When Google Plus was launched back in September 2011, many predicted that even a company as phenomenally wealthy and powerful as Google didn’t stand a chance of challenging the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter. After an initial surge in sign-ups, traffic was reported to be in decline, the ‘buzz’ seemed to fade, and so interest from the wider public waned. Normal users reverted back to their now ingrained social media habits. Meanwhile, Google Plus seemed to be fast evolving into ‘the’ social network for SEO, social media and marketing professionals to show their face because – for some reason – they felt they really should.
Not exactly… in fact, far from it. As of September 2012, one year after it launched, Google+ has managed to amass over 400 million registered users, of which 100 million are active on a monthly basis. It is now the world’s fifth largest virtual community. With a user base as large as this, and the unique position Google is in to encourage further growth, it is something that brands and marketers really need to start taking very seriously.
Yet as the feeling amongst the non-techie world seems to be that Google+ is the less popular, geeky sibling of Facebook and Twitter, brands could arguably be forgiven for directing their marketing budget towards social platforms where their customers are more active on a daily basis.
But that is to make the mistake of comparing these platforms on a like-for-like basis. In reality, Google are now leveraging the persuasive power of their search engine to offer incentives that transcend arbitrary user numbers and engagement figures.
The launch of Search Plus Your World in early 2012 signalled Google’s intention to deliver increasingly personalised results to it’s search engine users.
“The power of individual targeting — the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them. [Currently Google] cannot even answer the most basic questions because we don’t know enough about you.”
– Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.
Clearly, what Google strive for is the same kind of detailed personal data that Facebook have. They want to create an intricate picture of what kind of person you are; what you are interested in; who you are connected to; what your friends are interested in, and so on. With that information, they can better understand the kind of content that you are more likely to consume, and provide you with results that are tailored towards your own expressed and implied interests. But how are they going to actually get that?
Well, it seems they are kicking things off by targeting marketers, brands and influencers. Google know that users are likely to follow if they can motivate their influential users to pass incentives down the line to us ‘normal people’.
Let’s have a look at two of the key methods that Google are using to encourage brands and marketers to get excited about Google+.
Anybody who signed up to Google Plus at the very beginning might have noticed one surprising effect. I remember giving a client’s website a +1 using my personal G+ profile to test out the new feature. The next day, doing a routine ranking check, I noticed that they had jumped up from P5 to P1 on Google for a highly competitive term, seemingly overnight. One air punch later, I remembered what I had done the day before. Sure enough, underneath the result, there was a little bit of grey text saying “You +1’d this.”
Much to my disappointment, we hadn’t wildly overperformed in a ridiculously small period of time. Instead, Google were promoting a result based on my own preferences.
But perhaps more interesting to brands and marketers is the possibility that you can also affect search results for other people – if they have added you to their circles on Google+. So, if your site gets +1’d by somebody who is popular on G+, you could potentially start ranking higher in search results for a large number of people.
If you managed to get Danny Sullivan to +1 your page, you are more likely to show up in Google organic search results for a potential 1.8 million people. Let’s say you running a little cosmetics company and feeling particularly persuasive today: why not chuck Britney Spears some free lipstick in return for a +1 and some increased exposure in front of her 4.8m Google+ fans? That nugget, you can have for free.
Of course, to most people at least, these might be exaggerated and unobtainable examples. However, the lesson here is more that it is time to encourage your fans to connect with you on Google+. If they then connect with their friends or other like minded people, you could find that your website gains increased exposure to pockets or networks of well targeted demographics that are more likely to be interested in your product that any old person walking down the street.
Google even provide data on the impact of +1 in Google Webmaster Tools. That too is a sure indication that they are taking this seriously. Perhaps you should too.
Blogging has been a buzzword for what seems like forever, and there are tonnes of benefits that I don’t need to list here. However, let’s look at one benefit in particular: the ability to rank for longer tail keyphrases. For example, at the time of writing, the Traffic Digital website ranks on P1 of Google UK when you search for [Google Shopping] after we did a blog on this back in June.
We are currently in the process of implementing authorship markup on our blogs. So what exactly are the benefits of this, why should you be doing it, and what the hell has it got to do with Google+?
Firstly, the most noticeable benefit is the inclusion of an author picture next to Google search results. Take the example below, a search for [Google Head of Web Spam] brings up the man himself, Matt Cutts, in the top position.
There are many arguments to suggest that this can help to improve your click-through-rate, particularly if you are a recognised and respected authority on a given subject. However, beyond this greyer area, there is a more fundamentally important reason why you should be implementing authorship markup – author rank.
Let’s say I write a blog about the “Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature”. That’s a subject I know absolutely nothing about. Ask me about the ultrasonic velocity in stilton as affected by a hammer, however, and we’ll be here all day. But my blog is likely to be less credible than the world experts in the subject of ultrasonic velocity in cheddar cheese. If insight into that subject is what you are looking for, then you don’t want my blog. You want something written by A. Mulet, J. Benedito, J. Bon and C. Rossello.
Hence, Google has designed author rank as a way of recognising authoritative voices in particular niches or subjects, and promoting their content above others. If you want a more detailed picture of how Google might be calculating Author Rank, check out this piece by AJ Kohn.
“You still haven’t said what Author Rank has to do with Google+?”
Well, basically your author rank is associated with your Google+ account. Not your Twitter account, Facebook account, personal site or bio page. Just your Google+ account. Consider this a little bit of ‘incentivisation’ from Google to get authors and influencers interested in G+.
By linking to your Google Plus page with your biography page and each of your blogs. Here is a simple 4 step process:
Four short steps and you’re ready to go.
These are two extremely powerful reasons for anybody interested in SEO and search engine rankings to start taking Google Plus seriously. Furthermore, it is important to start getting involved now rather than waiting until you are already behind. Authorship could be an extremely powerful ranking factor in the next year or two, so it makes sense to start building it today and get ahead of the game. By 2014, your sleepy competitors could end up being two years behind, tasting bitter dust as you zoom past them in the rankings.
As for affecting rankings by building your profile in Google+, this seems to me to be a temporary incentive. The effects are sometimes so dramatic, such as five page rises in rankings, that one might suspect that Google are over-incentivising now, in order to get people interested. And I am happy to play into their hands if I get two or three years of super benefit and a network of contacts on Google plus.
What do you think? Have you achieved any success from authorship or Google Plus? Or are you still sceptical about yet another social media platform that you have to invest time and money into? We want to hear from you, so please do leave your comments below.