Practical Ecommerce

Google’s +1 Expansion Boosts Search and Social

The Google +1 button now plays a much more visible role in promoting content in search and social marketing. Much like Facebook’s Like button, Google’s +1 button allows — as of last week — Google+ users to share a comment, an image, a headline and a snippet of text when +1’ing a page. Compared to the +1 button’s previously limited role of decorating blog posts and search results pages, the expansion connects some important dots in the evolution of Google as a social media payer. More importantly for ecommerce merchants, it represents an excellent opportunity to influence what gets shared, control how it looks when shared and increase visibility in search engines and in social marketing.

Linking +1 to Google+

There are two important elements here. First, the +1 button finally hooks into Google+ — the new social site — extending its visibility greatly. Previously, sites that had added the +1 button would display +1 counts, a sort of validation of a page’s worth for people who happened to be on that page and happened to notice the button and its count number. In addition, the +1 button added a social element to Google search results, displaying the number of users in a social network who had +1’d a URL that happened to rank. So if a searcher had a social network of friends who +1’d pages and if any of those pages ranked in Google, the search result would display the +1’ing friend’s mug. This is all good stuff, but it still felt like Google was missing some important handshakes in social sharing.

Publishers Control What’s Shared

The second key element here is the publisher’s ability to select which text and image are displayed when the customer shares with the +1 button. Using the Schema.org attributes for +Snippets — see the Google blog post on that topic — to promote more strongly the content that’s already on a site, ecommerce marketers can take control of the visual experience that their customers share on Google+. For example, to set a name, image, and description in a product page, just add tags like these around the existing product content:

Example code containing the +Snippet attributes

Example code containing the +Snippet attributes

If these attributes aren’t present, the +1 button will share default data such as the page’s title tag, meta description, and an image from the page. Is that the most compelling introduction to a page? Will it entice the click from Google+ to your site to investigate more or even purchase? Let’s consider some examples of pages with default data shared, and look at how the same pages could be made more enticing with +Snippets.

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions, by Default

Most sites that use the +1 button haven’t marked their product pages up with Schema.org attributes for +Snippets yet. In the meantime, Google is pulling from the title tag and meta description for +1 sharing content. If you have relevant and grammatically friendly title tags and meta descriptions, you’ll have decent default +Snippets.

For example, Best Buy’s product page for the “ASUS Transformer 16GB tablet” is weak and uninteresting. Best Buy, unfortunately, has long, technical product names to deal with, making for poor reading +Snippet article names. Its meta description isn’t helping either, in this case. Unless the Google+ user who sees this in his feed already wants the ASUS Transformer 16GB tablet he’s probably not going to click through based on this share.

Bust Buy has a lot to gain from scalable +1 button optimization, considering its products are near and dear to Google+’s core male, tech-skewed audience. Take Best Buy’s product page for the ASUS Transformer 16GB tablet, for example, which 51 people have +1’d. That doesn’t sound like much, but that’s 51 tech geeks recommending a particular product at a particular store to an audience known for its tech geekery. Even livening up the description would help, and Best Buy has a decent amount of product description copy on most product pages to make this a scalable effort. Placing the following description attribute tags around the first paragraph of content would help:

Connect to the Internet without wires via this tablet’s wireless LAN. The Bluetooth capability allows for hands-free connection to other Bluetooth-enabled devices, and a 10.1″ touch-screen display provides easy navigation of features.

The product description in this case doesn’t make for a thrilling +Snippet description. But it’s better than what’s there now and far more scalable to implement across all products.

PETCO Provides Relevant, Helpful Data

PETCO does a good job of providing a relevant set of data for Google +1 sharing, as seen on this product page for mylar cat toys.

Again, the title tag, meta description and primary product image are pulled for the +Snippet. Because PETCO has done the work to create relevant title tags and meta descriptions, its sharing snippets are also relevant. The result is a visually interesting and textually relevant +Snippet to share in Google+. It would be nice to have the type or pet referenced, for SEO as well as for sharing snippets. Both could be improved by updating the title tag to include category information: “Jumbo Mylar Balls: Cat Toys & Balls from PETCO.”

If PETCO doesn’t want to mess with its title tags and meta description, it could also mark up the product content already on the page with Schema.org attributes for +Snippets. In the case of the mylar crinkle ball, the body content for the product description just repeats same text as the meta description. For products with high likelihood of sharing, high volumes of sales and high margins, though, unique body content marked up with Schema.org attributes for +Snippets could make a lot of sense.

Analyzing Your Own Ecommerce Site

The first step to taking control of the visual appeal of +Snippets is to try it yourself. If your site has the Google +1 button already implemented, click it. If you don’t have the button installed, just log into Google+ and share the URL for one of your pages. The +Snippet will be pulled the same way as with the +1 button. Do you like what you see?

If not, perhaps a course of optimization to improve title tags and meta descriptions is in order. This optimization has the potential to improve your organic search performance as well as click-throughs from Google+ and other social networks like Facebook that share snippets of content with URLs. Or, if title tags and meta descriptions are contributing to strong search-engine-optimization performance already but don’t create strong +Snippets, use the Schema.org attributes to designate more descriptive and grammatically pleasing content for sharing.

Jill Kocher

Jill Kocher

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  1. Jill Kocher August 31, 2011 Reply

    By the way, if you need a Google+ invite to test out your +Snippets, feel free to [use my invite link](https://plus.google.com/i/YpFm94MLsbY:4EpVXyfOCLY).

    There are about 140 more invites left on it, so "Grab ‘n growl!" as my dad likes to say.