Practical Ecommerce

Google+ Shake Up Doesn’t Kill SEO Benefit

With last week’s departure of Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president of social, rumors are swirling about the demise of Google+. What does this mean to search marketers who have been investing time into the social network?

Changes to the Google+ Team

Gundotra was the man widely believed to be behind the creation of Google+. Google has appointed David Besbris, vice president of engineering for Google+, as Gundotra’s replacement. But the shake up at the top wasn’t the only change.

In addition, teams formerly assigned to work on Google+ features are being moved elsewhere. The Hangouts team in particular is moving under the Android mobile team, a potential signal that Google is placing greater focus on its mobile platform and stepping away from social.

Google denies that the changes signal an end to Google+. According to TechCrunch, a Google representative stated that “we have an incredibly talented team that will continue to build great user experiences across Google+, Hangouts and Photos.”

From the start, Google+ has been dogged by unfavorable comparisons to Facebook and other social networks. Google has also been criticized for artificially inflating its Google+ membership numbers by integrating it into more popular Google products like YouTube and Gmail.

In reality, though, Google+ has always been more of a platform than a social network. Google+ is the platform by which Google incorporates its own social features into its products, including search.

In reality, though, Google+ has always been more of a platform than a social network. Google+ is the platform by which Google incorporates its own social features into its products, including search.

Even if Google+ never gains the popularity of a Facebook, and it almost certainly won’t as a standalone social network, Google+ remains valuable to search marketing.

Google Search Benefits from Google+

Authority and popularity signals that heavily influence natural search rankings have long been based on the links that websites create between each other.

Traditionally, the more links a piece of content has from other sites that are authoritative and popular, the more likely that piece of content is to be of value to a searcher. But search marketers found ways to artificially boost the number of links to their content, giving those who built links an advantage over those who didn’t.

In the last few years, Google has waged a pitched battle against webspam, attempting to identify and invalidate every form of artificial advantage possible. Google’s “Penguin” algorithm updates in particular focused on sites with poor link quality. But can Google really identify every form of webspam and counteract it algorithmically?

That’s where social signals come into play.

More than one billion people a month are active on Facebook, according to its first quarter earnings report. That’s one billion people sharing information and content — links to web pages, photos, videos, and status updates — that’s valuable or interesting to them. And the more people who share that content, the more valuable it is. It’s like the early days of placing value in links, but in the case of social signals the user valuing the content is more easily traceable and less easily spammed. That’s gold as a signal in a search algorithm.

The problem is, Google doesn’t have access to the depths of social signals that Facebook, Pinterest, and other social networks collect. Yes, Google can crawl certain public areas of those sites, but much of the content shared and valued by members remains invisible to Google’s algorithmic eyes.

Google+ is Google’s only unrestricted source of social information. As such, it is far too valuable a signal of authority and popularity data to fall by the wayside. Google+ as a platform will live on and continue to be baked into Google’s other products as a social layer.

How Google+ Benefits SEO

Even though Google+ posts no longer pass link popularity, active participation is still valuable. Google denies that posting on Google+ provides any direct ranking benefit, but there is a strong correlation between higher search rankings and Google +1s.

A more tangible benefit to Google+ activity, however, is the addition of Google+ information and links in your brand’s Knowledge Graph (where Google provides answers to queries in the search results). For example, Lowe’s has its Google+ activity to thank for the items outlined in red in the image below.

Lowes Knowledge Graph

Lowe’s Knowledge Graph in Google search results.

This added real estate in Google’s search results provides visual interest, a larger logo, visibility into the brand’s latest Google+ post, and the ability to follow the brand on Google+ directly from the search results. In the increasingly competitive landscape of search results, where so many modules push even the first natural search result lower on the page, it’s critical to have this extra visibility in the Knowledge Graph. Plus, it’s free.

In addition, content shared on Google+ also enjoys a faster initial Googlebot crawl rate than it would otherwise. The sharing actually prompts Googlebot to crawl the new content, sometimes within seconds of its posting. If your site isn’t one of the major brands that enjoys hourly crawls already, prompting Google to crawl more quickly with a posting could be the difference between being crawled today and being crawled next week. That, in turn, could be the difference between ranking today and letting your competition get the jump on you.

