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Mention Google+ to marketers today, and you’ll most likely get a yawn or some other apathetic response. Why? Compared to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Google+ is a virtual ghost town. Not surprisingly, its fledging status has caused many marketers to dismiss it. But their thinking is short-sighted, as Google+ will soon be a powerful tool for marketers. Let’s take a look at why.
Google+ At a Glance
What exactly is Google+? It’s Google’s social network, but it’s not a single destination site like Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. The platform is more of a social layer spanning all of Google’s products such as Google Search, YouTube, Google Places, Gmail, Android, etc. Google+ acts as a framework for all of your internet behavior, particularly if it deals with anything Google-related.
At the core of the product is the Circle feature. Circles allow you to group your Google+ connections into specific categories so you can share the right things with the right people and segment who you hear from. The functionality of the platform is robust. Think of it this way — take the friend lists, like buttons, and event planning from Facebook, then add in the responsiveness and news-breaking power of Twitter, add a dash of video chat from Skype, mix all of that functionality into Google’s core search product, and you’ll end up with Google+.
But there’s a lot more value to Google+ than just its features. The social platform is unique and holds considerable value for marketers because it is tied into Google’s search algorithms, which are increasingly reliant on social signals. Because of that, marketers using Google+ can leverage their social efforts to improve their organic search performance.
Why Google+ Will Thrive
Sounds great, but do we really need another social network? If you’re Google, you do! When deals with Twitter and Facebook fell through, they decided to build something themselves. Granted, a year after its launch, Google+ still lacks users, but that will change. Google is making a big investment to graft their social layer to all of their offerings, because they are committed to the idea that personalization is the best thing for their core search product. Google+ will allow them to collect the social data necessary to make personalization possible.
Google is in the midst of a full-on campaign to cultivate adoption of Google+. Naturally, they are tapping into their collection of products to encourage users to log in and make use of Google+. Their control of — and immediate access to — millions of users across their popular offerings lets them easily shift users to the social platform in some very subtle ways.
If this continues, the platform should thrive. In fact, I predict that a Google+ presence will become essential to digital marketing efforts striving to capitalize on traffic from various Google products. In other words, Google+ will soon be a powerful tool for marketers. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the evidence. Below are a few of the ways that Google is driving user adoption of the Google+ platform:
1. Google Places Becomes Google+ Local — After the 2011 purchase of Zagat, Google combined their Places product with the Zagat review system, rolling it into the Google+ platform as Google+ Local. Millions of businesses found their personalized Places pages moved and each and every one of them had to sign up for Google+ to access their accounts. Moreover, because the Local pages provide uniquely socialized reviews on things like restaurants and salons, Google wants to leverage that content for Google+ subscriptions. So today you need a Google+ profile to leave a review. Now when a business asks a customer to leave a review, they’re essentially asking them to sign up for Google+.
2. Google+ Features Become Standard Gmail Features — Gmail is arguably the most well-received Google product apart from the core search offering. With over 425 million active monthly users, it is also the most-used web-based email service in the world. Google wants to tap into that massive pool of active users to grow Google+ and is making moves to seamlessly blend it with Gmail. The integration has been subtle so far, but soon enough users will find that they simply cannot avoid using Google+ features being built into the existing Gmail product. Here are three examples:
- Gmail’s Google Chat: One huge advantage to using Gmail is Google Chat, which lets you instant message any of your contacts signed into their Gmail account, whether or not they are in your address book. Google+ shares this chat feature with Gmail, so anyone logged into either one can converse, share photos, or even connect via voice chat. Have a friend with a Hotmail, Yahoo, or business email address and want to talk to them? Just put their non-Gmail email address into Google Chat, and you’re prompted to invite them to sign up for Google+.
- Event Notifications: Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google+ are all connected when it comes to events and notifications. If you accept an invite to an event on Google+, your calendar automatically adds all of the details, and you receive a notification via Gmail. In fact, your Gmail account gets notified about anything that happens on your Google+ account. Have a friend in your contact list who adds you to his circles? You get a notification. Someone mention your name in a post on Google+? You get a notification. The Gmail interface has even been modified to accentuate Google+ notifications — a giant red box appears in the top-right corner of your inbox, and won’t disappear until you take a moment to open it up in the Google+ dashboard.
- Hangouts Replace Gmail Video Chats: Gmail hyped its Video Chat feature for a long time as their answer to products like Skype and other web conferencing tools. However, when Google+ started offering their superior Hangouts feature, they chucked basic Video Chat, creating another strong incentive for existing Gmail users to start using Google+. Today you can’t use the Hangouts program without a Google+ account, so former Video Chat users must either switch platforms to a competitor or adopt the Hangout model.
3. Search Plus Your World — Google has toyed with personalized search results for a while now, but recently placed a hefty bet on personalization as the future of search with the introduction of Search Plus Your World. It enables anything you share with a Google product (emails, images, videos, etc.) to potentially populate your search results (and that of your friends’ search results) for related queries, especially if shared with Google+. With it, Google search takes into account not just data and factoids, but also relationships between users, making search more social.
Even if you aren’t using Google+ yet, Search Plus Your World will fill your search results with any kind of relationship information it can get. If it finds someone in your Gmail address book using Google+, the algorithm might start to pull in what that person shares on Google+, giving that content preference in your results. If you do a search on your active Google+ friend’s birthday, Google displays a huge notification above your search results telling you to sign up for Google+ and wish them a happy birthday. In fact, it has a ton of subtle features like this to integrate any connections you have into your search results and encourage you to sign up for Google+ too.
4. Google+ Authors — The Google+ Authorship feature allows writers to attach their Google+ profile to any piece of content they publish on the web, and Google has created incentives for them to do so. Content connected to established authors with a Google+ profile is more likely to rank for targeted keywords in the SERPs, and the listings include bells and whistles like portraits and extra site links that drive up conversion rates.
With this feature, the more popular a writer is, the more credibility their content gets. And it’s not limited by domain — if an author writes for his corporate blog, but also contributes to other blogs, he can tap into the popularity of all his writing by connecting his Google+ author profile with all sources of his published content.
Whether or not you believe that personalized search is the future, Google does. And they are investing heavily in the belief that they can improve their core search product by harnessing the power of social media signals. Remember, they’ve been shut out of the major social networks data feeds thus far. Now they’re throwing everything they’ve got at Google+ to get their massive customer base to use it on a regular basis. They’ll either succeed and Google+ will become an integral part of their business, or they’ll fail, and the whole model will crumble to the ground. Every organic search marketer should bet on Google’s success.