Recently Google announced that Google+, its new social networking site, reached 250 million users. Though that number is staggering, keep in mind that these aren't all active users, just folks who have registered for an account. Therein lies one of the biggest challenges with Google+, because the accounts are easy to register for. If you have any access to Google at all (and who doesn't these days) via their applications such as Gmail, Google Docs, and others, you're going to get into Google+ almost by necessity. The problem is that most of us, once we're there, have no idea what to do with this new social networking platform.
Many SEO people tout this social networking site as a "must" for search engine ranking and we pay attention because it's Google. Of the 250 million users that Google cited, there are only about 75 million that are active, far less than Facebook. But here's the kicker, when you're in Google, so using Google products, etc. you'll always be "in" Google+ because of the way Google has set up the notifications. Have you seen that red box in the upper right hand corner of your screen when you're in Gmail? That's your Google+ notification letting you know there are new updates for you to look at. And while Google+ is still relatively new in the market, users spend an average of twelve minutes each on the site which is only down by eight minutes from Facebook.
Google's objective with Google+ and its other applications is not to become "just another social network" but rather a core ecosystem because its systems and services are vital to doing business (think Gmail and Google Docs) and Google also has plans to roll out a new tablet which will have an Android operating system, much like the smart phones.
How Google+ Works
With Google+ you can isolate who you want your news to go to using Circles. You can have friends and family circles, work circles for work friends and so on. What this allows you to do is isolate the information everyone sees. Google+ was designed to do this, realizing that this was a flaw in the social networking system.
If you have a Gmail account, you can gain easy access to Google+, once you're in there you'll see the +You in the upper left hand corner, click on that and you're in! Then you'll be able to upload your picture and a banner (similar to the Timeline feature in Facebook). Now, let's take a look at the individual features of Google+:
One of the first things to get a lot of buzz was the Hangouts. Literally you can "hang out" with two, three or ten people with these remote online video chats. You can also stream live to YouTube (via Hangouts on the Air) and record these sessions. There are hundreds of great applications for Google Hangouts, consider a few of them:
* Customer interaction: Invite your customers to "visit" with your team during these planned sessions. Folks can pop on and off, ask questions and engage with you and/or your team. You can also showcase products, or even do live demos. We do these monthly, sort of a meet-the-publicist, it's fantastic and always well attended. To get on the list email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Behind the Scenes: Consumers love to see the inner workings of companies they buy from. Why not take them on a tour via hangouts, it's easy enough to do with a wireless connection.
* Live Expert Interviews: Bringing in an expert is often a great way to build content and give valuable content to your clients. Bring in an expert, invite your customer base and start streaming!
* Meetings: We are an entirely virtual company, meaning everyone is everywhere. Using Skype became prohibitive because of connection issues and they charge if you have more than two people on a video chat. Enter Hangouts, it's a great way to stay visually connected. Sometimes we'll even do client calls this way. We work with people all over the country and it's great to be able to meet them, albeit virtually.
There are quite a number of applications being rolled out for Hangouts, too including Slideshare, Scoot & Doodle, and Google Effects. Did you create an awesome hangout? Submit it to Google https://support.google.com/
As I mentioned earlier, Google+ has really allowed you to segment out your contacts. When you sign in, Google+ will give you some pre-named circles to choose from, but I recommend having some fun with these. Rename them, add new ones.
Tips for Using Google+
* Tagging: You can tag people in your circles by using the + sign before their name. Similar to the @ symbol on Facebook, they'll be notified of your posting.
* +1 Button: This is Google's version of "liking" a post. So the more +1's you get, the more popular your post. You can also +1 someone else's posts by simply clicking that button.
* Pages on Google+ are directly connected to search so along with a profile, you should also have a company page which is simple to set up once you're logged in. Keep in mind that searches for keywords can turn up your pages in Google+, so be sensitive to keywords in your About descriptions.
* Be Unique: One of the things that sets Google+ apart is the benefit of unique content. In many cases I will cross-post things to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter but generally not to Google+.
Content: Marc Pitman of the Fundraising Coach Website suggests that you post entire blog posts to Google+, rather than just their links. He asserts that entire postings get more attention than just links.
There's still a lot to learn about Google+ and new features are being added every day. One thing is for sure, Google is serious about its social networking site and is investing a lot of time and energy into this platform.
I spent some time with Matt Beswick of Quirkle and he offered the following insight as an SEO expert about Google+:
1. Why should we care about Google Plus? What makes it different from any other social network out there?
We should care because Google cares. They've been 'playing' with their own social network for what feels like forever but Google+ seems to me like the real deal. There are rumors of a Facebook search engine, whisperings that users are slowly but surely going to move away from traditional search mechanisms and a feel from pretty much everyone that social is 'the future.' Google needs to be there and getting left behind just isn't an option for them.
2. Is there a real SEO benefit to Google Plus?
If we think of SEO as generating targeted traffic to your site, then yes. As it stands there's no ranking benefit to using Google+ but with 'Search Plus Your World,' the combining of Google Places with Google+, and the addition of people you have in your Circles below URLs that they've given a +1 there's loads of reasons that Plus will help with search traffic. This is only going to increase as time goes on too - social signals are going to become far more important to rankings so you really need to get ahead of the curve.
3. Is there a particular type of person that could benefit more from this site?
The joke at the moment is that the only people who use Google+ are Google employees and SEOs. A tad harsh maybe, but it's not that far from the truth. Having said that a good friend of mine runs a travel site in South Africa and has had great success by posting images and local travel advice (although he admits that he's not quite sure how or why!).
4. How often does it need to be updated and what type of content works well there? I read somewhere that people on Google Plus don't want to click off the site like they do on Facebook, they want all the content there which suggested that posting entire articles in Google Plus is acceptable, is that true?
It's like anything 'social' - you need to be consistent, pick your niche, interact with the right people, and post as often as you can (without being annoying). I've never heard the comment about posting entire articles to G+ and, to be honest, it sounds like a pile of rubbish! As long as you're posting great content to your profile people will be more than happy to click through to it.
5. What are some tips for getting started on Google Plus?
Don't have expectations that are too high. Sign up, start posting regularly, and use the search function to find relevant people in your niche. 'Circles' (friend lists) are really handy as you can segment who sees what you post - so for example you could have a Circle full of Pet Bloggers and one of SEO Professionals. All you need to do then is remember to tick the right box whenever you post something.
6. If you had a crystal ball, what would you predict for the future of Google Plus and all its partners, YouTube, etc.?
I expect Google+ to succeed, but there's a long road ahead. The important thing to remember is that Google as a whole isn't going to go away and they're going to continue pioneering how things are done online no matter how much the likes of Facebook wish it weren't so. The advantage they have is the range of products and offerings; it's nearly impossible for anyone to catch up with them. I can see everything becoming more integrated though and it wouldn't surprise me if, at some point, Google looks to tie YouTube and Google+ together somehow as it would be the perfect way to give a quick (massive) boost to mainstream traffic.
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.