Skip to Content

Google's +1 and Facebook's 'Like' Buttons – the Differences & Implications.

The author

Epiphany Search

Ever since Google rolled out its new +1 button, there's been a fair bit of debate in the digital marketing community. Is it simply an attempt to cash in on the success of Facebook's 'Like' button? Do the two differ in any significant way? The answer: Perhaps and Yes. With +1 now appearing across many sites and SERPs, it's time to look at the major differences between the two and what it might mean for search in the future.

Ever since Google rolled out its new +1 button, there's been a fair bit of debate in the digital marketing community. Is it simply an attempt to cash in on the success of Facebook's 'Like' button? Do the two differ in any significant way? The answer: Perhaps and Yes. With +1 now appearing across many sites and SERPs, it's time to look at the major differences between the two and what it might mean for search in the future.

Endorsement versus Social Sharing – Basic Differences

At its most basic, both Google's +1 and Facebook's 'Like' button have largely divergent aims, which fall in line with what one would expect from the two companies. As a social network, Faceook's primary aim is to further social interaction amongst its users, particularly inside user created networks, that mirror their real life interactions with others. On the flip side, Google has never made a secret of its primary goal to improve search quality and the experience for end users . Thus, it isn't surprising that the aim of the two buttons differs as their official descriptions highlight. Facebook has said of the 'Like' button: ''It lets a user share...content with friends on Facebook. When the user clicks the 'Like' button on your site, a story appears in the user's friends' News Feed with a link back to your website.'' Yet Google refers to the +1 button as: ''Shorthand for "this is pretty cool" or "you should check this out.” So while the 'Like' button was intended as a means of furthering Facebook's aim of sharing content with friends, the +1 acts more as an endorsement of a particular site.  This is also similar to the 'editorial vote' cast by links in the original Page Rank model.

Influence

This fundamental difference continues to be played out in the way the two influence search results. The 'Like' button previously had no direct impact on search results, although this statement should perhaps be qualified in light of Bing's implementation of the 'friend effect.' The feature allows users of the Bing toolbar, who are also logged into a Facebook account, to like a search result. They will also see who else in their network has liked various sites and be presented with personalised SERPs ranked on the basis of these likes. On the other hand, Google has publicly acknowledged that +1 will be used to influence search results, albeit initially inside the scope of recommendations made by your Google contacts. Thus, if anyone inside your Google network +1's a site, it will have an impact on its visibility inside your search results. However, it would also appear that Google is planning to use +1 recommendations as a further influencing factor in organic search results across the board, stating that: ''This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and...as with any new ranking signal, we'll be starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality.'' One would suspect then, it's when rather than if, that +1 signals will become a permanent feature in Google's algorithm. The button has also been rolled out for paid ads and will likely impact CTR, given that both paid and organic +1's will be visible next to the URL. Equally, landing page quality is also likely to be affected by a site's +1 count. Again, while it sounds similar to Facebook, one must remember that Google owns the AdWords structure and is clearly integrating its own social signals

Implications for Search

So just what are the implications of the two systems for search? As the folks over at Search Engine Land recently pointed out, Bing's market share may increase amongst those who frequently use Facebook, given the increasing integration of the two. While it's only conjecture for the time being, it'll be interesting to see whether the two systems lend themselves to different search demographics. However, the obvious point to be made is that the integration of social signals into search is only going to increase. The +1 button will likely become as ubiquitous as the 'Like' button over the next few weeks, especially given the potential rankings boost they may bring. Assuming this is the case, it will present Google access to a huge wealth of data on its users, including their interests, without any formal structure like Facebook. On the organic front, this will likely mean that over time Google, and potentially other search engines, could target users with a much greater level of detail than previously. Coupled with the collection of search queries and user location that come as standard, the signals from the +1 button could help to build up an incredibly detailed picture of a user, including their and their peers’ interests. If such signals are collated into a useable form, then search may become far more refined than simple geo-targeting and the like over the next few years. Queries could be ranked based on what are currently seen as intangibles, such as personal preference and that could potentially change the search landscape. This effect is also likely to be seen in paid search. As previously mentioned, if the +1 signals affect paid ads directly and indirectly, then there will invariably be increased coordination to drive users to +1 pages, in order to improve campaigns. This could lead to a change in the responsibilities of those running paid campaigns, especially given the inevitable attempts to influence the system by site owners. It’s all conjecture for the time being, but over the comings months, what is certain is that the two buttons will contribute to a change in the search landscape driven by the increasing integration of social signals.

Eleventh Hour Addition

Since starting this (yes, I really do write that slowly), there’s been a growing buzz surrounding the limited rollout of Google’s own social network, Google+. At first impression, it looks pretty similar to Facebook, both in aim and layout. While it’s perhaps a shift towards a more structured social approach, one would expect that it’s a further attempt by Google to collect social data, which could see the more detailed search appearing sooner than previously expected. What are your thoughts? Please leave your comments either on here or Twitter - @jhaleseo