Most of you reading this column and many millions of others have a Google+ account. According to the studies following social behaviors, the vast majority of the Google+ account holders are ignoring those accounts. Google is quick to crow about the size of the Google+ base but refuses to share any stats on actual usage as Danny Sullivan ably recapped in his recent column. ComScore confirmed the site’s lack of stickiness just this week in a report that shows declining average time on Google+ – down to a paltry 3.3 minutes per user in January 2012. So, if users don’t care about and don’t use Google+, then why should businesses?
No one but Google can accurately define how a Google+ page factors into the ranking algorithms for organic results but it appears to have some impact on your placement. That alone is enough reason for most businesses to at least launch a page, if maybe not enough reason to devote resources to supporting growth in Google+. Google is not presently indexing Facebook posts, but does index Google+ profiles and posts so that they are included in search results. This definitely gives an advantage to businesses looking for better marketing via Google. Also, people giving a +1 to content can improve Google ranking and show other users that the posts are valuable, whereas “liking” Facebook content does not have the same impact. And, when a company has a brand page on Google+ and users put that brand page into their circles, when that user searches the brands page links will show in their personal search queries.
If you can create activity in your Google+ account you can leverage the borrowed endorsement of those users to improve paid search efforts. If you have 1,000 people in your circles, you can integrate your AdWords account with your Google+ account. For most brands, that is not an unreasonable threshold -if you devote time and resources to the effort, exactly what Google wants you to do. With that account linkage your +1 will show up on your ad results, lending, in theory, more credibility to the result and thereby increasing click-through rate and improving quality score – which in turn improves ROI. In order to take advantage of this not-yet-proven advantage you have to take a few steps for Google including linking Google+ from your brand or corporate site, linking from your Google+ page to your website, confirming the linkage in your AdWords setup, and getting your Google rep to confirm.
It’s not surprising that the two most compelling reasons to commit to a Google+ strategy are search related but there are other reasons as well.
Never Count Google Out of the Long Game
The web’s social elements are evolving quickly and are too important for Google to ignore. Google has the resources and smarts to redefine, respond, and react quickly to user needs until it gets it right. When it does, users will not only “upgrade” to Google+ but will begin to actually spend time in the layer, activating what is already a large installed base.
Google is unveiling a Google+ redesign that it hopes to draw users in with more functionality and more flexibility. The new Google+ “ribbon” will allow users to conveniently place and change out apps they frequently use. Some suggest that Google+ may be opening up to third-party app developers, which will increase functionality and motivate users to return. The redesign accommodates more and larger visual imagery and videos. It also highlights Hangouts, and makes invites to Hangouts more prominent – a smart move as this is arguably one of the few differentiated features that Google+ can claim among pure social platforms.
My company’s social media team noted an interesting paradox in that Google+ is important simply because it’s not Facebook and people who try it out often don’t stick around because of that. It’s different, but not different enough. Trying to shift a user base of 845 million active users (Facebook, December 2011) is a time consuming and costly task and Google+ may never see the mass adoption it’s looking for unless Google creates a truly compelling reason for the masses. Is integration with all the other Google offerings enough? Only time will tell.
People will continue to connect where their friends are. Right now that is Facebook and Facebook makes it near impossible to compete since it fairly quickly adopts the best features of the best channels by building: status updates, subscriptions à la Twitter; friend lists à la Google+; or buying: photo sharing à la Instagram. So Google+ is important because as of today, it reminds us just how much we still love Facebook.
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