SXSW: Google+ is not (just) a social network

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The beauty of South by Southwest is having the opportunity to attend events such as a fireside chat about the Google+ project with Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President of Engineering for Google+. Hosted by Guy Kawasaki, there were some interesting points to take away about how Google sees its offering with Plus.

The main points were that Google+ is much more than a social network (something that we have discussed before here at FreshNetworks) - and really is destined to apply a social layer across all of Google’s existing services.  An example of this is with video: it seems like a glaring omission from Google+,  but Google is already geared up to provide video functionality through YouTube.

The purpose of Google+?

What it’s really about is allowing Google to understand more about you and who and what you find important. This is clearly important for social search results, but also has benefits in helping you with your email. Obviously this won’t just apply to helping serve you with relevant content, but also targeted advertising.

Google’s primary revenue stream comes from advertising, so as you might expect Google has some clear ideas about where, or more importantly, when adverts should be shown.

For Google the key concept is “Commercial intent” , Google only wants to show you an ad when you have shown a clear signal that you are looking to purchase something.

Vic said that Google don’t want to get to a situation like Facebook where they are injecting ads into every aspect of your life. For example, he vowed that you will never see a ad when browsing photos you have uploaded onto Google+, but they will use the information you add about those photos when targeting you with ads on a search result.

A different approach from Facebook

This desire to learn lessons from Facebook came up again later in the same discussion, when asked about why a G+ API had not been released. Vic stated that he wanted to be sure that if an API was released it would stay forever and be stable, unlike Facebooks API which fequently changes, Vic said “We hold ourselves to a higher standard”

One final point is that Google now counts any user who logs in with a Google account to be a Google+ user, even if they haven’t posted anything onto Plus itself - so it might be prudent to be careful when analysing the network’s user numbers and demographics.

‘Search, plus Your World’: Why your social search strategy will fail without Google+

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Here at FreshNetworks we’ve been keeping a close eye on the significance of Google+ for brands.  We were very excited about the arrival of Google+, and predicted, a back in July last year, that it would impact  social search:

…”Potentially, in the future, this could mean that the more popular pages from within your Circles could outrank those pages that are better optimised in the traditional sense of the word.”

The launch of Google’s new personalised search results display, known as ‘Search, plus Your World‘ means that this has indeed become reality, suggesting a presence on Google+ is something that brands should be considering now more than ever, especially as the network grew to 62 millions users by the end of 2011, with predictions for that figure to reach 400 million by the end of this year.

Google+ and the new school of linking

To briefly touch on a key factor of SEO, Google places weight on the quality and quantity of links that a page receives from other sites – which Google view as impartial endorsements and indicators of relevancy.

The importance of these links will not go away, but as sharing links is a key activity on social media, the average user is now effectively in the position of a publisher. In terms of relevancy, a display of recommendation from a person or entity that you trust or are interested in enough to follow on social media will have a strong boost, as an attention grabbing indicator and also as a sign that it is something you may well be interested in.

Will Google+ content be promoted above paid for advertising?

Just seeing the recommendations from your connections is not where it ends though as Google is aggressively promoting its Plus profiles and shares.

As Rand Fishkin, CEO of SeoMoz explains in his excellent video, certain elements of Google+ are receiving significant prominence on search results for users who are logged in - to the extent that, for certain terms, the avatars of influential brands or individuals are placed above the paid ads, which link you to information on “Learn how you could appear here too”

For example, when logged in to to Google+ and searching for “SEO”, well-known SEO experts Rand Fishkin and Danny Sullivan appear in my results even though I haven’t connected to them on Google+ (yet…) and also shows that within the results, 120 of them will be personal to me and my network:

Google+ search results

How Google calls the shots

The recent changes have caused some controversy from the clear bias that Google+ is receiving over other networks such as Twitter and Facebook, which clearly are significant drivers of link-sharing and endorsement. While integration may take place further down the line, the current tension between the key networks and Google suggest that, for the time being, Google+ is the place to be.

While these changes are currently only applied to searchers logged into Google+ and using the US version on Google.com, all signs are pointing towards “social search” becoming the norm across all of Google’s domains, and one that brands (and individuals) need to prepare for.

Forget being a Facebook competitor; Google+ is the future of social search

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If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already signed up for Google+ or you’re teetering on the brink. At the very least, you’re probably wondering why you should bother signing up for Google+ at all.

