of geolocation.

Getting users to actively participate has been a problem for Google.

Jerry Maguire

A Brief History of Google Personalization

Google launched personalized search in June of 2005 and expanded their efforts in February of 2007. But the first major foray into soliciting active refinement was in November of 2008 with the launch of SearchWiki.

This new feature is an example of how search is becoming increasingly dynamic, giving people tools that make search even more useful to them in their daily lives.

The problem was that no one really used SearchWiki. In the end it was simply too complicated and couldn't compete with other elements on the page, including the rising prominence of universal search results and additional Onebox presentations.

In December of 2009 Google expanded the reach of personalized search.

What we're doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser.

This didn't go down so well with a number of privacy folks. However, I believe it showed that Google felt personalized search did benefit users. They also probably wanted to expand their data set.

In March of 2010 SearchWiki was retired with the launch of Stars.

With stars, we've created a lightweight and flexible way for people to mark and rediscover web content.

Stars wasn't really about personalizing results. It presented relevant bookmarks at the top of your search results. Google clearly learned that the interaction design for SearchWiki wasn't working. The Stars interaction design was far easier, but the feature benefits weren't compelling enough.

A year later, Stars is replaced with blocked sites.

We’re adding this feature because we believe giving you control over the results you find will provide an even more personalized and enjoyable experience on Google.

Actually, I'm not sure what this feature is called. Are we blocking sites or hiding sites? The lack of product marketing surrounding this feature makes me think it was rushed into production.

In addition, the interaction design of the feature is essentially the same as FriendFeed's hide functionality. Perhaps that's why the messaging is so confused.

Cribbing the FriendFeed hide feature isn't a bad thing - it's simple, elegant and powerful. In fact, I hope Google adopts the extended feature set and allows results from a blocked site to be surfaced if it is recommended by someone in my social graph.

Can Google Engage Users?

I wish Google would have launched the block feature more aggressively and before any large scale algorithmic changes. The staging of these developments points to a lack of confidence in engaging users to refine search results.

Google hasn't solved the active engagement problem. Other Google products that rely on active engagement have also failed to dazzle, including Google Wave and Google Buzz.

I worry that this short-coming may cause Google to focus on leveraging engagement rather then working on ways to increase the breadth and depth of engagement.

In addition, while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.

This may simply be a way to reserve the right to use the data in the future. And, in general, I don't have a problem with using the data as long as it's used in moderation.

Curated data can help augment the algorithm. Yet, it is a slippery slope. The influence of others shouldn't have a dramatic effect on my search results and certainly should not lead to sites being removed from results altogether.

That's not personalization, that's censorship.

SERPs are not Snowflakes

All of Google's search personalization has been relatively subtle and innocuous. Rank is still meaningful despite claims by chicken little SEOs. I'm not sure what reports they're looking at, but the variation in rank on terms due to personalization is still low.

SERPs are not Snowflakes

Even when personalization is applied, it is rarely a game changer. You'll see small movement within the rankings, but not wild changes. I can still track and trend average rank, even with personalization becoming more commonplace. Given the amount of bucket testing Google is doing I can't even say that the observed differences can be attributed solely to personalization.

I don't use rankings as a way to steer my SEO efforts, but to think rank is no longer useful as a measurement device is wrong. Yet, personalization still has the potential to be disruptive.

The Future of Search Personalization

Google needs to increase the level of active human interaction with search results. They need our help to take search to the next level. Yet, most of what I hear lately is about Google trying to predict search behavior. Have they given up on us? I hope not.

Gary Marchionini, a leader in the HCIR field, puts forth a number of goals for HCIR systems. Among them are a few that I think bear repeating.

Systems should increase user responsibility as well as control; that is, information systems require human intellectual effort, and good effort is rewarded.

Systems should be engaging and fun to use.

The idea that the process should be engaging, fun to use and that good effort is rewarded sounds a lot like game mechanics. Imagine if Google could get people to engage search results on the same level as they engage with World of Warcraft!

World of Google

Might a percentage complete device, popularized by LinkedIn, increase engagement? Maybe, like StackOverflow, certain search features are only available (or unlocked) once a user has invested time and effort? Game mechanics not only increases engagement but helps introduce, educate and train users on that product or system.

Gamification of search is just one way you could try to tackle the active engagement problem. There are plenty of other avenues available.

Personalization and SEO

I used the cover artwork from the Smith's last studio album at the beginning of this post. I thought 'Strangeways, Here We Come' was an apt description for the potential future of personalized search. However, a popular track from this album may be more meaningful.

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.

SEO is not dead, nor will it die as a result of personalization. The industry will continue to evolve and grow. Personalization will only hasten the integration of numerous other related fields (UX and CRO among others) into SEO.

The block site feature is a step in the right direction because it allows control and refinement of the search experience transparently without impacting others. It could be the start of a revolution in search. Yet ... I have heard this one before.

Lets hope Google has another album left in them.