Recently, I ran a training session for the Brighton Chamber of Commerce about using Google+ for business, and the same few questions seemed to keep coming up:
Should my business be on Google+ ?
What are the benefits of Google+ compared to other social networks?
How does Google+ affect SEO?
A few years ago there was a really simple way to demonstrate to businesses, and by businesses I mean those engaging in online marketing activities and producing blog content, why Google+ was so essential. I used to say to them ‘You see those little images in the search results next to articles, yeah, they can bring in about 150% more traffic to the article they’re next to. You want that? You need Google+’.
And then without any real notice, Google, as Google so often does with seemingly useful features, decided to send this feature, Authorship, the way of the Monty Python parrot – it ceased to be, expired, went to meet its maker…it is now an ex-feature.
For those who always held a bit of grudge against the platform, this was the final justification of their position – if you don’t even get the benefit of an Authorship picture, then there really is no point in businesses using Google+ at all, they’d say.
The truth is though, that even without these once holy grail-level boxes of personal branding, there are still plenty of reasons that Google+ isn’t just a nice-to-have, but a must-have for most businesses on the web.
Let’s take a look at these reasons:
You’ll have probably noticed that Google hasn’t been a ’10 blue links’ search engine for a long-time now – in fact, I’d challenge you to search for something now that leads to a set of results displayed in that way – it’s doable, but much, much harder than it used to be.
Depending on the search you can see –
Videos – from YouTube and other locations
Tools like language and measurement converters
‘Cards’– including flight details, reservations, weather and other info.
And much more.
What you’ll notice with these types of results is that they take up a lot more space than a simple blue line. Now a simple, broad rule for click conversion is: the more space it takes up in search results, the more likely it is to get clicks (disclaimer: this is clearly dependent on a huge number of other factors, conversion specialists don’t get angry at me. Broadly speaking, this holds true.)
Now, some (but again, thanks Google, not as many as before), come directly from having a Google+ page.
Things like reviews – the little stars in the sidebar, or occasionally in the main results – often come directly from your Google+ reviews. There is also some evidence to suggest that a better, more frequently reviewed Google+ page leads to a better chance of a ‘3-pack’ feature –which is the box at the top of the page for some results that looks like this:
Getting into one of these 3-packs can do wonders for a local business.
More of these ‘big real-estate’ features like maps and address listings used to come from Google+ (and latterly Google+ Local) but are now controlled through a separate ‘Google My Business’ Hub.
Regardless, it’s worth using Google+ just for the chance of a feature in a 3-pack or a result with review stars underneath, alone.
Ooh controversial, I know. Social signals, do they count, don’t they? Correlation or causation etc.
The thing is, it isn’t going to hurt. Google loves people using its own stuff and if you do it well, you’re pretty likely to do better than not.
There are tonnes of correlation studies out there that show that more followers, shares and +1s coincide with higher rankings – as ever with correlation studies it can be a bit chicken and egg, but let’s face it, getting 100,000 followers on Google+ isn’t going to negatively affect your business is it?
Despite Matt Cutts denying that Google +1s are used in their ranking algorithm, there is a clear suggestion that they do indirectly benefit SEO – as Mark Traphagen says – “It is not the +1’s themselves that are causing the high rankings of posts but the fact that most +1’s on a site result in a shared post on Google+, which creates a followed link back to the post. It’s instant organic link building.”
The first two reasons are focused on search marketing but some of the biggest reasons for businesses to use Google+ come from other marketing avenues all together.
For a start, Google+ makes email marketing easier. How? If you’re in someone’s circle on G+, you’ll likely get past all their Gmail filters and automatically land in their main inbox. It’s the sort of golden pass that most email services would kill for, and it’s all achievable with a bit of prospecting through G+.
Secondly, Social media marketing in and of itself is also an obvious, but powerful, use for G+. Some industry niches like photography or – ahem – Marketing, are very active on Google+, particularly in Communities. The ability to build up oneself as an expert in an industry is a huge positive, and a more and more often used social media marketing tactic for businesses.
Termed influencer marketing, the theory is if you become the go-to expert for your industry, then you literally become the go-to expert for those seeking that service – the more well-known you are, the more clients you get. It’s a simple approach that draws on age old brand advertising but one that is particularly useful and manageable on Google+
Better than the rest?
So we’ve shown that Google+ is still useful for businesses, but the final question is, is it worthy of more time spent on it than the other big social networks?
The answer is unfortunately, somewhat vague. It really depends.
It depends on what type of industry you’re in – a SaaS company may find LinkedIn more fruitful, a home-furnishings service may be better off focusing on Pinterest.
It depends on what you’re looking to achieve with your social media efforts – if you want reach, Facebook is where you should spend most of your time, if you want to get involved with timely trends, maybe Twitter.
It also depends, and this is probably the biggest factor, on the resources at your disposal – if you have an entire social media team, Google+ should take up at least a chunk of their day, if it’s you on your own, maybe 10 minutes a day, or less, will be enough.
However, one thing is clear, regardless of the size of your business or your team, the industry you’re in and what you want to achieve, your business should at least have some kind of presence on Google+ if only for the search marketing reasons outlined above.
Authorship might be dead, but Google+ isn’t just yet, and it won’t be for a long time. It hasn’t ceased to be, expired, gone to meet its maker…