Here's one of my current favorite hobbies: I sit down with potential clients, toss out a reference to Google+ and wait for the inevitable reply--that “it’s never going to make it” or “we don’t believe in it.”
Then I slowly shake my head, take a breath, and reveal what Google isn’t telling you about the importance of their social push.
You read that correctly. Yes, the inside of Google+ looks like Facebook--with a newsfeed, Circles that look like groups, and photo sharing. With the network effect that Facebook enjoys, however, Google+ will never be a major threat to it. That doesn’t matter.
Google+ as a social network was a Trojan horse to introduce the “+1 Button,” and that matters a great deal, because we are seeing it everywhere from organic and paid listings to blog posts, product listings and YouTube videos. And every time that +1 Button is clicked, it feeds Google’s advertising engine, allowing them to match more targeted ads to you and everyone connected with you through your Google account.
More data means better targeting, which in turn makes Google more money. Brilliant.
Google says that adding +1 button integration to your web site won’t directly affect your rankings, but that is misleading. It will absolutely affect your SEO rankings, albeit indirectly.
Here’s how: Mike clicks a +1 button, essentially indicating a “social endorsement” of a particular product or site. Later, Jim, who is a Gmail contact of Mike's, does a search and that site shows up, it shows up with a picture of Mike under that listing and his “endorsement” of the search result.
This has a triple-whammy positive effect:
The more users who are in your “+1 ecosystem,” the larger this positive effect on traffic, conversion rate and rankings. Wow. If you want, you can stop reading right now and go add the +1 button to your site.
I am probably like a lot of Google+ users; I set up an account a while back, added a limited number of colleagues, friends, and companies ... and then didn’t do much else. However, I use Google dozens of times a day. That means the users or companies that I did add to my Circles have had a major--even absurdly so--impact on my search results ever since Google introduced “Search + Your World.”
In a sense, it is the very mediocrity of Google+ adoption that creates the opportunity for your business to get a payoff from using it.
Blogger Robert Scoble, who is very active on Google+ and one of the few people I put into my Circles, is everywhere for me on Google--from posts, items he has liked and even his tagged photos. It’s social overload--and, in my opinion, not delivering the best experience. But on the flip side, if you are active on Google+ you can be the “Robert Scoble” of your audience, and affect its experience in a way that benefits your business goals.
Nearly every company has some negative review, blog or article online that they would just love to get rid of, usually with no success. But if you have a comprehensive Google+ listing, you can almost certainly get a top spot under searches for your company. That's something that you control, is positive, and will push those pesky negative posts farther down the search results page.
It’s the same reason that having a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Linked in is great: You want to control as much real estate as possible for current or potential clients looking for your company.
Although Google+ takes many common features from Facebook, one of the positive differences is that Google+ posts are naturally longer format. Twitter limits your character length to just 140 characters, and in Facebook it is a posting faux pas to post much more than a sentence.
Google+, however, provides a venue that's more like a blog; it's more common there to see full-length posts. And the more content you feed Google, the more it can index and produce in search results--helping your visibility, traffic, and SEO.
As a closing note, it is important to know that unlike the short-lived failures of Google Buzz, Wave or Orkut--kudos if you even remember all three--your investment of time and effort in Google+ and +1 is much more likely to pay off. Google has invested heavily in Google+, integrated it across all of its properties, and set the tone for this decade to be the Decade of Social--a battle that it is not going to bow out of any time soon.