Why Your Business Should Be Using Google+

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Are you thinking about incorporating Google+ into your social media strategy but haven't made the leap yet? There are a few important advantages to participation you need to consider. But first, some background.

What is Google+, really?

For the uninitiated, it’s a social network. For those in the know, it’s a Facebook clone (that’s a tongue-in-cheek comment but it’s partially true). Google is understandably avoiding making any comparisons to existing social networks. If I were forced to do so then Facebook would be the most likely comparison. As you think through both this post and your strategy, Facebook will do if you absolutely need a point of comparison (at least for now).

Something to keep in mind is that Google+ is not +1. They are two separate names to two related but very different things. For those that don’t spend their professional time geeking out on social networks (I do) the terms can be confusing. That’s completely understandable. As discussed above, Google+ is Google’s social network. The +1 is their equivalent of the Facebook Like (to stretch the comparison a bit further). So when you “+1” something you are giving Google a signal that you like the page/link/ad (Yes, you can +1 an ad. Who does that?!!?).

To add further confusion to the understanding of Google+ terminology, Google is now aggregating +1 and Circle activity for business pages. I’m not even going to go there right now (see the footnote for an explanation1).

Why should you consider incorporating Google+ into your social media strategy?

As marketing practitioners we all need "another social network”, right? Well, under other circumstances I would relegate Google+ to a second tier network, monitor it for any activity about my brand and respond as appropriate. Then I would move on with my life. But this is Google and, while their network is still nascent, it does require more attention than you would give other burgeoning social networks.

These are the important and distinctive advantages to using Google+:

  • Google allows for long form content (somewhere around 100,000 characters if you would like to personally test it). You can post long status messages like this entire blog post or even a novella (literally).  Sure.  Sure.  Facebook recently also increased their character count on posts to 63,206 (Facebook … Face Boo K … hex(FACE) - K … 64206 - 1000 = 63206) but it wouldn't flow or feel right if you used all characters.  The Facebook community is not used to long posts.  The Google+ community see long form content regularly.
  • Google+ posts can be referenced through unique links and shared publicly. There is no need to worry about whether or not someone has a Google+ account. Everyone can view your public content regardless of their Google+ account status. This is not a distinct advantage in and of itself but when combined with the next point it is important to consider.
  • Google+ posts perform extremely well in the search results. Some prominent bloggers have used anecdotal evidence to support the idea that, while their blog post performs well in the Google SERPs, a Google+ post about the original blog post performs better. See this note from a former Google Apps product management lead as an example of said anecdotal evidence.
  • Google “Search plus Your World” (a.k.a. social search) is a significant change to their algorithm in which social signals (mostly the +1) are incorporated into Google’s search results. Currently, signals from Twitter and Facebook are not being included in these results so activity on Google+ is the only way to increase your chances of being seen (there has been plenty written about this already). This is a complex advantage so lets look at some pretty pictures.

Look at these screenshots for an example of how social search is affecting results even today. They are both for the search term “SOPA” (an extremely egregious and disgusting bill making its way through Congress). The results are very different when social search is triggered and the difference does not have anything to do with proper SEO. It’s almost entirely based on your Google+ Circles and +1 activity.

SOPA - traditional search results

SOPA - traditional search results

SOPA - social search results

SOPA - social search results

Based on the incorporation of these new social results, there has been some healthy discussion about how traditional SEO is not important (see an excellent argument from Ed Kless about SEO and social search). I think this conversation is great because we are in a transition phase. SEO is still extremely important for your digital marketing efforts if your goal is to be seen by more people.  It’s difficult to tell if SEO will continue to deliver the same results using the same formula as social search becomes more prominent. My educated guess is that it will not.

The carrot and the stick

The advantages listed above are all carrots. That is, they are the positive benefits of having bought into participation on Google+ for your brand or business. Here’s the stick:

Not only do Google+ posts rank highly in their search algorithm but activity around the +1 will directly impact your cost per click advertising costs. Stay with me here because this is the most important part of the post (Yes.  I buried the lead). Based on the 2011 Search Marketing Report from MarketingSherpa, the paid search click through rate of social media users compared to non-users (the 3 of you left out there) is double. Double. Let’s put that in terms a bit easier to understand. The more your Google AdWords ads get clicked, the higher your quality score. The higher your quality score the less you pay for ads. In my best mafia voice, “Capisce?”

In Summary

Google+ was officially launched on June 28, 2011. Just prior to that the +1 button was launched but didn’t have much of a purpose without the accompanying social network. In other words, it hasn’t been that long (Leo Laporte asked an excellent question on his TWiT podcast recently, “How many internet years is represented by a real year if a dog year is 7 years?”). You can clearly see Google’s focus here and their desire to make this product successful. Personally, I’m in. The conversations on Google+ are intelligent and in-depth. I really enjoy it. From a business perspective it’s hard for me to argue against the points above. Get your pencils sharp and dust off your thinking caps. It’s time to focus some of your effort on Google+.

1Footnote: Just like on Facebook, you can like a brand or business on Google+. This is done through the +1 and, for comparison’s sake, it matches the Facebook Like perfectly. You can Like a status update. You can +1 a status update. You can Like a brand or business. You can +1 a brand or business. If we look at the Los Angeles Times business page on Google+ we can see that “14,127 have +1’d or added to circles”. Wait. What? Yes, if you Circle a brand on Google+ you are counted in their aggregate influence number (What are we calling that number, anyway?). Breaking down the number, 13,986 have the Los Angeles Times in a Circle which means that only 141 have +1’d the venerable west coast publisher of news and information. I've seen similar trends skewed in favor of Circles for other brands as well. I’m not sure why Google is aggregating these numbers but it can create a small amount of confusion as you are measuring the success of your efforts.