It seems like an ironic paradox that while Google is our search engine par excellence, businesses are, on the whole, still rather perplexed by Google+, its social media network, which remains largely under-utilised compared to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, although marketing through Google+ has been heralded as the online marketing trend for 2014.
Launched on June 28, 2011 as an ‘invitation only’ site, it had to shut down pretty quickly due to overwhelming demand for new profiles. Reaching 10 million users in 2 weeks, it was catapulted to the stratosphere with 50 million users within 3 months of its launch. Described by Google as an ‘authorship tool’, the site is now the second largest networking platform after Facebook, overtaking Twitter in 2013, and neck-in-neck with YouTube.
With about half of all searches conducted on tablets and smartphones, Google would have been remiss if they hadn’t catered for this market too, and Google+ App was launched, with tremendous success, in July 2011, ensuring Google+’s market penetration.
Following Facebook’s move to monetise posts, which will give an advantage to big players and may push small and medium-sized businesses away, Google+ could well reach the top before it is too long. One thing is sure in any case, if you are serious about digital and social media marketing, don’t underestimate the power of Google+, as despite what Matt Cutts at Google has said (he is never black and white, more a shade of grey), there are numerous case studies that shown a direct correlation between Google+ and an improvement in search engine rankings.
What makes Google+ so special?
You probably lavish time on your Facebook and Twitter accounts, convinced of their SEO value. Sadly, this is not quite the full picture. Twitter, for example, is set up with ‘nofollow’ on most links, which means that web crawlers don’t take notice of those pages; Facebook’s privacy settings, likewise, prevent many posts from being indexed. Additionally, none of the posts are indexed in the search engine results.
So although both platforms are a very important part of the overall online marketing landscape, their direct SEO effectiveness is actually very limited. Note – this is when we are treating SEO as helping a website to rank organically, as opposed to sending traffic to a site (which is completely part of SEO, ultimately a principle objective). Of course these social media sites can be incredibly powerful in terms of brand awareness and sending you a massive amount of traffic, it’s just that it does not necessarily result in your rankings in Google going up a peg or two. In addition, it is also impossible to target keywords and long tail phrases.
On the other hand, as you would have guessed, Google, as a search engine, will prioritise other Google products, so G+ posts are crawled and indexed almost immediately, ahead of posts on your other social media accounts. Each post is treated like its own individual blog entry with the first ~40 characters appearing in what’s called the “title tag”. This is one of the most important elements of SEO, it’s the main preview text describing the individual pages you see in your Google search results. All of this is something you don’t get with Facebook or Twitter posts. You can edit titles and other areas, and therefore focus your SEO on relevant terms, which you can’t do with Facebook and Twitter. This is a massive and very important difference between the social platforms.
It is often said that Google+ places a high value on so-called ‘social signals’ i.e. +1s in this case, the equivalent of ‘likes’ on Facebook, and that the correlation between number of +1s and higher page ranking is evident. However, it is not so much the number of +1s that matters as much as the fact that being “+1’ed” will probably lead to your content being shared, which will create link equity as those shared posts are also indexed. This is link ‘earning’ at its best, in comparison to link ‘building’ which was always rather contrived.
Now let’s have a closer look at Google+ features and how they can benefit your online marketing strategy and content marketing efforts:
Before Google+ was launched, the search giant referred to it as Google Circles, which expresses the importance of its core concept, connecting people belonging to a Circle.
The beauty of it is that you can organise your contacts into Circles, and share information according to what is relevant for each Circle or network.
Say, for example, that you produce luxury soaps and sell directly to individuals as well as to shops and wholesale buyers. Your two main markets, retail B2C and wholesale B2B, will usually be interested in different information, and by grouping them in different networks, not only will it make it incredibly productive for you when you send out special offers, newsletters, etc… but you will also provide a better experience for your customers, as they will get targeted information relevant to them, and increase your chances of +1s as well as retaining them as clients.
As you would expect, Google has made sure that using Circles is as easy as ABC and the organisation and management of Circles is done through a drag and drop feature. Anything shared in a Circle is, by default, confined to members of that Circle, although there is the option to make it public or share it with everyone in your contact list.
Google+ effectively removes the need to go to different social media platforms to target different sales channels and increases productivity and quality of customer service by making it simple and quick to share relevant information with targeted audiences.
In the middle of the 3 columns on the page, members of the same Circles can see updates from other members and enter posts. Want to share pictures of the latest projects you completed, a video of your products? Google+ allows you to upload and share media too.
It doesn’t mean that all information from your Circle is made available to everybody in the Circle. The need to comply with privacy laws is upheld with the ability to control the content of your Stream and what is visible to others. There are four settings available, and you can choose to disclose ‘nothing’, ‘some things’, ‘most things’ and ‘everything’.
Hangouts and Hangouts on Air
Technology has made it possible to do business worldwide almost as easily as with your next door neighbour. It doesn’t only mean with clients on the other end of the planet, but also with staff and contractors scattered all over New Zealand or the world (provided they have access to an internet connection of course).
But in order to keep projects and workflow run smoothly, communication is even more crucial, and this is where Google+ Hangouts is invaluable. A video conference feature, you can link with up to ten people at any one time with one click, allowing you to hold interactive webinars, present new products or services and invite bloggers or journalists to review them later.
It gives your company an incredible opportunity for direct, face-to-face contact with clients and will allow you to conduct business remotely, opening up your market, even on a national level, without the need to travel for hours.
Hangouts also supports YouTube and collaborative tools such as Google Docs. Want to show your latest promotional video and get instant feedback during a conference call? Nothing easier. Likewise, thanks to Google Docs, you can share product information, sales messages, etc… and make the most of where the meeting takes you.
Hangouts On-Air: this is a more recent feature which could well do wonders for your website from an SEO perspective. Requiring nothing more than a YouTube account, you can create webcasts which can be recorded and stored for later retrieval or interactive broadcasts which can be aired through G+, YouTube and your own website.
Not only will you benefit from the exposure that YouTube provides, but if they are popular, it will contribute to the quality of your website in Google’s eyes.
Company Pages: Google Pages for Business
Like Facebook, Google+ offers the option to set up a company page and is a typical example of how effective geo-targeting can be. G+ for business will be particularly beneficial to companies with a lot of local trade, such as restaurants for example, as it involves Google Maps and will increase your visibility on the network, resulting in more people in your area finding out about you.
If geo-targeting is your goal and you choose to set up your page as a local business, you will be led to Google Pages for Business, where you can add your company’s details which will be integrated into Google Maps. Note that you need to go through a verification process and wait for a pin, sent my snail mail, to complete your page and that this can take some time, so if you are planning a marketing campaign for a specific date, don’t leave it until the last minute!
Communities is another tool for getting your business out there in the G+ space and they are similar to the LinkedIn Groups. They are an efficient environment in which to promote your expertise by getting involved in relevant discussions and, like blogging, and it can help reinforce your rankings.
Although we have only outlined the main features of Google+ here, it is a vast platform which offers a multitude of opportunities to support your online presence and it is well worth spending time to get to know it in depth to exploit all its resources and improve your website’s rankings and traffic.
It is widely accepted now that Google+ will become more and more important as a social media platform in the years to come, and with the range of products and online tools compatible with it, its relevance and effectiveness for businesses will only increase. So get in early and you will have a better chance at establishing yourself before it becomes over-crowded.