Love it or loathe it, Google is a vital source of traffic for online businesses, so when Google move into the social media space with so much conviction then businesses would be foolish not to sit up and listen. This post highlights how and why businesses need to be engaging with Google Plus.
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#1 Google Plus IS Google – adopt it or risk getting left behind
When Google Plus was launched in June 2011, people signed up in their thousands, but it was very much like turning up at a nightclub too early in the evening. The lights were on and the music was playing but no one was dancing, so many of those people wandered off back to their preferred, established social networks.
However, Google want you to use Google Plus and they know you use other Google products, so slowly and steadily Google are scooping up people from their other products and making them engage with Google Plus. For example, Picasa web albums became Google Plus albums in March 2013, and in November YouTube comments were forcibly integrated into Google Plus. Gmail is linked with Google Plus because you have to have a Gmail account in order to create the Google Plus account in the first place.
“I finally understand Google’s überstrategy for dominating the future of online everything.
“Here it is: Coalesce all of its best products into a single super product that marginalizes smaller rivals to the point of irrelevance and clobbers Facebook with total superiority.
“That single super product is Google Plus.”
Personally I feel that a confusing user interface presents a barrier to mainstream usage; Google Plus doesn’t offer the same immediate simplicity that characterise other networks. However, the interface is extremely flexible and totally awesome once you have scaled the learning curve.
Numbers relating to Google usage are not necessarily reliable, but as of September 2013 there are a reported 1.01 billion registered Google accounts. Of these, 540 million are active users across the whole of Google and 300 million are active specifically on Google Plus. (This report suggests Google Plus saw a 58% jump in users in the period May to October 2013, up from 190 million to the 300 million cited above.)
To give this some perspective, Facebook has more than a billion monthly active users, while Twitter has just over 230 million.
It’s safe to say that Google Plus is experiencing significant growth, so our advice is not to ignore the drive and energy that Google is putting into Google Plus as you don’t want to be left behind.
#2 Google plus affects search results – could you be losing traffic?
Officially this only relates to personalised search results. Check it out yourself: when you are logged into Google, perform a search and you will see annotations on the results page that show what other people in your network are saying about that subject.
The idea behind this is that people trust the recommendations from their friends, family and networks more; it’s the equivalent to asking around in your local pub as to whether anyone knows a good plumber rather than just looking at local business listings.
Below you will see search results for ‘chocolate cake’ in both incognito mode (i.e. where you’re signed out of Google and results are as non-personalised as it’s likely to get) on the left, and on the right the results I see when I’m logged into Google. The highlighted result from Larry Fournillier, who I have in my circles and is influential in the world of food, appears because he has posted about the specific topic I have searched for.
Google’s theory is that I would be likely to be interested in Larry’s content and influenced by what he has to say, so they have included his Google Plus post in the results I see. There is another Google Plus post from someone else in my circles further down the personalised results page, but they are not as influential as Larry.
There is limited evidence to suggest that Google Plus affects non-personalised search results. However, Google Plus posts behave like any other regular web pages and posts can rank higher and more quickly if they satisfy Google’s algorithm. As Google Plus is a social network, where there is a lot of page authority, trust and influence already associated with certain individuals, then it’s possible that posts that get shared by influential accounts will bubble up higher in the search rankings.
The ranking may not last in the long term but the fact that it is possible, albeit not easy, means there is a correlation between Google Plus activity and search rankings, despite Matt Cutts denying just that.
#3 Social Proof reinforces the perceived popularity of individuals and brands
The influence of social signals is going to increase and the Hummingbird update is paving the way for more intelligent handling of search queries. Google Plus is not going away, it’s gradually gathering more traction and at some point it makes sense for Google to lend more weight to social signals in their search results. When they do this they will look to their own Google Plus network for the information they want.
This image shows search results for Cadbury. Their AdWords advert shows how many followers they have on Google Plus, as does the Knowledge Graph entry (the box to the right), which also shows the latest post on their Google Plus business page. The first organic listing shows that the Cadbury website was shared on Google+ by a page that I follow, a signal that might offer me some reassurance.
