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How does Google’s ‘+1’ measure up to Facebook’s ‘Like’?

Google was founded on the mantra of “give the users what they want and the rest will follow” and the launch of +1 (Plus One) is an attempt at just that.

The search giant realised that Facebook’s “Like” button allowed Facebook access to key data concerning a user’s preferences online. By Liking and +1’ing, users are sending messages not only to their peers but also to the companies (read: Search Engines and Social Networks) who are providing the service.

Whilst Google’s Pagerank algorithm might take into account aspects like links between sites, the actual content on the site and how often it’s been engaged with — it lacks in the more “human” areas of social preference and appreciation. With “Like” — Facebook has been able to see what users are recommending to each other and this is sure to be a gainful, crowdsourced insight when it comes to advertising.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, put it well.

The primary benefit is that search gets better. It gets better in the user interface immediately, and we’ll look at it as a potential signal to improve search quality as well. I find social search extremely useful, especially with the recent updates. This change continues the evolution of social search, and it’s a natural progression to improve the search experience.

Now that the fanfare has subsided and enough time has accumulated to form an opinion, let’s look at how +1 stacks up against Facebook’s like in terms of adoption and efficacy:

Staggered rollout
Google’s rollout of the +1 service hasn’t been the quick and all-encompassing bang needed to unseat “Like” in the mind of the user. An assault on “Like” dominance should have been wide-scaled and quick — instead Google has chosen to stagger the rollout of the service and this has affected its adoption rates. Another issue is that only people who have enabled +1 in their Google profile can use the service, the rest cannot.

No centralised interface
“Like” is popular because there is a repository for users to see other user’s Likes: in Facebook. Google has tried to make this possible by showing users their peer’s +1’s in the search results, but the chances of you coming across a site that your immediate network has +1’d are slim. That said, Google is going to ensure that you will be able to see +1’s from people outside of your social circle so you at least have some idea of the popularity of a site.

Page load time problems with +1
Well respected web performance consultant, Aaron Peters, has written a telling article on how adding +1 to your website decreases load time by up to 2 seconds. For me, the main point is that if you place the +1 script in the head of the HTML document it will delay the initial rendering of the page and users see empty pages for longer. Seeing an empty page is frustrating for the user and leads to an increase in bounce rate.

Even on here on Memeburn, +1’s aren’t clicked nearly as much as likes or tweets.

+1’d adverts should see a rise in CTR
+1 on a website will link up with Adwords the same way it will with SEO. So, for example, if you’ve +1’d a page on a website, the URL is automatically +1’d on the natural AS WELL AS the Adwords results. Having any kind of differentiator to an advert makes it stand out from the rest of the competitors in the field, we saw this with: sitelinks, maps etc and leads to higher CTRs.

Overall, it’s too early to say whether +1 will go the same route as Google’s other failed social network attempts, (remember Wave, Lively and Buzz) — but the early signs are that +1 is more of a whimper than a bang.

Author | Graeme Lipschitz: Columnist

Graeme Lipschitz: Columnist
Graeme Lipschitz is the co-founder of digital innovation agency Wonderland Works where he heads up Social Media, Search and Product Development. He was previously the business development manager at Clicks2Customers.com and has worked for Google UK and South Africa as a lead account strategist, growing Adwords accounts in the... More

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