There was a time when setting up social profiles for a business was entirely optional. After all, what would be the point in having a Facebook page if you weren’t likely to update it at any point? However, those days may be coming to an abrupt end.
Google+, the latest and most significant foray into the world of social networking by the search giant, may represent something of a game changer for all online businesses. Whilst Twitter and Facebook provide a platform to promote your content and reach out to customers, Google+ goes much further.
It is a fully integrated search and social profile. As such, Google+ has implications beyond mere rankings and interaction; in many ways, it will become integral to the way in which we find and share information on Google in the future. But what evidence is there to support this assertion?
Integration into Search Results
Well, already we have seen the integration of personalised results within Google SERPs. Therefore, if you’re signed in (and even if you’re not), you’ll receive recommendations from friends, colleagues and your network of social associates. With the number of users on Plus still being relatively sparse (Google claim that 170 million accounts have been ‘upgraded’, although the actual number of regular users is likely to be much lower), this isn’t as comprehensive or impactful as it may be in the future.
Equally, the hugely popular Google Places profiles for businesses have now been swallowed up by the Plus brand. It is now simply called Google+ Local, enabling all of your profiles to be merged and managed from a single page. So, in effect, if you want to have a strong local presence on Google, you need to secure your Plus profile.
Building Authority through Social Signals
This all sounds horribly convoluted and complex, but it is actually an entirely logical way for search engines to better understand social relationships and real-world authority. For many years, rankings have been based entirely on a messy web of links. However, through in-depth social data and the accurate identification of connections between accounts and sites, they can add more substance to their existing algorithm. Ultimately, results pages should improve and the strongest business ought to thrive.
After all, whilst you can manipulate the number of links your site receives, you can’t force people to talk about your brand or share content. Therefore, it makes sense for Google to start using this information to get a better understanding of relevance and popularity. But in order to do this effectively, they need to be able to identify and collate all of that data – which is where a Google+ profile comes in.
One simple page can become a funnel for your website and online business. With Local+ you have the opportunity to be seen in a particular city or area, building up reviews, adding prices and other information in the process. Similarly, your profile page is a way of reaching out to a global audience and spreading your latest deals, content and news.
Developing Individual and Business Profiles
Employees can also link to a business’ account through their own personal profiles. Whilst this is certainly nothing new within the social sphere, the rel=author tag has changed things somewhat. Rather than just being another account, individuals can build up their personal authority by writing content for other sites and linking it back through their profile.
Ultimately, the strength of individuals and their affiliation with a business will build authority for both, providing a great opportunity for anybody who is creating quality content to reap the benefits. It’s ingenious, it’s going to have a major impact on how visible sites are going to be in the future and (at the moment) it’s only available through Google+.
Of course there are also the rather more predictable ranking benefits of setting up a Google+ profile. First and foremost, it’s a good way of securing your brand name and dominating the first page for related terms. Unsurprisingly, business pages tend to do pretty well in the rankings; so even if you don’t have the time to continuously update your account, it’s still well worth having. After all, there’s always the lingering potential for competitors and squatters to take your name and post whatever they like. This may be damaging or it could just be a little annoying, particularly if you look to grow your brand in the future.
Looking Beyond Privacy Concerns
Some people are understandably a little wary of Google and the data they hold. Privacy concerns are shared by many; however, as with many things in life and business in particular, you can either work with the search engines or do your own thing entirely. So whilst you will need to provide even more information about your business through a Plus account, the benefits should justify any personal reservations.
Of course the good news is that you don’t need to abandon your other social profiles in order to start building your status on Google+. In fact with social signals becoming more important all of the time, significant gains can be made from dominating Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and any others that you may be using currently. Dormant profiles can be damaging though, so look to invest a little time in updating each one with reasonable regularity.
As far as competitive advantages go, the number of businesses currently missing out on Google+ presents a great opportunity to corner the market relatively early. Whilst there has been a lot of bluster about the failure of previous Google social projects (notably Wave), it would appear that Plus is here to stay. The potential influence it could have on your online visibility and the functionality that it affords, particularly in relation to rel=author and Local+, should be enough to justify a closer look.
Making the Most of Added Functionality
It’s easy to forget that Plus also offers a range of functionalities that help set it apart from other networks. Both from a pure usability point of view and also a brand development standpoint, you will have some fantastic tools available to you. It has adapted elements of products like Skype, with Hangouts, Quora, with the ability to share questions and answers that can then achieve rankings in their own right as well as elements of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It’s a hybrid, not a perfect one, but certainly has plenty to offer active users.
The way in which we search for information is constantly evolving, as are the search engines that serve up results. Consumers are increasingly turning to social sites to ask questions within their community and to seek content from the wider world. Consequently, the line between conventional search sites like Bing or, more particularly, Google and social networks like Twitter and Facebook are becoming increasingly blurred. As such, any online business should now be looking to create an integrated multi-platform marketing campaign to take advantage of the opportunities.
The role of search rankings, in a traditional sense, is also changing. You can’t rely on being top of Google for your keywords across the board. As mentioned earlier, local and personalised results are tipping the balance, and will continue to do so for some time to come. Therefore, as well as conventional optimisation, those social shares and the building of a local brand – with reviews as supporting evidence – are massively important. Ranking signals are changing at a rate of knots and you can either be ahead of the curve or trying desperately to catch up with the rest.
Things aren’t quite as black and white as they once were; but a word to the wise, if you want to get ahead in social and search, Google+ is quickly becoming a vital part of any marketing campaign. It may not be on every business’ radar just yet, but it probably should be.
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