Wouldn’t you like your business to have such positive and reinforcing social signals associated with your brand when people search for it online?
#4 Badges, photo editing and auto awesome
Other social media platforms have lots of features and functionality, too, so most of this is not unique or special, but I think that Google Plus has the broadest and coolest range of features under one roof. Even after nearly six months of daily usage I am still discovering cool things Google Plus can do.
From the flexibility of the length of post you can write (Twitter is restricted to 140 characters) to how you can segment the audience you share your content with (no such flexibility on Facebook) and making the lights on your photos twinkle and snow actually fall (auto awesome), Google Plus is simply more flexible and more fun. A full suite of photo editing options is available and you can also add text to images.
There are many options for displaying Google Plus badges, as you can see in the image below. You can then embed the badge on your site to make it easier for your website visitors to hook up with you on Google Plus.
Another cool function allows you to test your mark-up implementation using Google’s rich snippets tool. This will help you see how your site could be displayed in the search results.
Google Plus is likely to go from strength to strength. The functionality and number of features increasingly outweighs those of Facebook and Twitter, making the experience of using Google Plus far superior for the smart business user. Can you afford to miss out?
#5 segmentation of audiences
Audience segmentation is a very sophisticated way to engage with your target audience, especially if your product or service has diverse applications. Google Plus allows you to control what content different groups see, so you can ‘speak’ to your audiences with a variety of content and messaging, allowing you to interact with people in specific and highly relevant ways.
Google Plus circles allow you to categorise or segment groups, so you can share content across one or more circles, or share it publicly so that everyone can see it. The flexibility this affords is really not comparable across any other social platform, although the user experience takes a little getting used to. Once you have it cracked then you can manage a very broad audience in highly targeted ways.
The image below shows some of my personal circles, which gives you an idea of how you can group various people. You have full control over who is added to which circle, people can be added to multiple circles, and the added bonus is that although they know that you are following them, they have no idea which circles you have placed them in.
#6 super quick indexation
This was a test I did on my Google Plus profile: I wrote a few lines for an update, published it and then jumped straight over to a search page (while logged in) and typed in the same text. As soon as I hit search there was my post in the SERPs. It took just eight seconds for it to appear. Yes, that’s eight seconds after I pressed publish on Google Plus. It may have been there sooner but I couldn’t move any faster.
What does this mean? For long tail searches with little competition this could be very significant, especially if you have a following on Google Plus. Imagine you have an engaged audience there and someone from that audience searches for a topic that you have posted about on Google Plus. Remember point #2 above? Google is more likely to show some Google Plus results to your target audience if they are engaging with you on Google Plus. You want this to be your content rather than that of a competitor.
This is why it is so important to have a comprehensive content marketing strategy that provides valuable and interesting content to your target audience at each stage of the buying process. By spreading this content over your Google Plus assets, you are increasing your reach and encouraging engagement, which leads us nicely onto the next point …
#7 building brand advocates
It’s true that you can build brand advocacy via any social platform where your target audience hangs out, but by doing so on Google Plus you have that impressive flexible functionality at your fingertips combined with the fact that Google Plus is Google. I would argue that while Google Plus is still in the early stages of adoption, it is easier to get noticed for doing awesome things. It is also a less crowded space and the community on there is very supportive and keen to help businesses and brands who adopt the platform.
That said, it is very easy to get it wrong – or perhaps I should that it’s easy to miss out on opportunities – because it does take a little while to get the hang of Google Plus. You need to have the patience to listen and learn as well as the creativity to recognise what people respond to and the commitment to engage consistently. It’s not easy!
Let’s return to Cadbury, as here is a brand that is getting this right on Google Plus (you can read more about Cadbury’s success here but note this case study is from March 2013). Cadbury were struggling to get engagement on their brand page so they set up a community, Cadbury Cakes and Baking – The Cadbury Kitchen.
The community was not directly aligned to the marketing message but people love to share recipes and the Google Plus community functionality provided the perfect forum for this audience.
