Since its release over 3 weeks ago Google plus has seen tremendous growth, with nearly over 20 million users already. People who are even remotely interested in search, social media and marketing have probably been spending a lot of time figuring out how best to use this new platform. This growth will probably continue once Google+ becomes available to everyone (it’s still in beta) and Google starts marketing the social network through its other widely used, and trusted, channels such as YouTube and Blogger.
Below is a graph to illustrate the tremendous growth of the platform compared to Twitter and Facebook. Yes, we could say the growth of Google+ can also be attributed to the fact that it was largely promoted and shared through these other 2 platforms which could have contributed to it’s rapid adoption but it’s still a massive difference.
Essentially Google+ is a social network, like Facebook and Twitter but with some added features that make it stand apart. There have been many posts flying around about Google+ killing Facebook and/or Twitter but I think Google has a slightly different agenda. Of course they would like to ‘steal’ some of their users but essentially Google is interested in gathering more and more data about people and their connections. This allows them to provide a more personalised and social web experience. Google is using Google+ profiles and information shared through circles and sparks to create an even clearer picture of you. It is slowly gathering more data about you, your interests, your friends, your network and what they share and are interested in. Scary stuff!
In a recent talk with TechCrunch, Eric Schmidt said:
“We’re trying to use the identity infrastructure to make the Google products really interesting. The most obvious one has to do with like YouTube recommendations search recommendations so forth, so on. We can do this based on who you are accurately, and more so, who your friends are.”
Using Google+ circles for segmentation
This segmentation component is truly unique and makes it stand apart from Twitter and Facebook where everything is shared with everyone. Circles allow users to segment their followers into different groups and target what they share with each category/‘circle’ that they have created. These can be anything you decide from ‘work colleagues’, ‘friends’, ‘family’ to ‘construction marketing bloggers’, ‘architects’ etc. It enables users to think about what they are sharing and who they want to share it with. Pritesh has further discussed the impact of this segmentation ability in a previous blog post.
An interesting comment that came out of this post was that this segmentation can lead to some people missing out on information that they might have been interested in just because they are in a circle that limits them to certain types of information. For example, if you create a circle labelled ‘SEO experts’ and then share a post with another circle on a social media issue, how do you know that those people in the ‘SEO experts’ circle would not find that useful as well? People might list a few interests in their profiles and you will group them accordingly but that doesn’t mean they don’t have other interests as well. This is a point to keep in mind and makes you think harder about the circles you have created and how some people’s interests might overlap.
Image: Google plus circles that I’ve created so far. To add new people to a circle or to create a new one you only have to drag and drop.
Hangouts is a new feature rolled out with Google Plus, similar to skype video conferencing, but without the price tag. It’s free and available for anyone to join in. You can select circles or specific individuals to join a Hangout where you can all video chat at the same time with up to 10 people. Even though the name suggests something informal, it can be a great business tool. Brands could use it to run focus groups discussing and demonstrating new products or use it for customer service purposes.
As Google is still working on Google+ for business, I am sure we will see more business functionalities like online meetings and integration with Google Calendar. Unfortunately, at the moment you cannot record conversations to keep a record of what has been discussed but this might be another functionality that will be added in the future.
Setting up Sparks
Sparks are a way for you to find content and news on the web by specifying topics that you are interested in. So if you want to find out more about sustainability, building regulations, the latest football news or even tips about business then list these as your ‘sparks’ and Google will feed you randomised news and information on these topics through Google News. The content Google+ pulls in here is different from the results you would get if you typed the same term into the search engine. Its focus is more on fresh, fun and social content which users can engage with so videos will rank highly.
I’m not sure how useful this functionality is especially if you already use Twitter for instant news access or RSS feeds to get all the latest blog posts. Personally, I think it’s an additional way for Google to get an even deeper insight into your interests as well as those of your friends and peers.
Image: Screenshot of Google+ homepage. Highlighted areas show circles & sparks on left & hangouts on right.
Influence of Google plus on SEO & Search
Social signals from sites like Facebook and Twitter had been influencing search engine result pages (SERPs) even before Google released its own +1 button (similar to Facebook ‘like’). The effect on page rank was not immediately obvious but with the +1 button and the Google+ network, a lot of social activities are taking place are on Google itself. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine that the number of +1s a site gets or the amount of times it is shared on Google+ won’t have an effect on that page or site’s organic search rankings. Google will probably use all this available data to refine their search algorithms and provide users with better results. For now it is difficult to confirm how exactly Google+ affects SEO, apart from indexing, but I am sure it will have a greater effect in the future.
Another significant impact on search is the inclusion of author Google+ profile images appearing next to search results. These link directly through to that author’s Google+ profile page. Including profile images of authors along site search listings is a major change to what had traditionally been a non-visual page. This can have a significant impact on click through rates because even if a post is not number one but has an author image and name next to it, people might be more inclined to click on that link.
5 Things we like about Google Plus:
- Hangouts – video conference calls are great for client business meetings or for communicating with employees in other countries or even those that are working at home or on a business trip. It’s free and up to 10 people can participate at one time.
- Circles – this segmentation ability allows you to target your marketing messages to specific people. You are on one network but can control what information your family, friends, colleagues, clients, prospects and industry peers see.
- SEO – social and sharing activities that are taking place on Google itself are being indexed and allows Google to collect more data and information about you and your network. This could affect page rankings and search results as Google tries to give results more relevant results based on various social signals, your interests and your social graph.
- Detailed conversations – Twitter updates and Facebook statuses limit you to a certain number of available characters. Which is also one of its advantages; receiving information in a succint and concise manner. In Google+ you have the option to be as succinct or as elaborate as you like. You can post shorter updates and comments or you can post more detailed questions and comments to encourage debate and interaction within your network.
- Plus 1 – in your Google plus profile there is a ‘+1’ tab which stores all the links, articles, websites, videos and photos that a user has +1’ed. This is a good way of keeping track of what kind of content people like and makes it easier for others to see what their friends and peers have +1’ed. Are you more likely to click on a link if you have seen that someone you trust finds it relevant?
Google needs data and lots of it to make our search and social experience as relevant as possible. Google plus will slowly give them more of this data as it gives Google a chance to take a closer look at connections between people. More links on a site does not mean it is relevant for a specific person, but if their friends and peers say it is (through sharing it, ‘liking’ it and lots of +1) then it probably is. This makes search results more social as content is not just ranked in terms of links but in terms of shares and recommendations from individuals’ social circles.
What are your initial thoughts on Google+? What affect will it have on search results and our search behaviour? Will it be useful from a business perspective? Please share your comments below.