Marketers were already pretty serious about Google+ before Google on Tuesday announced several important search changes known collectively as "Search Plus Your World." Of the top 100 brands, 77 have been active on the platform, according to data from SEO platform BrightEdge.
But the search update raises the stakes considerably, according to social and search marketers who spoke with ClickZ this week.
They said advertiser engagement with Google+ is sure to increase in light of the changes - in some cases putting the service on equal footing with Facebook and Twitter. They also said it could bring search and social closer together in their organizations. But before we dive into their detailed responses, here's a quick summary of the most important features of Search Plus Your World. After they go live users will see:
Broadly, these changes will raise the visibility of Google+, as well as individuals and brands that have engaged with it. Google says it only wants to bring more relevant and social information to its search experience, but it has drawn sharp criticism for downplaying popular Google+ rivals like Twitter and Facebook, thus hurting users and competition. Without diving into the moral hand-wringing about Google's self-interest and its impact on the Web - already addressed in hundreds of posts, articles, and columns this week - most tech observers agree Google's move is brazen in the extreme.
Brands Leap In
Google's algorithmic kindness to its own social product has been anticipated by brands and their agencies since Google+ first launched six months ago.
ClickZ asked a number of search and social media specialists what they see as the key impact of the latest changes on their clients and internal organizations. Here are some of their responses:
In the view of Adam Whippy, SEO director at 360i, agencies and brands will inevitably invest more in Google+ content and community management. "My social colleagues will be thinking about Google+ alongside Facebook, " he said. "It's pretty much going to be the new normal."
He added one obstacle to developing Google+ strategies is uncertainty about the platform's demographics. "A lot of my colleagues are trying to better understand what that audience is on Google+ as opposed to other networks," Whippy said. "There are quite a few clients that have been parking their profiles to wait and see."
Sean Carton, chief creative officer at Baltimore's idfive, agrees marketers must from now on be proactive with Google+, but he's not thrilled about it.
"Considering Google's position, you'd be crazy not to engage with the platform, and it's exactly why there's so much complaining going on out there in the blogosphere about antitrust and anticompetitive practices [see here]... I don't believe consolidating so much power in the hands of Google (or, rather, even more power) is ultimately good for advertisers," he said.
We asked, in a slightly paranoid vein, if Search Plus Your World might be a way for Google to guarantee brands engage with the platform.
"Absolutely!" was Carton's reply.
Renee Robertson, who heads search marketing at Hill Holliday, agrees but thinks brands didn't need much convincing. "Leveraging Google’s strength in search is certainly a way to get advertisers to interact with Google+," she said. "That said, most advertisers recognize the importance of a strong presence within Google so Google probably doesn’t need to twist any arms to get brands to start engaging with Google+."
Another observation was that the SEO and social marketing arms of ad agencies may work together more closely as more content from Google+ finds its way into search results. You can see examples of this on SERPs for queries such as "Macy's" and "T-Mobile," where direct response messages have been incorporated from those brands' Google+ pages.
"SEOs will be working more closely with social people," said Whippy. "It's more and more a necessity of life, which is a good thing for the SEO community."
It's good for brands too. Renee Robertson said Hill Holliday's social listening exercises for clients found people's activity in social media and search often span the same topics and use the same language. "These two areas are very closely linked but functions do end up being siloed more often than not because they are still different channels. A platform like Google+ will go a long way in helping to break down those walls."
She continued, "It only makes sense for the same content to be available through both channels. Being able to pull that real time information available through social media directly into the SERPs creates a richer experience for users and gets the content brands want to focus on out there to consumers."
This naturally requires an investment from agencies and brands but, Robertson said, "It’s one that I think will ultimately lead to better communication between brands and consumers."
What about Facebook and Twitter? Will Google's changes de-emphasize those channels for advertisers? Possibly a little, but only for search-centric marketers, Carton said and others agreed.
"It's not going to mean that Facebook and Twitter are going away," he said. "People are still going to use them and they need to be a part of the media mix, but if you're concentrating on a search strategy then you're probably going to have to shift resources away from Facebook and Twitter and onto Google+."
Not every marketer is preparing a headlong rush into Google+. "I wouldn't go crazy," said Augustine Fou, a veteran of digital agencies including MRM and Omnicom's healthcare consulting group. "Curate some content. Share what you're going to share on other venues."
Fou developed a negative early opinion of the possibilities for Google+, and doesn't advise major action on the part of marketers. "In theory it sounds interesting to layer in social actions, but I don't see that happening," he said. At least not yet.
Whippy also sounds a cautionary note: "It's still fairly new. The platform's still evolving. It has to prove itself."
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March 19, 2014