ImageLate last year, Google changed the face of online advertising – quite literally, in fact. The company’s mission to stake its claim as the Internet’s premier source for consumer ratings and reviews has the potential to influence the way we – both consumers and brands – do business. A person’s face could pop up on any or all of the 2 million websites in the Google ad network, which could directly effect his or her online reputation.

In November, Google began including Google Plus users’ names, faces and comments in their site advertisements. This content will be culled from reviews users have made on Google Plus or other Google services such as Google Play or YouTube. The company made an update to its terms of services that includes new language about these “shared endorsements.” Google is hoping that this kind of personalized recommendation will make users more likely to click on the advertisement.

These “shared endorsements,” tailored to fit the needs of their audience, will appear in regular Google searches. But that’s not all.

Google Plus Population Poised to Explode in Near Future

As a still-underrated social networking channel, Google Plus has slowly been incorporated into its extensive list of popular services. Even if an individual hasn’t set up a Google Plus profile, the odds are good that one exists if he uses their other services. The implications of these shared endorsements are wide-ranging and significant. As of this writing, Gmail has approximately 425 million users. Google Plus reviews have already been used in many of Google’s products. For example, Google Maps features star ratings of Google Plus users. If you post a review for a song you purchased through Google Play, this is also a Google Plus endorsement.

If you prefer that your face didn’t get featured in ads, Google has made it easy to opt out of this program. In Google Plus, the settings page includes a tab called Shared Endorsements that describes how this new program works. Users are encouraged to read through the guidelines and learn more. If you’re still uncomfortable with the possibility of your being splashed across the Internet, the fix is simple. Just uncheck the small box located next to the statement, "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads."

You might see a trove of familiar faces in ads, but yours should no longer show up in other users’ searches. If you punch “+1” for a website, users in your network will still have the ability to see this action. However, this is not a new Google Plus feature.

Privacy Settings Still Protect Reticent Users

If you insist on not appearing anywhere on Google and its network sites, just don’t click “+1” or publish reviews in the Google Play store or on any Google products.

Other social-media entities have considered the idea of featuring users’ pictures in their advertisements, and some have even taken it a step further. Facebook ads include information if you “Like” a business on Facebook or publish a glowing review on its Facebook page.

You may have seen a sponsored post alongside your News Feed that shows which friends have clicked “Like” on a particular business or service. As with Google+ reviews, the easiest way to not appear in these ads is by simply not endorsing any brands. However, there is currently no opt-out option for Facebook sponsored stories.

Posting Online Reviews Works as a Form of Community Service

Overall, Google Plus users should be encouraged by the idea of sharing positive impressions of a brand or promoting it online. Many people feel empowered by the ability to share their love of gadgets and gizmos, movies and music, restaurants and wristwatches. They receive a tiny boost of confidence after broadcasting their opinions to a massive online audience. The lesson here is that you can make the decision about monitoring and maintaining your social influence. Even with the “shared endorsements” feature, you still have control about your online presence if you choose to wield it.

From a brand perspective, the “shared endorsements” feature serves as a compelling reason to ask for ratings and reviews from satisfied customers. Since Google Plus is aiming to establish itself as the most prominent review site online, more positive content on this can only mean good things for your brand.  While negative options also serve as useful information, these bad ratings and reviews are not useful for advertisers. (Plus, there’s no “Dislike” button on Facebook or “-1” button on Google Plus.) 

Feedback from users you know often improves your search results and saves valuable time. On all of Google’s services – Search, Play, Maps - your family members and friends can see your commentary on a vast array of products and services. If your personal connection is a trustworthy source, these recommendations give context into a purchasing decision. That can only help both the seller and the buyer.

Online reviews have never been more relevant to a business’s interests than it is today. If you Google a lawyer, doctor, restaurant, hotel, the first results tend to be ratings and reviews sites that measure quality and satisfaction through a system. These opinions have a massive impact on the purchasing decisions of consumers.  However, frustrated customers will often express their displeasure about a negative experience, while satisfied customers have a tendency to stay quiet. Business owners are then presented the challenge of determining how to procure positive reviews and ratings. By controlling the production of your reviews, brands can attract prospective customers and leave a positive impression that will last the lifetime of the brand.