According to Google, "everything is going Google+" but, few search marketers truly understand what that means. Here are a few points to help bring everyone up to speed.
Google+ Sign In:
According to a recent Google Jobs post:
"The mission of the search growth marketing team is to make that information universally accessible by enabling and educating users around the world to search on Google, search more often, and search while signed-in. Research and analysis has shown that putting Google search access points at the fingertips of users is an effective way of achieving these goals. And the more users that are signed in to Google, the better we can tailor their search results and create a unified experience across all of the Google products that they use."
When users are signed in, Google can better tailor search results and better target ads. Better ads and better search results increase Google's market share not to mention ad revenue. Google+ is one of many programs intended to help increase signed in users.
In order to return relevant search results for human users based on what is important to human users, Google needs access to analyze content and links created by humans.
When Google and its "secret sauce" PageRank algorithm were originally developed, the web was a very different place than it is today. At that time, blogs, Tweets and Facebook did not exist. In the late 1990's, content and links tended to be created by humans and both were freely accessible to Google's crawlers. Back then important websites were "likely to receive more links from other websites." As a result, Google was able to leverage the "citation graph" of the internet to measure "importance" based on "people's subjective idea of importance."
Today, content and links tend to be created by software and not by humans. The best place to find high quality human made content and links today is deep within the password protected confines of social media websites. These issues are both problematic for Google because most social media sites prevent Google from accessing high quality content and links.
For all the skeptics, Google does appear to have billions of Facebook pages indexed. That being said, many of the Facebook pages that Google has indexed are duplicate content from Wikipedia, Facebook and other sources. In cases where Facebook pages are accessible to Google crawlers, outbound links are almost always password protected, nofollowed, disallowed via robots.txt or links to internal Facebook pages which cannot be crawled. As a result, Google is limited to extracting only external Facebook content and a few social media signals which can easily be spammed.
Google+ is like the internet used to be before social media websites existed and PageRank ruled the land. Google+ Ripples even provides a visual representation of impact factor like data similar to PageRank. PageRank or not, Google+ is a place where human made content and links are accessible to Google. According to Google, Google+ represents the "unification of all of Google's services with a common social air." This "social air" makes Google+ a place where more important websites are still likely to receive more links than less important websites. Google+ is a new "citation graph" where Google can once again crawl human crafted content and links to measure page importance based on people's subjective ideas about importance.
Google+ Spam Prevention:
Even if Google's crawlers could access the highest quality human crafted content and links on social media sites, fake content, reviews and unnatural link spam are of little value to Google. Without access to social media user account data, detecting these types of spam can be difficult.
For example and without going into too much detail, Google accounts that frequently send and receive GMail, participate in Google+ Hangouts, watch YouTube videos and that are associated with an Android phone that moves around town, might be considered legitimate. On the other hand, if several accounts are associated with the same IP address and one is used to spam Blogger with duplicate blog posts authored by an associated account, each account could be considered untrustworthy.
It is difficult say for sure which signals Google is currently using, but with Google+ the potential for future spam signals is nearly unlimited. Spam, ranking manipulation, impersonation, deceptive behavior, fake profiles and adding people to circles too aggressively are all violations of Google+ guidelines.
Google CEO and Co-Founder Larry Page has stated "It's really important to know the identity of people so you can share things and comment on things and improve the search ecosystem, you know, as you and as a real person. I think all those things are absolutely crucial. That is why we have worked so hard on Google+, on making it an important part of search."
Google+ was initially developed as an "identity service." The success of Google+ depends on users using their real name. Real names are entities and Google can use entity related data to infer additional information. This type of data can be especially helpful when it comes to returning better search results for queries where expertise is required, and for queries about a specific individual where multiple individuals have the same name.
According to Google, "The internet would be better if we knew you were a real person rather than a dog or a fake person. Some people are just evil and we should be able to ID them and rank them downward." In order to set up a Google+ Profile or Google+ Page for business, Google requires your "common name". In some cases, Google may require an image of the user's drivers license, proof of identification and/or references to verify a user's name as well as his/her identity. For an author's picture to appear in Google search results, Google requires authors to provide a "recognizable headshot" photo. Images like these not only help searchers recognize authors, they can also by used by Google facial recognition software in various ways to help fight spam.
For example, in the near future expect to see Google roll out Google+ custom URLs for a nominal fee, paid by credit card. Because credit card transactions are one method for verifying a users identity, this approach allows Google to verify the identities of multiple users in a short time at scale.
Google believes that, "letting authors verify their name helps increase their credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of their readers." In addition to name verification, Google+ provides tools for identity verification that Google can use to combat various forms of entity authentication fraud.
Google+ User Data:
Google can only collect personal information from users who are willing to provide personal information. According to a former Google employee, "Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people. Advertisers and publishers cherish this kind of personal information, so much so that they are willing to put the Facebook brand before their own."
Google+ allows Google to ask users for personal information that otherwise could not be collected. Without Google+, Google would have no reason to collect personal data like relationship status, employment, occupation, education or places lived. In addition to collecting direct user data, Google+ collects indirect user data from Google +1 buttons. Google +1 buttons have been widely adopted and are currently embedded within billions of webpages. According to Google, +1s provide contextual value when users are in the market for a particular product. It only stands to reason that +1s also allow Google to collect sentiment related data. Once collected, Google can translate this new gold mine of user data into increased ad revenue through targeted ads for signed in users.
As you can see, Google+ is far more than just another social network!