Google Plus OneI love a good story of mystery and intrigue, especially when it involves something as mundane as search engine optimization (SEO).

This story involves a reporter from Forbes, a Google sales guy, and the case of a missing news report.

Late last week, Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill wrote about a meeting she was pulled into at Forbes. Apparently a Google sales or business development guy was visiting the publisher to encourage Forbes to add the Google “+1” button to all their stories, blog posts and other media.  The person he was meeting with at Forbes decided to pull in Hill, a technology reporter, so she could get a take on the meeting.

According to Hill, the Google guy said, effectively, if publishers didn’t add the +1 button to their content, they’d suffer over time in organic search results.

Right about now you’re probably saying, “where in the hell is the link to the story??” It’s the same question everyone who got a glimpse of the story is asking.  You see, it’s now missing… (Cue menacing movie music.)

Luckily, colleagues captured screenshots of the story.  In setting up the story, Hill described the aspects of Google+ that are social networking in substance and the fact that activity in personal Circles will influence the search results you see. And then she wrote:

“But a meeting with Google ad folks earlier this week made me realize that it’s going to be even bigger than that. Google is encouraging web publishers to start adding +1 buttons to their pages, and the message in this meeting was clear, ‘Put a Plus One button on your pages or your search traffic will suffer.'”

“The Google guy explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search. ‘Universally, or just among Google Plus friends?’ I asked. ‘Universal’ was the answer. ‘So if Forbes doesn’t put +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?’ I asked. Google guy says he wouldn’t phrase it that way, but basically yes.’”

Being a good reporter, Hill went to the official Google PR folks to get their reaction to this bit of news.  Here’s what she reported:

“‘Google will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results,’ said a spokesperson. ‘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.'”

Take it from one who knows, that’s long-winded PR speak for “yes”. As in “If Forbes doesn’t include +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?”  The answer is: “Yes.”

Hall did post a summary of her reporting to her own Google+ Circles.  And in the comments section below it, one commenter said he was aware of a push by Google to also give publishers a way to specify a Google+ profile as the author of a Web page via meta tags on that page.  As the commenter points out, it would be a powerful way to boost your rankings as an author because your identity would be consolidated to a single Web profile (as opposed to the many profiles we have all over the Web on Facebook, for instance, or LinkedIn or a work profile on a company website).

There was one other comment, which wonders what happened to the Forbes article? Why was it pulled and why must one do so much sleuthing in order to find its ghost?  Hard to say… perhaps the reporter got her information wrong?  Or maybe Forbes didn’t like seeing the results of a routine business meeting appear as news?

Whatever the case, given Google PR’s comments to the reporter, it seems we’re all on notice. Get Google’s +1 button onto your webpages or suffer the consequences.