With all of the attention that 's being paid to Facebook and Twitter, it's easy to forget that no single company impacts media and marketers the way Google does. Even small changes in Google's algorithm or its underlying search technology can cause a massive ripple effect in consumer traffic patterns and buying behaviors.
The intentionally low-key launch of the Google+ social network -- which ended up being quite strong out of the chute -- is no different. It's Google's effort to encourage more consumers to create and share content it can easily see, index and monetize. This is critical for Google as more content slips into the "invisible web" that exists solely behind Facebook's walls.
The Google+ launch, however, overshadowed three recent smaller announcements that are arguably far more significant. These point to a massive shift in the kind of data Google is factoring into its algorithm. And these refinements come just as the search engine is being increasingly criticized for being gamed into delivering lower-quality results. Together they reveal a company that is serious about social signals.
Let's take a deeper look at each.
First, on June 7, Google unveiled a new way for authors to claim ownership of their content around the web. This allows a writer to embed verified HTML code tied to their Google+ profile in all his content, no matter where it appears (e.g. my blog or AdAge.com). Once inserted, Google then automatically includes the author's profile image whenever these works show up in searches. Already The New York Times, CNET and The New Yorker have adopted this simple tag.
This is a significant announcement because it creates an easy way for companies to insert a mug shot into relevant search results, which arguably can drive clicks. It will put pressure on businesses to identify thought leaders who can pen bylines not only for their own sites, but for the media.
Next, on June 28, Google began to make more data available to companies on the impact that tweets, Facebook likes and, most importantly, its own "+1" sharing buttons have on site traffic. (The Google +1 button, which appears next to search results, is rapidly gaining steam, according to BrightEdge. However, it remains far behind Facebook's Like button.) The impact here is that as publishers begin to get more data on how social networks can drive people through the funnel they will look to perhaps reorient their budgets in an effort to secure to get more retweets, likes and +1s.
Google News is starting to get more social as well. On July 14, the 10-year-old site launched a program that rewards regular users with social badges of authority for reading lots of news stories in a given subject matter. At launch, Google rolled out badges for more than 500 topics.
The impact of these reading badges remains unclear. However, what it does show -- especially in context with the new author markup tag -- is that Google is serious about identifying subject-matter experts, whether they publish or not.
If all of this isn't enough, sandwiched in between these announcements, Google urged publishers to think beyond the almighty PageRank number that SEO types historically pay much heed to. In a June 30 blog post, Susan Moskwa, webmaster trends analyst at Google, suggested that site owners look more deeply at other metrics such as conversion rates, bounce rates (how quickly users abandon a site) and search click-throughs.
These events, while seemingly quite technical, are not coincidental. In fact, they're incredibly strategic.
While the press and pundits focus on Google's effort to compete with Twitter and Facebook with its own social network, there's a far bigger story here. Google is slowly reinventing the core of its business by refining the quality of what people turn to it most for -- search results -- by favoring explicit and implicit signals of authority.
These shifts in search signals, over time, may revolutionize how marketers think about their visibility in a world of infinite content choices. Some will encourage their employees to speak for the brand. Others may not be as liberal. However, all will be affected.