Google Search Plus Your World: 'Beautiful Journey' or Trainwreck in the Making?

September 13, 2017

At first, I thought it was just a hokey blog post title. But it appears that Google has actually launched a feature called “Search plus Your World” – and with this feature, they claim, “a beautiful journey begins.” (Gag me, right?)

And what is this feature, you ask? Oh, you hadn’t heard? Perhaps “feature” downplays the import. It’s really the next iteration of search – another step towards integrating social data into the results. According to Google, the changes encompass:

  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; and, 
  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. Because behind most every query is a community. 

Though it looks like Search plus Your World will be the default, you can turn it off:

We’re also introducing a prominent new toggle on the upper right of the results page where you can see what your search results look like without personal content. With a single click, you can see an unpersonalized view of search results.

So, what does it all mean? Let’s take a look.

Danny Sullivan Calls Search Plus Your World Google’s ‘Most Radical Transformation Ever’

You can depend on deep coverage of Google news from Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land, and he delivered as usual this week with a couple of posts that explain the changes and offer some analysis.

He explains that personalized results and social results have been united into one algorithm. Here’s what personalized results now include, according to Sullivan:

To summarize, personalized results include:

  • Listings from the web
  • Listings from the web, boosted because of your personal behavior
  • Listings from the web, boosted because of your social connections
  • Public Google+ posts, photos or Google Picasa photos (all of which are also listings from the web)
  • Private or “Limited” Google+ posts, photos or Google Picasa photos shared with you

The last line is the most radical change, that private content will now be visible in what seems to be a search across the entire web.

In other words, you can see private photos (such as those in your own or your friends’ Picasa albums) by performing a search in Google.

The obvious problem here is that so far the expanded (or narrowed?) search results only include private data from Google products like Google+ and Picasa – not those larger and more established stores of data like Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. But they hope to obtain access to those data stores in the  Here’s Sullivan again (highlighting mine throughout):

“Facebook and Twitter and other services, basically, their terms of service don’t allow us to crawl them deeply and store things. Google+ is the only [network] that provides such a persistent service,” Singhal told me. “Of course, going forward, if others were willing to change, we’d look at designing things to see how it would work.”

Perhaps Search Plus Your World will prove the carrot or stick that Google’s been after for years to get Facebook to share its data with Google. If the new feature takes off, searchers may wonder why they can’t find privately shared information from their Facebook friends easily on Google.

In a follow-up post, he shows some real-life examples of the new results. Even when signed out, Google is returning Google+ profiles in the SERP (favored, naturally, over Twitter and Facebook profiles). This means Google+ continues to be of huge importance to search marketers. It also presents two potential problems: 1) legal complications and 2) quality problems (“Google’s job as a search engine is to direct searchers to the most relevant information on the web, not just to information that Google may have an interest in.”).

In another followup, he calls this feature "favoritism," in a way that's fundamentally different from previous vertical search results.

What Else Are People Saying About Search Plus Your World?

Greg Sterling notes that the effects on local search results are limited so far.

Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch thinks this is going to get (much) bigger:

It’s starting small, with Google+ and Picasa integration. But over time we’ll likely see results from Google Docs, Gmail, Contacts, Music, Voice, Wallet, and so on. You’ll go to Google.com, type in whatever it is you’re looking for, and you’ll see both your own content alongside web results. It’ll be an Omnibox for everything, and if it figures out a way to incorporate third-party data as well (be it through partnerships or APIs), it could be very powerful.

Dan Worth at V3 reports that Twitter has criticized the update, saying in an official statement: “We're concerned that, as a result of Google's changes, finding [real-time] information will be much harder for everyone. We think that's bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.”

David Angotti at Search Engine Journal writes:

Although Twitter is attempting to convince web users that Google’s new search feature will make it more difficult to find information that is shared on Twitter, the update has done nothing to change accessibility to Twitter. However, the expiration of the real-time search agreement in July of last year DID affect both visibility and accessibility for web users.

Google reps also found Twitter’s claims strange since “they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer.”

Patrick Altoft finds the results “pretty mind blowing.” He also points out that the changes will have “a major impact on PPC”:

A search for “cars” brings up the Google+ results for Ferrari & BMW above the PPC ads on the right hand side of the page. For BMW & Ferrari where PPC is mainly a brand play I’m sure they would much prefer to have their logo and a long snippet of text rather than a PPC ad, especially when it’s totally free.

Lee Odden calls this “a change as significant as Universal Search in 2007.” He also offers some SEO tips for marketers, writing that:

One of the key Google+ takeaways for marketers is that the more people who have added your personal or business Google+ page to their circles, the greater the likelihood that your content or activity will appear in their search results. In the way that bots crawling and indexing web pages was the price of admission into the Google index, now it’s sharing and interaction amongst your Google+ network that is necessary (along with relevant content – same as it is with web pages).

The Bad & the Ugly

Farhad Manjoo at Slate goes so far as to say that Google “just broke its search engine”:

I just searched for “Mitt Romney New Hampshire,” and among my results were a handful of posts and images that my friends and colleagues shared via Google+. Regular readers know that I consider Google+ a wasteland and that I’ve left it for dead. On the other hand, I’m constantly on Twitter and Facebook—but my search for Romney turned up nothing that had been shared by people on those sites. Meanwhile, as Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan points out, if you search for “Facebook,” Google now suggests that you follow Mark Zuckerberg’s fallow Google+ page. Zuckerberg’s most active online outpost is on Facebook. If Google doesn’t tell you about the Facebook CEO’s Facebook page, it’s broken

Matt Cutts shares a story in which he searches for “werewolf” (a game) and gets back a picture of himself playing it. He calls this a “pure, magic moment.” Maybe for him, because he knows he’s the only one who would be getting this result. But what if your mom suddenly sees a picture of herself in the search results? Don’t you think she might panic and assume that everyone is going to see that same picture?

So far, I’m not seeing these “personal results” in my SERPs – but I don’t have a public Picasa album, and I recently deleted my Google+ profile (I wasn’t getting any value out of it, and I didn’t like that it was changing my experience with other Google products, like Gmail).

Overall, I think this new version of search could be quite amazing – if it grows to include personal data from non-Google sources. If not, I see Google backing itself further and further into a corner of irrelevance. People may want personal data in their search results – it remains to be seen – but if they do, they’ll want data from the sources they actually use. And today, that’s not Google+.

More Web Marketing Highlights

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Matt McGee takes a closer look at just how much damage Google has done by reducing access to organic keyword referral data in the past few months.

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Have a great weekend, folks.

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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