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. That's why we recently started to include more information from people you know--stuff they've shared on Twitter, Flickr and other sites--in Google search results.
Today we're taking that a step further, enabling you to share recommendations with the world right in Google's search results. It's called +1--the digital shorthand for "this is pretty cool." To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1's will then start appearing in Google's search results.
Here is a video from Google further explaining how +1 works:
For a more in depth analysis, check out Danny Sullivan's extensive analysis of +1 on Search Engine Land.
The Short Term Effect Of +1 For Law Firms
This is a very interesting move from Google. As if it wasn't obvious already, Google continues to integrate more social signals into the search results. The long term effects of this remain to be seen (although I think social signals will become a much more significant component of the algorithm), but I think the short term impact for law firms will be minimal. Here's why:
1. The +1 button is only available on the search results page - Upon initial release, the +1 button is only going to be available on the search results page. It is unlikely that a user will "+1" a website before visiting the site and checking out the content. This means that in its current form, a user will need to perform a search, visit a site, and after reviewing the site content, return to the search results page and +1 the result. I don't see this happening often.
That being said, it's only a matter of time before Google releases a +1 button that website owners can place on their sites next to Facebook "Like" buttons. Once that happens, I can see the +1 activity increasing substantially. It is rumored that it will be several months before the website version of the button is made available.
2. A user needs to be logged into Google in order to see the +1 results - In order to see the +1 results a user needs to be logged into Google. This means that a significant portion of searchers, that are not logged in, will not see the +1 results. Long term, I think that more and more users will search via mobile phones and apps and have some version of personalized results. However, right now the +1 impact will not effect every search.
Thinking About Your Law Firm Web Strategy Long Term
Now don't get me wrong, even though I believe the short term effects will be minimal it would be foolish not to understand that the game is changing and it's important you are "shooting ahead of the duck". Simply building links to your law firm's website to capture traffic from vanity keywords such as "Chicago personal injury lawyer" is not the future of search engine optimization. SEOmoz puts it quite eloquently:
Inbound marketing is going to overtake SEO as the primary function of SEO professionals. Engaging across social channels to get links, shares, likes, comments and +1s is going to be the future for generating organic traffic to your site. Not just from Google but these channels are increasingly driving significant volumes of traffic in their own right.