The pieces are rapidly falling into place for Google’s increasing integration of “social signals” into its search algorithms. With the oddly isolated “+1” button launch at the end of March and the seemingly abrupt end of its agreement with Twitter in early July — see “Google Loses Access to Twitter Stream, Suspends Realtime Search,” on Mashable — it seemed that Google was dropping the social ball yet again.
Instead Google surged forward with Google+, its month-old social network based on sharing specific content to specific circles. From the users’ perspective, it’s like Gmail and GTalk combined with Facebook, but far more engaging. From Google’s perspective it’s the missing piece that connects the social dots between its products and provides a unique source of social-signal data to feed its ever-growing algorithms. Assuming Google+ realizes its potential, Google has the beginnings of a revolution on its hands.
Another Social Network?
Social networks come and go, right? Each network a business chooses to join requires a profile, content generation, creativity, outreach and interaction with happy and not-so-happy customers. It’s a lot of effort, and the payoff is not always easy to track. So what makes Google+ different? It’s the combination of user base, advertising platform and algorithmic expertise. With data feeding from its web search, advertising platform, maps, local, email, mobile operating system, desktop operating system and social network, Google is better positioned than ever to touch customers across multiple platforms.
Who else has Google’s reach? Facebook is strong in the social and advertising arenas, but its reach is limited by its walled nature. Apple has the mobile and desktop OS covered, but is weaker in the advertising space and doesn’t play at all in search or local. Microsoft has search, maps, advertising and operating system areas covered, but its real strength is in desktop software with limited mobility. Google alone has been able to pull all these pieces together, and — more importantly — data from all these pieces together, and apply them to its users’ lives.
Network Reach Matters
As Google becomes more integrated into more aspects of everyday life, it will leverage what it knows about individual users to benefit either your business or your competitors. Today, Facebook and Twitter are widely accepted marketing channels for ecommerce companies. In terms of reach, though, where Facebook’s and Twitter’s networks end is where your reach ends — if those are the only two social networks used to promote your business.
For example, as I go through my day I interact with at least 10 different Google products in every phase of my personal and professional life. I use the Chrome browser, I carry an Android phone, I have three or four Gmail accounts, I use Google Talk, Google Voice, Google+, Google Maps, Google Navigation, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Checkout, Google Web Search, Google Mobile Search, and I see — but ignore — Google AdWords across many of these products. In my office, at home, in the car, on the train, Google is always with me.
Consequently, across a growing number of these products, Google+ is with me as well. The persistent black header across Google’s products alerts me to Google+ activity: a message, a comment, a Huddle or Hangout request, someone adds me to a circle, someone +1’s a post. Google is with me all day, everywhere I am. And on most of those products, the little red notification square says subtly but persistently, “Something cool to see here!” That’s brilliant. That’s reach. And only Google has it. The others either lack the breadth of product portfolio or haven’t connected their products to the extent required to reach across them all yet.
I’m not the average consumer, I’ll grant that. But as mainstream consumers become more comfortable with an always-connected life in the cloud, Google will be there waiting to welcome them into its Circles. Every product in its wide portfolio is a potential entry point into the Google fold. A Gmail user today may think that social networks like Twitter or Facebook are a waste of time, but soon it will be a small, easy step from Gmail to Google+. We’re certainly not there today, with Google+ still working out the kinks in its field trial mode phase, but the potential is clear.
Benefit to Search Marketing
Google+ and the information from +1 buttons around the web are starting to influence search results, and the trend will only increase from here to fuel a powerful cycle of searching and sharing on the same network.
For example, a searcher Googling “cute shoes” sees that a friend has +1’d Shoes.com and is more inclined to click through to shop herself. While there, she finds a ridiculous pair of shoes that makes her laugh and shares that with her “Shopaholics” Circle in Google+. One of them is probably feeling like a new pair of shoes, anyway, and decides to click through, since the link is right there in front of her. Three pairs of flats and a matching handbag later she’s spent $187 and run back to Google+ to show off her new purchases.
If this same binge of shopping and sharing had happened on Facebook, it probably would not have triggered the social mention for Shoes.com in Google’s search results that the +1 did. Because Facebook does not share its data with Google, the same actions on Facebook are less visible to Google and less likely to display as a social mention in the search results. Courting fans and friends on Google+ will be more valuable to search marketing efforts than courting them on Facebook and Twitter, because the same actions drive engagement in social media marketing and search marketing channels simultaneously.
Getting Started on Google+
Google+ is not a practical marketing channel for most ecommerce sites today. Last week, Google began removing profiles for all but a handful of brands — see “Google Removes Mashable, Sesame Street & Other Prominent Accounts From Google Plus,” at Search Engine Land — stating that its present incarnation is meant strictly for individuals. A Google+ product for brands is in the works, and has reportedly set to debut in the “next few months.” That’s good news for brands: You have a few months to learn and plan before the Google+ explosion hits and brands start scrambling all over each other to capitalize on Google’s superior reach. Use this time wisely.
- Sign up for a personal account.
- Use Google+ personally. Add your friends and colleagues. Be yourself. Share, learn, play, have fun.
- Learn more about Google+: Mashable has a good guide to the basics, and others are coming out every day. Just Google it.
- Watch for news on Google+ business profiles. Mashable, TechCrunch, Search Engine Land, and other tech blogs will be the first to report the launch.
- Plan your business profile. Just like a Facebook profile, the Google profile requires some basic content such as business information, logos and images, descriptive content, links to your site and links to other social profiles. In addition, start thinking about Circles that make sense for your business like “Customers,” “Bloggers” or “Partners” and consider what brands or people you’d like to include in those.
- Claim your Google Place. Start the verification process if you aren’t already verified. It can take weeks, and Places will undoubtedly be linked to the Google+ business profiles.
- Editorial Calendar. Include Google+ on your editorial calendar as another channel that requires content generation and cross promotion with other marketing efforts.