Let me start off by being very clear. Google is not getting rid of PageRank in favor of the +1 button. Google is, however, looking at the data from the +1 button as a signal of content quality, and +1s will no doubt continue to be largely coveted by webmasters and content creators web-wide.
It’s been pretty clear since Google first announced the +1 button (even before they announced Google+) that the feature was designed to send Google signals for quality content. It was essentially billed as a way for web users to tell Google when a piece of content is good enough to be considered a good search result.
Wired is running a story now saying that Google has confirmed its plans of turning the button into “a crowdsourcing tool that helps re-order search results and fight web spam”.
“Google will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results,” a Google spokesperson is quoted as saying. “The purpose of any ranking signal is to improve overall search quality. For +1’s and other social ranking signals, as with any new ranking signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals are related to quality.”
Of course it is unwise to place too much emphasis on just a single ranking signal. At least that’s what Google would have webmasters believe. They’re tossing around very similar language with regard to the +1 button ranking as they historically have when people worry about PageRank too much: “There are more than 200 signals that we use to determine the rank of a website, and last year we made more than 500 improvements to the algorithm.”
Just as you’ve seen plenty trying to boost their PageRank through black hat tactics, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that these same people will try to exploit the +1 button. A major weapon against this that Google has is its strict Google+ account name policy, which has been a bit controversial thus far.
It became clear in recent days that Google+ is all about identity as far as Google is concerned. Eric Schmidt drove this point home, as discussed here. While this makes sense for a variety of reasons (including the potential integration of Google+ with products like Google Wallet), it also makes a great deal of sense in that it shows Google exactly who is +1ing what, which should in turn help them enforce any policy (current or future) concerning abuse of the button for gaming search.
In terms of white hat tactics, you may do well to consider things like this research comScore just shared. +1′s now mean more sharing of content to the actual Google+ network – people’s circles, which should (in theory) translate to increased traffic from Google+ itself. So, it may help to know about the kinds of people who are using Google+, as opposed to Facebook, for example. comScore’s data looks at those searches containing the Google+ and Facebook brands. It’s probably not exact, but many of those searching for Google+ content are likely going to be users of the service.
“The most striking differences between Google+ searchers and Facebook searchers are in Age and Income level,” says Eli Goodman, who leads the business development team at comScore. “Google+ searchers overwhelmingly skew towards 18-34 year olds. Clearly Google+ is a popular brand with the younger segments, and good knowledge for Google to have as they develop their acquisition strategy and evolve their user base. Since Facebook is a much more mature brand in the social networking space, their search audience falls closely in line with the search population at large.”
“The income skews are even more distinct, essentially polar opposites of each other,” he adds. “More than 32% of Google+ searchers have a household income of $100K or greater, compared to 23% of Facebook searchers. Google+ is definitely off to a fast start in reaching the most desirable income segments, which may make it more attractive to advertisers.”