Should Google Introduce a -1 Button?

Minus-1 Voter. I read a very well written post on ProBlogger the other day that was an imaginary discussion between two people on whether Google should introduce a -1 button to combat spam.

It produced some interesting arguments, both for and against. But I have to say, I came out against, and here’s why: it would be too easy to wrongly penalise good pages.

When Google introduced the +1 button I was dubious, because I figured that a lot of people would either not realise what it was for or wouldn’t bother clicking it.

I don’t know the actual results, but on the sites I visit and that have +1 buttons showing the number of votes, I’ve not been proved wrong: the +1 votes are either non-existent or a fraction of the Facebook Likes or Tweets.

Another of my worries was that large employers would get all their employees to +1 the corporate website, which would distort the results, pushing a potentially bland corporate site up the rankings.

None-the-less, installing a +1 button was one of those things that could potentially be quite powerful if people understood it and used it as it was intended. So I installed one.

However, a -1 button is a different story altogether.

Sites that use reader-voting to float articles up or down their rankings, like Digg and Reddit, often don’t do justice to well-written, well-researched and detailed articles.

This is because people hire others from Fiverr, and similar sites, to vote articles up or down, thereby manipulating the results – even though the articles that are voted down on those sites are not spam.

How would it work on Google?

The Google context is different.

People go to Google to search for information and it’s up to Google to present a set of results that are relevant to the search query.

But if they produced an irrelevant result people may be inclined to -1 it, not because it was spam but simply because it wasn’t what they were looking for.

The problem is, though, the responsible party in this case was Google, not the page author. Yet it will be the author’s page that would be penalised because Google’s indexing was wrong.

Not good.

And that’s before we even start on competitors furiously -1’ing your pages in order to benefit theirs.

While I do understand the frustration of finding a whole bunch of spam pages in your search results I don’t believe a -1 button would be a good way of combating it.

What about you? For or against?


Martin Malden.

About the author: Martin has been working online since 2006 and focuses on two areas: 1) affiliate marketing and 2) designing and building websites based on WordPress. He has his own WordPress agency, and serves clients in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK.

What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Paul B. Taubman, II Nov 28, 2011 @ 23:40

    Interesting concept. And it reminds me of the Facebook Like button (and in the case, I am referring to the Like button on the actual Facebook site where you like someone’s wall post).

    A lot of times, people will comment that they want the ‘Dislike’ button. There is a lot of dissension out there on this new button.

    Similar to the Google -1 button, arguments are made for and against it.

    My take is that if folks like it, and in the true spirit of being positive, I think the +1 should remain. A -1 button conjures up too much negativity in my mind. “I don’t like it.” “I hate it,” “This is garbage” – I think there is too negativity in the world today.

    Let’s focus on the positive 🙂

    I realize that this is not entirely the direction your post was going, but I wanted to share with you!

    Be Well.

    • Martin Nov 29, 2011 @ 7:46

      No, I agree – there’s way too much negativity around. Unfortunately, though, there are lots of people who are wired to be negative so it’s just something we have to deal with.

      Yes – I’m not suggesting the +1 button be removed, I just think (at least to date) that it hasn’t gained much traction other than on Google+ itself (where it’s flogged to death!).

      The idea of a -1 button, with all the potential for unfairly penalising perfectly good pages, is what concerns me.



  • A. Chuck Rowland Nov 29, 2011 @ 4:54

    Thought provoking, Martin I have always been a Google fan, the basic concept of indexing the world’s knowledge is just amazing. They are making money by placing advertising that is relevant to a search and advertisers pay for the clicks on those adverts. Making $33 Billion, their last financial report says, indicates that at least for some those advertisements are indeed working for them. When Google introduced the +1 button I could see that the button would eventually reflect in the search engine results as do reviews. After all they are a short form review.

    I have noticed on Google search recently that you can exclude results from websites (do a search for anything – go to a website and hit the back button – the list of results will be the same but there is some added text on the website just visited that allows you to exclude that website as a result in the future), therefore they do indeed have a dislike button. The more people that do that will over time drop the offending websites from search results. So like it or not the system is already in place to be manipulated as certain people want. I think though that it will take thousands of likes or dislikes before any real impact is felt. Your personal results will of course exclude those websites.

    Google is watching your every move. As is Facebook. Scary or helpful that is the real question.