At the moment it seems like most analysts and digital types are being quite mean about Google+ , but whether you like it or not, Google+ will be a ‘success’. This is not a revelation - Google simply has the resources and network to make Google+ work.

Take Google’s staggered roll-out, for example. It wanted to get something out there early to make an initial impact; to say “We’re here in your social space”.

This, of course, led to condemnation and fear that it would be the next Google Buzz: “Nobody’s on it. What’s there to do? I’m going back to Facebook.” But a lot of this attitude and negativity comes down to viewing Google+ as a Facebook competitor. It’s not.

What Google+ is, though, is part of the future of search engine marketing and social search. It’s becoming clearer that instead of taking Facebook head on in Facebook’s domain, Google has created a network that will be an integrated part of Google’s entire ecosystem.

Google started by creating a seemingly ‘stand-alone’ social network. It has now reworked YouTube to focus on social video discovery and social video search. Google+ is not the only network to feature in its recommendation engine – you can add Facebook too.

What’s next? Well, this is only the beginning of these changes. We’ll see similar social integration in Google’s main search offering, Google Docs and even Gmail. This will be the culmination of a mix between improved search and the collaborative principles that underpinned (the sadly failed) Google Wave. With improvements, the extended Google+ integration will make sense. Imagine:

I’m studying history at university. My lecturer or course has a Google+ account and the video is broadcast live as a hangout to a group of students who may not be able to make it to the lecture hall. After the lecture is finished, the hangout will be uploaded to YouTube to share. Students can import it from YouTube into Google Docs as a video document which can then be annotated and shared on Google+ with other members of the class or directly to a mailing list from Google+ by clicking the ‘gmail’ option. We can base a hangout on one of these video documents as an informal seminar.

Soon, Google+ won’t be a choice; It will be a tool we use as naturally as gmail and Google.com. It will change the way we collaborate on, share and discover data. It will help change the way we enjoy information. Don’t think of Google+ as a social network;  think of it as part of our social future.

Should you set up a Google+ page for your brand?

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Google+

The much-heralded Google+ Pages are here for brands, organisations and others. After the launch yesterday, everybody can now set up pages and brands have been rushing to grab their name. It’s certainly easy to do, and easy to start to add and curate content. But should it be part of your brand’s social media mix and if so how.

These five questions should help you decide if you need a Google+ page for your brand, and how to make the most of one if you do.

1. Should you claim your name to build social credibility?

Vanity URLs (such as ones ending /freshnetworks) aren’t yet available for Google+, and multiple pages can be set up with the same name. This does mean that there is minimal benefit currently to claiming your name as part of a land-grab. However it does make it more important than ever that brands who are serious about using Google+ do it and do it quickly. You need to build social credibility. There is, currently, nothing to stop multiple pages being set up and others using the name you want to use. So the quicker you establish your presence on Google+ and establish the credibility of your brand and how you are using it, the better.

2. Have you got a clear reason for using Google+?

However, the danger with Google+ (and with many of the pages that have already been set up) is that they have been created with no obvious though of how they are to be used and what they do for the business. There is definitely a benefit to using Google+ as part of your social media mix but only if it is contributing towards your brands overall aims with social media.

  • Are you looking to acquire customers? In which case could you be using Google+ to specifically reach new audience with content that they are interested in.
  • Are you looking to generate online sales? In which case you could be using the rich media capabilities of Google+ to showcase products and link to ecommerce items.
  • Are you looking to reward advocates? In which case you could use Circles to gather together your different advocates and share content exclusively with them.

Without a clear reason for using Google+, a business aim, you risk being one of the many many pages that are set up, share some photos and some content but never really start to perform for the brand.

3. Is your audience using Google+?

Google is yet to share much demographic data about who is using Google+, but services such as Social Statistics are sampling profiles to give some data about the types of people that are using the service. We can learn that the users in their sample are almost 70% male as well as finding the top users, posts and fastest growing pages. This kind of data is useful but we should be more intelligent in assessing if our audience is using Google+. One simple thing to do would be to search for your key brand, competitor and market terms and see who is saying what about them on Google+. Are the kind of conversations you want to be part of or lead there already? And who is talking? We should also bear in mind that the audience for Google+ is continuing to grow and change and probably become much more mainstream - bringing in more and more people over time. So if your audience isn’t currently using Google+ the chances are some of them will be in the near future.

