Another change is taking place with Google's search rankings, on the heels of Google's Farmer Update. This one, +1, is all about the intersection of social and search.
From the official Google blog: "Our goal at Google is to get you the most relevant results as quickly as possible. But relevance is about relationships as well as words on webpages."
Social in search is nothing new to Google results. For a while now, we've all seen Twitter updates in Google's SERPs, for example. But +1 marks a whole new era. In short, by clicking a button next to search results users can recommend a result to everyone in their social graph, via Google profiles (see image below). This provides a citation from a "friend" -- and the new inbound link for SEO. So, whenever a user searches in Google, results voted up by members of that user's social graph will be profiled in the results.
Whether this is an admission of Facebook fear from Google or simply a natural evolution of search in an increasingly social Web, this has big implications for Web professionals.
What it Means to You
So what does this mean to the Web professional? The easiest and most appropriate answer is ... we're not sure. This appears to be a significant change to Google -- one of the most important companies on the planet that doesn't take change lightly. You can be sure that plenty of fail-safe's are in place and a kill switch is within reach. It's simply much too early to know how (or how much) this will change search, much less tried-and-true SEO practices. But, there are some things we can do to prepare for any such changes.
If you don't yet have a Google profile set up and optimized with your company information and pertinent links and Web pages, do so. Right now.
You can then check your current connections in the "Social Circle and Content" section of the Google Dashboard. This is who you currently might influence in search results, and who might influence your results. It should go without saying that expanding your Google social circle is an immediate priority for Web businesses. The more people in your circle, the more you can influence search results for them.
If you have an email newsletter and/or an email subscriber list, import the data. Look for those individuals with gmail accounts and start adding them to your Google social graph.
There's also a little Google property known as YouTube. Video is already indexed and prominently displayed in search results. Expect even more, now. That means not only creating and uploading video to YouTube, but branding your company's YouTube channel and making social connections through YouTube.com, in channel subscribers and friends.
Google is also offering +1 buttons for website owners to embed in their own sites. Users can then "like" the page and it should, therefore, become a more prominent page in search results. The +1 button can be obtained at google.com/wembaster/+1button.
You didn't think this algorithm change would be limited to organic results, did you? AdWords ads will also feature the +1 button so that users can recommend useful ads, based on their searches. Seen in the image here, if a personal contact cites the ad you will see that very personal recommendation.
For advertisers, this means great care should be taken to creat relevant, accurate and perhaps even entertaining ads. Think like Groupon - although you don't have near the same amount of characters to use, their descriptions of services being sold are highly engaging. What's more, +1 votes could ultimately affect Quality Score, thus bringing down advertising costs.
Google +1 obviously changes things and puts renewed importance on Google social tools. It's also in its very early stages. There will be questions and concerns, such as how much rankings are influenced by votes, whether the average user will vote for search results, and if the system is susceptible to gaming.
Keep in mind, too, that other social networks and websites should not be abandoned in any way. Facebook, Twitter and some others have emerged as powerful resources for Internet business and it will remain so. Even Google's blog acknowledges that the social Web is far bigger than just Google products: "Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible."
In short, we cannot ignore Google at any time and it appears that we will be forced to participate in Google's version of the social Web. But keep a balanced approach. Not everything Google is gold.