Today Google announced a dramatic change in the format of search results coming to your browser in a steady roll-out across English results. The change is called Google Search Plus the World which will present users logged in to Google with search results mingled with a myriad of socially derived results from friends on Google Plus.

UPDATED January 13th: this article is being updated regularly 

Haven’t we Seen this For a While Now?

This may sound similar to what you have seen over the past while where certain results had a profile shot of a friend next to them because your friend had recently given it a social nod (liked, +1’d, etc.) but this is far more intense. The new additions are opt-out only and include any of the following content showing in results if it is relevant: images, video, and websites. In addition, these results can also include semi-private and private content such as content shared with you via a limited circle in Google Plus or directly from someone in your network; note that does not mean this is visible to anyone else on Google so don’t get freaked about privacy unless you plan on leaving your browser logged in to your Google profile.

Here is the official (and rather cool) video Google used to demonstrate the functionality all Google users will soon see:


The biggest and most alarming takeaway here is that the only social content found within these socialized search results is that of Google Plus! That’s right, Google did not include one iota of content from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or any other social platform. Their excuse is painfully simple and transparent; the others won’t let them spider their content to that degree (the simple part) and Google is whacking them over the head for it (the transparent part). Welcome to a classic case of cause and effect except in this case Google has tread heavily on dangerous ground.

So, based on this news did you pick up how Google just dropped its pants for its competitors? The outright antitrust implications of Google integrating its own social network into supposedly neutral search results without catering to the competition – the pants loosen. The full bare arse is revealed when Google made this new functionality opt-out by default; in other words you are in whether you like it or not until you manually remove yourself. This, in my opinion is the dumbest move imaginable and has the social industry quickly aiming at Google’s privates.

Here are a few examples of the rush of heated headlines spurned by this news:

And this is only hours after the news released… imagine what is to come!

What Google Could Have Done to Minimize Anti-Trust Exposure

I don’t understand when a company willingly puts itself in the path of legal harm which Google clearly has done by not including its competitors in Search Plus; perhaps it is just another clear example of corporations having too much money to care. At any rate, I would have done one or both of the following options to minimize exposure:

  1. Included the content that Google does have access to from the other social platforms. For example, they can index public information from any of the platforms; there is a lot to be had and we see it often in everyday searches on Google. By adding this information they would have the ability to say, “well we would love to include more but we need to create better relationships with each company to get more of that data.” At least that position would have held more water than simply not trying which opens a downright palatial foothold for an antitrust lawsuit.
  2. Not everyone has a Google Profile but the advantages of having one is made abundantly clear if you want to take advantage of Google’s vast array of free applications. Since Google’s entire future strategy relies critically upon pushing Google Profiles it just makes sense to make Search Plus a very bold opt-in option when signing up.  And for those who already have a Profile, just use ads to push the benefits of Search Plus and make it dirt simple to enable the option. Chances are that many will take the option and by going this route Google is free and clear of antitrust; at least I think so based on my admittedly puny knowledge of law.

Living With Google Search Plus

Since it is here to stay it seems, what is it we should do to make the best of Google Search Plus? Here are a few thoughts I have had in the few hours since this news flooded the web:
  1. If you are not on Google Plus then this is yet another reason to get your butt in gear and give it a go otherwise your competitors could end up having even more sway over your marketplace.
  2. Who you are connected with on G+ will be more important than ever for you. After all, the more people you really don’t have a connection with the more you are likely to see noise in your results. So, begin cutting back people you follow to those you really care to listen to. On a personal note I know I have been throwing people into circles willy-nilly and I am now concerned my results will be jammed with pictures and noise I have no interest in seeing during my daily searches.
  3. Pay even more attention to what you like and comment on within Google Plus because it is more likely to haunt you if you choose unwisely thanks to this extra exposure of your social habits.
  4. Consider this yet another indicator that social signals will be playing a greater role in how content is found and ranked online… links simply are not enough anymore (although still important). Yes, that means social has added to your workload but that isn’t news is it?

One key request I have for Google: there needs to be a way to specify which circles I want to appear in results – that way I and fellow Google Plus users can create and monitor noisier circles within Google Plus without polluting our Search Plus results.

So what do you think? Should Google have rolled this out differently to not offend any of the social platforms or do you figure (as I do with some inner conflict) the other social platforms can shut their collective whining pie holes for not being more open with their data in the first place?

UPDATE #1 (Jan 12): Google Search Plus the World is provoking a lot of discussion so here are some related articles to check out that have been released since this article was posted:

  • Has Google Popped the Filter Bubble? from Wired Magazine
    This is a fascinating take on the other side of this update to Google. The article explains the other side of the coin which is that users will get zero personalized results when they click on the opt-out button (it is a globe) which appears next to the personalized results button. What this means is suddenly you will have the ability to see content Google isn’t delivering based on your habits but purely related to your search which could translate into seeing content you never saw before and thus expanding your perceptions and viewpoint(s).
  • Privacy and anti-trust flap over Google ‘Search, Plus Your World’ from Computer World
    This article presents a mix of quotes and opinions from industry leaders and officials about the implications of this update and the likelihood of it moving into the realm of anti-trust.
  • Dirty Little Secrets: The Trouble with Social Search from Wired Magazine
    A good overview of the fallout from a few posts and articles that arose over the past couple of days from  Twitter and Google and the divisive discussion it has created; since many believe Google has every right to do what they did and others feel the polar opposite.
UPDATE #2 (Jan 13):  I just completed an episode of SEO 101 on all about Google Search Plus the World and the latest news surrounding it.  Our special guest is Terry Van Horne, Partner at the SEO Training Dojo and a veteran of 17 years in the SEO industry. It was a lot of fun and if you like this topic I think you will find it interesting.  It will air on Monday at 2pm PST / 5pm EST at or  if you miss the episode live you can download it on iTunes easily via this short link

Also there have been a few great articles showing how poorly this new “enhancement” to Google Search was implemented:

  • Rank for Anything You Want on Google Search Plus the World from Search Engine Watch
    Spammers rejoice! Google has f*cked up and included a way for you to completely ruin organic rankings for everyone. Okay, yes, I am being facetious here but it really is that bad. Google has pretty much dropped its spam shield with this update. Watch out what you click!
  • Google “Search Plus” and Our Ever Decreasing Circles from Search Engine Watch
    Nichola Stott outlines in a very efficient manner her views on the launch of Search Plus and why she believes it smacks of sour grapes at Google’s end for not including the publicly available content at Facebook and Twitter.
Google’s response to the negative industry feedback has been lame at best and this hype page is a great example: “Consumers and Analysts on Google’s Search Plus Your World