Bakers and chocolate lovers engaged with the community with such enthusiasm that the Cadbury team could take the best user-generated content produced each week and post it on the Cadbury business page, where it receives an excellent reception (see below). In less than three months, the Cadbury Community page had exceeded 20,000 members and they will cross the 100,000 barrier any day now.
A good proportion of people within the community are brand advocates for Cadbury, which means they happily engage with and share the content that Cadbury post on its community and business pages. Cadbury can concentrate on creating content targeted at these brand advocates, who in turn effectively do the marketing to Cadbury’s wider audience via social sharing.
Google Plus allows brands to develop a strategy for reaching out to and engaging with both their target audience and/or influencers who can help spread the word about the value you are adding to your marketplace. Making Google Plus part of a content distribution and promotion strategy allows brands to enjoy broader reach.
#8 Google Local is part of Google Plus
There are lots of different types of Google page options for brands. If you have a bricks and mortar location you probably have a local listing, which means your site would appear on Google Maps and in the local listings in the SERPs. Now you can incorporate your Google Local listing with your Google Plus page as one verified entity. Making this happen is not straightforward, but the benefits of having one source of verified information means that everything Google knows about your brand – and hence displays to its users – is in one location.
This is easier to maintain in the long run and means visitors have all your verified information in one place.
#9 Hangouts on Air (hoa)
Hangouts are a bit like Skype conference calls with added benefits. They are done through Google Plus and can be broadcast live to as many people as want to watch it or conducted in private with the option to publish on YouTube later. Hangouts can run for up to eight hours. In terms of actual participants, you can have the host plus nine other people interacting with each other during the hangout, with a live audience of unlimited numbers watching and able to ask questions via the comments stream.
Businesses are using this as a direct route to communicate with – and, more importantly, engage with – their target audiences. Hangouts lend themselves well to content such as interviews, Q&As and live presentations. They can be short or long, regular or ad hoc. Basically, a brand can devise a strategy that works for both them and their target audience through this super flexible communication channel. Oh yes, and it’s completely free of charge!
Below is a 90 second video by Cadbury on how they were using hangouts on air.
It’s interesting that Cadbury seem to have abandoned hangouts on air as part of their strategy as they only broadcast a few. Perhaps they find their community works sufficiently well without adding this channel in too.
The Content Marketing Institute wrote an interesting post on how to Create High-ROI Video Content Marketing With Google+ Hangouts on Air and you can check out some of the live hangouts happening now by going here, or you can find out more about Hangouts on Air here.
Ripples are one of the coolest features on Google Plus. You can view the ‘ripples’ created by any piece of content posted on Google Plus, seeing exactly who has shared it directly from the original post and who has re-shared it via someone else’s stream.
This is a great way to see who loves your content and gives you the opportunity to be more proactive about engaging with them. Additionally, you can see who is engaging with competitors’ content and so start to develop relationships with them and create content that you know is likely to be successful.
The level of detail you get from this feature is impressive to say the least.
Google is serious about social, so now is the time to embrace the functionality that they are offering for free. Yes, it provides a wealth of information to Google, who are on a quest to know everything about everything, but if you can move past that and accept that they can also provide something valuable for your business then it’s a relationship both sides can embrace.
There are some super cool tools that can help you get more from your Google Plus experience, such as Circle Count, Circloscope, Steady Demand, NOD3x as well as the likes of Buffer and Hootsuite supporting posting to business pages. However, there is no substitute for doing this properly and that involves a time investment and a solid strategic approach.
Here at Strategy, we are introducing Google Plus page management for some clients as an integral part of their overall content marketing strategy. We recognise the long term benefits Google Plus can offer their brand.
I have to stress, though, that this has to be done by first identifying and then engaging with a brand’s target audience, and providing value to that audience’s online experience. It’s all about relationships, but then that’s what being social is!
Have you found yourself behind the curve with Penguin and Panda? Don’t get left behind by Google Plus; embrace it, get involved and get ahead.10 reasons why Google Plus is essential for your business in 2014 by Kath Dawson