    • Martin Nov 29, 2011 @ 8:28

      Hi Chuck,

      I think that option to exclude a site from future results may have more to do with Google trying to improve their indexing to ensure that they produce more relevant results. Also, it’s currently only applicable if you’re logged in to Google, isn’t it..?

      I have lots of articles about the Thesis theme on this site but I occasionally get people arriving here who are clearly looking for help with writing a thesis (a position paper), rather than for help on Thesis (the theme).

      If they clicked ‘back’ and asked for this site to be excluded from future results that would help Google make the distinction more clearly.

      Sometimes I’m amazed at how ‘perceptive’ Google can be, when I look at the search term that was used and the article that they landed on. It’s clearly what the searcher was looking for, but with a search term that was based on some phrase in the middle of the article, rather than the terms I’d used in the Titles or H tags!

      And equally, when Google gets it wrong by sending someone here who was obviously looking for something different I get quite put out..!

      But I also agree that it will take a lot of +1’s or -1’s to start having a material impact on the results. We will see 🙂



      • A. Chuck Rowland Nov 29, 2011 @ 9:04

        Martin, you are right with the having to be logged into your Google account and the perception of Google’s algorithm.

        I read that Google are trying to define the individual’s “Intent” of a search so that the relevant websites can be displayed. All part of beating you to the answer to your enquiry. When selecting keywords I use this as one part of my research to help decide on the words to use for clients.

        • Martin Nov 29, 2011 @ 10:54

          Was that the ‘Freshness’ update they released a couple of weeks ago? There was a major panic when that was released with lots of ‘if you don’t update your blog every day you’re done for’ type comments.

          The fact is, though, I still have 3-year-old ‘how to’ articles appearing in the top 5 results for their keywords – completely unchanged from before the release. I think if you’re looking for news items, or sports updates, those results will have been affected, but evergreen articles have not been.

          Much as I dislike the fact that Google has so much influence on what happens online, they do have some very smart people there!

          • A. Chuck Rowland Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:44

            Martin I cannot understand why people should panic at any change with Google’s algorithm. Their
            [Google’s] fundamental desire for relevant content means that if your old content is relevant for a particular search then it will always be so. None of my websites have been affected by Panda, Farmer or the latest Freshness update.

            Obviously some information out there is dated and no longer relevant but that is automatically removed as the content is no longer searched for.

            With so many under the table auto blogging software now available it will probably be better to not have updates to frequently and with a random timing so that it does not look automated.

            Comments on blogs have to be good for the blog site as that implies relevant content for the title plus it is good for the commentator as the link is valuable. Appreciate the link here 🙂

            Too many on-page ads is also harmful.

            I am however miffed that the meta description is now being dropped in favour of snippets of content that are “more” relevant for the searched for term and makes the wording used even more important to not only be keyword inclusive but strung together to fit a search, this is where writing with the “intent” of the searcher in mind becomes important. Is Will Shakespeare available?

            • Martin Nov 29, 2011 @ 13:00

              Yes – it’s interesting re too many ads: The Adsense part of Google wants you to place as many as possible on your pages, but the search part doesn’t like them – all very schizophrenic..!

              But I do agree re Google Algorithm updates. My sites have not been negatively affected by algorithm updates in the past and most of them have helped me. It is all about content and presentation (structure, spelling and grammar), and these are only going to become more important over time – which I’m pleased about.

              I do think titles and descriptions are important, though, if not for the search engines then for the searchers themselves. I think of my title and description tags as I would an Adwords ad and I write them in the same way. Google claims to use the snippets if they find a section of text that’s more relevant to the search term than what’s in the description tag (which is probably how they achieve that ‘perceptiveness’ I referred to).

              The bit I don’t like about them using snippets is that they don’t highlight the snippets on the page when you click through. So if you click through on the basis of a snippet which appears to be relevant, you then have to search the entire page to find the content they used, which then may be only a brief reference to what you were looking for,

              They have more work to do on those, as far as I’m concerned!

  • Vinnie Alonzo Jan 5, 2012 @ 22:22

    Very interesting concept. I agree with you as well that the process lends itself to too much of an opportunity to mess with the competition or vice versa.
    So, to sum it up… Against it!
    Birmingham Homes

    • Martin Jan 5, 2012 @ 22:58

      Yes – it will be interesting to see whether it ever happens 🙂