4. Are you using the capabilities Google+ offers?

Any brand that uses Google+ in the same way they use Twitter or Facebook is failing to either make full use of its capabilities or to use it sensibly as part of your social media mix. As with any social media tool, you need to understand what role it plays in the mix of tools you use and the strengths and weaknesses of different tools. Google+ is currently very strong in rich media content (videos and images as well as the use of animated GIFS as you can see in the creative Burberry page). It is great for organising people into Circles and then treating these segments in different ways. It is also good for longer-form discussion and debate. In these three ways it offers brands more flexibility than Facebook. In other ways (organising events, integration with apps, short-form updates), Facebook and Twitter are probably stronger.

5. Can you maintain the page when you set it up?

The final consideration is very much an internal, governance question. If you set up a Google+ page for your brand will you have the content, time and resource to maintain it? The worst pages are those with some content that is posted for the first few days or weeks, and then silence. There is a real danger with many of the pages that brands are setting up right now that they just do not have the resources to maintain it.If there is real benefit to you and you have a clear audience to engage there, then you should be able to resource it by shifting your emphasis from other channels, or by sensible use of content and ideas across your social media marketing mix. If you don’t have time to maintain the page, or you can’t provide enough content for it, then you probably shouldn’t have set it up in the first place.

Search and Social – We Should Be Friends

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Guest post by Mark Johnstone from Distilled

Social media and Search add friendWorking in SEO, I often find that a company’s social media and SEO teams are practically strangers (whether they’re in-house or agencies).  In fact, I’d go as far as saying there’s sometimes a great deal of suspicion and mistrust between the two parties.

But this is crazy.  Working more closely could easily be mutually beneficial, and we’ve actually more in common that we might think.  You don’t have to look too far, to discover quite a few similarities between Social and Search…

Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation are both slight misnomers

“Search Engine Optimisation” isn’t exactly a line I enjoy pulling out at parties as it is.  It’s jargon-filled, unfortunately a bit like the industry itself.  But the name’s flawed in other ways too - you should be optimising for users, not just search engines.

Similarly, “Social Media” implies the focus is on the media, but the media is never as important as the content.  It’s about the message and the people in the conversation.

In both cases, focusing on the means to the exclusion of the end goal could result in poor decisions and adversely affect your results.

We have the same goals

At the simplest level, we both want people to view and share our stuff.  As SEOs, we love it when people link to our site, but likes and tweets are becoming increasingly important too.  And social sharing is effectively the same as linking – people are saying ‘check this out’.  And in both cases, creating valuable content is the key to making this happen.

Both social and search are forms of permission marketing, as opposed to older forms of interruption marketing.  And ultimately, we’re both aiming to increase business for the organisations we serve.

The good guys are already doing both

Those in social media creating valuable content are already building links and strengthening their site in the eyes of the mighty Google.  Good SEOs are building relationships via Twitter and blogs which they leverage to publish and share content.

Lots of people are doing it wrong

Intentionally or not, lots of people are getting social media and SEO wrong.  There’s a lot of conflicting advice in the SEO world, largely due to spammers finding loopholes to exploit until Google clamps down.

And social appears to be filled with corporate bloggers who think we want to read about their journey into work.  Or that we’re just desperate for another channel of advertising content.

Many businesses are jumping on the search and social bandwagon without any idea what they’re doing (or even what their agencies are doing on their behalf).  They’re simply doing it because others are doing it, and it sounds like a good idea.  I happen to think they are both good ideas, but it helps if you know why you’re doing them, and how they work.
In many cases, there’s a focus on tactics rather than strategy, e.g. just thinking about the next post or the next link-building campaign.  But both could benefit from considering their target audience and what they are offering in general.

In a sense, social and search are merging anyway, whether we like it or not.  Tweets and Likes are already considered part of Google’s ranking algorithm.

If you’re into social and want to learn more about search, the SEOmoz Beginners Guide is a great place to start.

So here’s to stronger collaboration in the future, building relationships, and adding great content to the web that people want to share.  Hey, no time like the present - if you liked this post, why not tweet about it? ;)

FreshNetworks will be speaking at Distilled’s free ‘meet up’ on Wednesday 5th October from 6.30pm at Gow’s Restaurant, London. The topic of the event is about how to integrate the off and online world into your SEO and social media strategy. Click here to register for the event and to find out more information.