Google+ Comes Full Circle with “Search plus Your World”

I’ll admit to being a bit dubious about Google+ from the start. Yes, it has potential to impact search and be the source for very rich conversations between personal connections and brand customers. But questions about how many people were using it and how often held me back a bit, despite the numerous reports of growth that Google neither confirms nor denies. Plus, social media marketing is a game of prioritization. Brands need to identify where they need to focus their time, money and resources. Priorities are typically where they're customers are or have the potential to be. Google+ is new and growing. And up to this point, it didn't bring too many new ways to engage with consumers to the table.

I can say that I’m no longer a skeptic.

The Plan

This week Google unveiled the rest of its plans for Google+—make what Google owns, search, better. Now Google+ users are no longer limited to standard search results. They can now search for topics within their Google+ circles, photos, posts and Picasa photo albums with the new feature “Search plus Your World.”

“Search plus Your World” brings three new features:

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks.

Let’s break this down.

The announcement allows people to not just search the web. They can now search their personal social networks (at least what’s on Google+ and Picasa). Only content shared with you or content that is public will be shared with users.

It doesn’t stop there. When searching for people, Google will also use your Google+ profile to complete your search based on people in your circles, assuming that you’re looking for someone you know or are connected to. 

When users search for someone they’re not connected to, they’ll be given the option to add them to their circles. Experts will also display in search results when relevant topics are searched for, giving users the ability to not just find informaiton but experts as well.

These features can be turned on or off using a toggle in the upper right of the results page at any time.

Google’s also added the abilities cto control what is shared publicly, with specific circles or not shared to "Search plus Your World." All features are SSL encrypted.

Google’s plan is simple. Take what users have become accustomed to using all the time, Google Search, and ingrain the Google+ experience to deliver better results and more information.

The Controversy

Google’s move isn’t without controversy. It’s been seen as the objective, algorithm focused tool that isn’t swayed one way or another, but now, it’s clear that Google is focusing on its own platform.

Twitter spoke out against the move saying:

For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.

Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.

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

Of course Twitter has good reasons to say this. It gets traffic from Google, and at one time, Google paid Twitter for access to its information for search purposes.

Google claims that it has access to all of the data from Google+, and this isn't the case with Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has little motivation to work with Google, and as stated above, last year Twitter was charging Google for full access to the Twitter Firehose. Without full access to these platforms' APIs Google argues that if they were included in the results, the results from them wouldn't be as valuable because they would be based on the limited data obtained from crawling public pages.

Google would still win if it crawled public data on Facebook and Twitter because Google+ results would be far more valuable, and incorporating this data would likely stifle the criticisms coming Google's way as it gives its platform more prominence. Who knows... Maybe Twitter and Facebook (less likely) would be persuaded to give Google access to their full APIs because they'd want their content to receive greater prominence. That would only make "Search plus Your World" more powerful.

Is Google+ Enough?

Google’s move is big, but it’s only as big as Google+. The more people use it, the more valuable this new feature will be. What’s missing leaves a big hole. Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms are left out of the integration. This is likely by design, but the value of “Search plus Your World” could be multiplied drastically by incorporating other platforms and the people and content that come with them.

Social Search and Marketing

The opportunity here is really the same one that’s existed for marketers for some time now with social media—create content customers care about. Users can now circle brands based on their search results. If you’re a travel company producing content about unique activities to do in Midwestern cities, and someone searches for it, they’ll be able to connect with you if you have a Google brand page. Search now bridges the gap into social.

There's also the opportunity to encourage conversation about your brand, products or services because third-party reviews from Google+ users will also display. You may search for reviews for a restaurant, and instead of just getting a site like Yelp with reviews from people you don't know, you may see reviews from Google+ connections you do.

Smart Move

Google knows it had one thing Facebook, Twitter and just about any other platform can’t touch, it’s search platform. So it’s focused on taking Google+ to the next level by leveraging that point of difference. Now, Google will have to communicate this value to users and prospective users to make the platform all the more worthwhile and powerful.

"Search plus Your World's" greatest challenge is that it doesn't incorporate other social platforms. That will be an issue for some users, and you can bet we haven't heard the last of this from other social networks and online platforms. Still, Google's going to continue to push on to do whatever it takes to make Google+ succeed.