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Google Search: Now Starring Google+

For more than a decade, the Holy Grail for Internet marketers has been to find some way to improve their rankings in Google’s search algorithm. Now, thanks to Google’s new social search feature, anyone can grab hold of this once-elusive prize…just as long as they have a Google+ account.

If you’ve done a Google search recently, you’ve probably noticed the search engine’s nifty new feature. Just to the right (and sometimes indented below) your search results is a prominently featured panel featuring relevant social media listings related to your search.

A search for “sports”, for instance, might return a social listing for soccer star David Beckham; “politics” might yield a social link for Newt Gingrich, and “cooking” might get you the latest from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. It’s a thoughtful and timely functionality, clearly developed in response to the increasing role that the Social Web plays in business, politics, and interpersonal communications.

But there is a tiny catch.

The only social results returned by Google are ones on Google’s own social networking site.

The only social results returned by Google’s nifty new tool are ones contained on Google’s own social networking site: Google+. The new social search tool won’t net you results from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, or any other social network. The new tool is a one-network show, and Google+ is the star.

This is quite a change for Google, who has long promised it would:

“Never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results and no one can buy better PageRank.  Our users trust our objectivity and no short-term gain could ever justify breaching that trust.”

But Google’s overnight adjustments to search results shows the company abandoning its prior promise never to favor its own service.

Nonetheless, as a business tactic, you have to give Google credit for its latest invention. With Google+ languishing far behind other social media options, this new tool has the potential to be a game changer.

A Google+ page instantly goes from being something a marketer might very well ignore, in favor of more effective methods of social interaction, to something that they can’t live without. If you want to play in the new social search world, a Google+ account represents the minimal cost of entry.

For entrepreneurs and marketers who have spent considerable time and resources building up their presences on more popular social networking sites, Google’s decision to return only Google+ results in its new tool might be disappointing, but it also represents an unprecedented opportunity.

As any search engine optimization (SEO) expert can tell you, up until now the meritocratic Google algorithm has proven exceptionally difficult to manipulate. The Google search engine stubbornly returned results based on relevancy, rather than the efforts of marketers.

Now, turning the system to your advantage seems almost comically easy. In a recent search for the term “entertainment” the top social result was for a basic cable show called “106 & Park,” that averages fewer than a million viewers.  The one thing it does have going for it: more than 400,000 Google+ followers.

So while we may shed a wistful tear for the lost days of Google meritocracy and transparency, or think how useful a Google social search tool might have been if it included results from other engines (as detailed in this excellent video), we should at least acknowledge what a good day it is for the marketing community, where everyone now gets to have their very own Holy Grail.