Google+ just got a new killer app: Search

Google (s GOOG) has begun to integrate Google+ posts, pages and profiles into its search results. The move is meant to personalize search, and offers some interesting opportunities for content discovery – but first and foremost, it’s gonna be a big boost for Google+ itself.
Google fellow Amit Singhal introduced the new integration on the company’s search blog Tuesday morning, explaining that search shouldn’t be just about billions of web pages from perfect strangers:

“Search is pretty amazing at finding that one needle in a haystack of billions of webpages, images, videos, news and much more. But clearly, that isn’t enough. You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to… all from one search box.”

The new Google+ search integration comes with a kind of on-off switch, making it possible to switch back and forth between the classic Google view of the world and a more personalized version. Users who opt for the personal approach will get to see relevant posts from the people they have added to their circles as well as pages from brands and celebrities relevant to their search results.
Google has also added Google+ profiles to its auto-complete results. Search for a name, and a direct link to a person’s Google+ profile will show up after entering just a few letters. This works for both people you’ve added to your circles as well as blog authors and others that are part of Google’s authorship pilot program, and whose Google+ headshots have been showing up in search results for a while.
This kind of tight integration of Google+ and Google’s search is a remarkable step for the company, because it once again shows how Google+ is becoming a centerpiece of its web strategy. But more importantly, it could give Google+ a huge boost and finally help the social network to catch up with millions of consumers that have been holding out on giving it a try. I’d suspect there will be two key factors driving a sharp uptake of Google+ usage as personalized search becomes available to everyone: Photos and celebrities.
Google+ has been offering some great photo sharing functionality, including its auto-upload function and its tight integration with Picasa. But there is something incredibly powerful about seeing photos from your friends, as well as photos you have taken yourself, show up prominently featured in search results. Check the screenshot on the side to see what I mean.
The second part to the puzzle are celebrities, and Google has gone to great lengths to court people like and others to come to Google+. Their pages will be featured in a special sidebar when relevant, and users will be able to dive into these results or add celebrities to their circles right then and there — which will then impact their future search results, but also get them to pay more attention to Google+ in general.
I’ve long argued that Hangouts are a kind of killer app for Google+. With the launch of personalized search, the service just got a new killer app.