Google+ for Brands – Are You In or Out?

It’s been a good few months since Google first rolled out Google+ for users, and then later brands. In that time there’s been much debate about the usefulness of this platform for its’ ability to connect individuals, promote conversation and content engagement, or drive traffic to other websites.

Earlier in the month, a report from Shareaholic based on aggregate publisher data from 200,000 sites found that new social flavour-of-the-month Pinterest, by far eclipses Google+ as a referring source of traffic. Critics may be quick to dismiss Google+ based on the relative success of Pinterest, however it’s worth noting that at 0.22% of total referral traffic (in the sample) this still put the platform above the very established Linkedin network at 0.20%.

There are those that may say the evaluation of Google+ cannot be measured by how much traffic it may generate to other sites, but as a “social” platform it should be more about engagement.; unfortunately a recent ComScore report points to dwindling engagement, with a shocking average visit time of only 3 minutes per user in January 2012 with Pinterest again being the biggest gaining site.

So why bother?

If user activity seemed to be on the slide in January, is there actually a reason to participate in Google+ either as an individual or as a brand? I’d argue that with the launch of Search, plus Your World in mid-January on Google.com, to ignore Google+ is a risk online marketers cannot afford to take. Here’s why…

Google will now show personal results from you and both people and pages in your circles in both the search results and autocomplete.

As an example if I start to search for my colleague Peter Handley, whilst logged in the Google+ page for him and an industry friend, are immediately suggested before I’ve even typed the fourth character.

Search Plus Your World Results

In this example all the results I see immediately “above the fold” are results from Google+ as part of Search, plus Your World.  The little blue man icon indicates that these results are personal to me (which I can toggle on or off).

When I search for a brand however, this is where criticism of bias to the product seems to have some credence.

As an example if I search for “search engine watch” which is a leading news and information source for SEO professionals I see the following first page in Google.com when logged in.

SEW_Share

Not only are three of the five total results shown above the fold “personal results” but two of the total are links to Google+ pages, including my own company brand page (on which I’ve shared content I’ve written for Search Engine Watch), but also the brand page for Search Engine Watch.

Now – that is an awful lot of real estate for Google to give to their own products on the most coveted page of the search results; hence why leading media have criticised this move as favouring their own content over relevancy leading to fear and criticism from Facebook and Twitter.

How Many Search Users are Logged In?

Of course, as mentioned Google+ Search, plus Your World results are only shown on Google.com thus far to logged in users, however if history tells us anything it won’t be long until this is rolled out to Google.co.uk and real data tells us that as many as 10-30% of search user are logged in.

Since around October 2011 Google stopped passing referrer data for logged in users making the default SSL (secure socket layer), one of the many side-effects being that the search keyword for logged in users shows up as “not provided” which any Google Analytics user will be familiar with.

According to our own data at theMediaFlow and data shared by other search agencies and data resources, this effects a substantial amount of queries, even as much as 25% in this particular case study from Small Business Search Marketing.

Conclusion

Whilst the relative success of Google+ as a method of engagement and traffic generation is yet to be proven (and I stress relative, as I’d say that the overnight success of Pinterest and extreme competition from established social giants such as Facebook has unfairly eclipsed the contribution of Google+), it is clear that Google+ and Search, plus Your World is at the core of Google development plans. Given the sheer amount of emphasis and real-estate afforded to Google+ pages in my personalised results it is clear that this product is key to Google. Not only that but consider that every Googlers’ bonus is tied to the success of this product, I’d say that this is mission critical for them. A Google+ brand page is no longer an opportunity that online marketers can ignore.

To set up a Google+ brand page for your business there’s a simple tutorial here: http://www.google.com/+/business/

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By Nichola Stott