Google+ doesn’t have the user base that Facebook and the other social networks boast. But it does offer something more important to search marketing: integration at the platform level into Google’s products. Whether or not it’s truly a ranking signal today — Google says no — participation in Google+ offers SEO benefits to ecommerce sites that no other social network can.

Jill Kocher
Jill Kocher
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Comments ( 6 )

  1. Etienne May 4, 2014 Reply

    Very valuable info.
    Any business should consider Google+ as part of their overall digital strategy just because of the knowledge graph and impact on brand and local searches.
    And best of all it is all risk-free from an SEO standpoint

  2. David May 6, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for a great article. Does anyone know how to appear in SERPs like the Lowe’s example above?

    • Jill Kocher May 8, 2014 Reply

      David: I haven’t seen anything definitive on how to trigger Knowledge Graphs for you own brand. Here’s what I do know:

      Local Knowledge Graph: Claiming your G+ page and completing the local profile (address, phone, hours, etc.) will trigger the local knowledge graph for people searching who are geographically close to you.

      Personalized Knowledge Graph: Claiming your G+ page and getting one follower (even if it’s yourself from your personal account) will trigger the Knowledge Graph to show ONLY for those people following your G+ page. So if you’re the only one following it, only you will see it.

      Brand Knowledge Graph: This is what you really want — when people search for your brand, regardless of location or following status, the Knowledge graph shows them something about your brand. I have some theories but no hard facts.

      1) Claim your G+ page. It’s not required for Knowledge Graph inclusion, clearly, because many big brands that don’t have G+ pages are included in the Knowledge Graph. Example: Hunt’s (https://www.google.com/search?q=hunt%27s). Either way, claiming your G+ page isn’t going to hurt and can only help Google know you’re a real brand.
      2) Data source: Google needs a data source to pull a snippet about your company from. Wikipedia and Freebase are a couple of defaults. If you’re not in Wikipedia or Freebase, get there. Example: Episencial is a brand of skin care products. (https://www.google.com/search?q=episencial) The brand gets 880 searches a month according to Google Keyword Planner, so it’s not an unknown brand, even if it’s not a huge brand. They do have a G+ page, but no Wikipedia or Freebase page. They get no Knowledge Graph. Coincidence? Very possible. But there may be something there.
      3) Search demand: If the brand isn’t visible enough to generate enough searches a month, perhaps no Knowledge Graph will trigger. Without the search demand, does Google know it’s a brand? I can’t test this one without some examples of very small brands.

      This is very interesting. If you’d like to test some things to see if we can trigger a Brand Knowledge Graph, contact me at jill@practicalecommerce.com. If we’re successful I’d love to write a story about it.

  3. Paul Chaney May 6, 2014 Reply

    By far, the best and most decisive article on the value of and role Google+ will play in the future.

    A question if you don’t mind: Do we need to treat Google+ as if it a social network? In other words, is it imperative that we interact with posts with comments and +1′s, much as we do with Facebook? Or, is the vital factor that can’t be overlooked merely related to posting content?

    I rue the thought of having to interact on yet another social network. As a content producer, however, I realize there are SEO benefits that can’t possibly be gained on any other.

    I appreciate any advice you care to share.

  4. Jill Kocher May 8, 2014 Reply

    Paul: In my experience, no, you don’t have to treat G+ like a “real” social network beyond posting.

    I have a major brand client (not going to say who but they’re probably in your pantry) that recently joined Google+. They post content there that has been posted on Facebook, YouTube or Pinterest already. They have few followers on G+, get few +1s and shares, and therefore have nothing really to interact with from a true social network perspective. They use G+ as a mouthpiece for a future audience that may passively grow, but more accurately to get the Knowledge Graph benefits mentioned in this article.

    Treating G+ like a real social network will get you personalized Google search ranking benefits that grow as the size of your G+ network grows, but that does require active participation and networking in G+ to grow and engage your followers.

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