By now you may be aware Google recently launched Search Plus Your World, an update to the search engine which incorporates information from their social network Google+. This has sparked discussion across the Internet from SEO enthusiasts to bloggers, social networkers and news agencies. Some have praised the additional features and some have criticised them. But what do the changes mean for businesses, brands and agencies?
What is Search Plus Your World?
For years Google has been the most popular search engine thanks to its complex algorithms masked by a simple visual design, which allowed users to easily access the most relevant search results. It currently has about 80% of the search engine market share.
Google believe Search Plus Your World (SPYW) is the next step in this process. It not only finds the most relevant results but now looks beyond the web into your Google+ social network for additional results tailored to you. This means each search query could return different results for each user. Besides being potentially useful for users, this could have huge implications for SEO.
The three new aspects to SPYW are Personal Results, which display personalised results from your Google+ network; Profiles in Search, which makes it easier to find people from Google+; and People and Pages, which suggests Google+ accounts you may be interested in.
These developments are a logical step for Google. Not only does the update seek to improve the user experience but it promotes Google+ and provides another potential way of measuring the quality of websites, by users selecting +1 for content they deem relevant and reliable.
I recently signed up to Google+ to test the new features and for me one of the most exciting developments is the new People and Pages results window. When you search for a query, such as ‘news’, it will return pages or profiles from Google+ it thinks might be relevant, as in the above image. The more users that search signed in to G+, the more businesses, brands and individuals will want to create a profile on the network in order to appear higher in the personalised rankings, if not appear in this separate promotional window.
This space used to be devoted to advertising. Think of the money Google is therefore sacrificing to incorporate this window, and how much it would be worth to your business or brand if you appeared in this section. In reality I doubt anyone other than the major players would appear in this section but it is still an interesting addition.
Perhaps the largest problem with the changes is the negative influence on search engine results pages (SERPs). Businesses and agencies could see their Google rankings greatly reduced when social results are inserted at the top of the personalised page. Erin Everhart provides an example of this in a blog post at Mashable. Going forward Google will undoubtedly have to combat their desire to include social results with the need to return the most accurate result. At the moment there is little a company can do to combat this ranking decrease other than create and optimise a Google+ profile.
SPYW therefore raises the question of whether or not brands should have a presence on Google+, if only to appear in the personalised organic search results. But before we can determine what this means for your business and what changes you should consider, if any, we should try to understand the core principle of social networking: sharing.
What do People Share and Why?
Recently we have had a discussion in the office around why people share and it is well worth thinking about the psychology behind why your consumers would want to share your brand or product. Not every company should decide to ‘do social’ and consequently create every account possible. Essentially people share a product, service, brand or sentiment for a certain reason, some of which are listed below.
- Interesting or Insightful Material – Some people share material because they have found it useful or think others might find it interesting. But go deeper in your analysis. Some people enjoy being the first person to find something, almost in a self-congratulatory manner. ‘Look at what I have found before anyone else’.
- Charitable Sharing – This could mean sending an article to someone else for their benefit, or it could mean reviewing a product because you have enjoyed it.
- To Define Yourself – There are plenty of Tweeters and Facebook fanatics who post regular updates of their day-to-day emotions and movements. Why do they do this? More importantly, in their day-to-day lives will your consumers come into contact with – and therefore share – your product?
- To Pass on Something Entertaining – Humour is a huge reason for sharing. Is this relevant to your business?
- Duty or Incentive – People might share an opinion or article because they are employed or rewarded to do so. Could you give people an incentive to share a review of your product or service?
A worthwhile read is The Psychology of Sharing, a PDF study created by The New York Times and Customer Insight Group last August.
Should you create a Google+ page?
Since SPYW gives more weight to Google+ results, should you – as an SEO, business or individual – create a G+ account in order to improve rankings for personalised results? That does seem to be Google’s intention. It could have great rewards or it could be a huge time-sink.
As with anything there is no definitive answer. Some markets respond to social better than others. Ultimately your decision to incorporate Google+ into your digital marketing strategy will be dependent on the following factors:
- Your Market – You first have to consider whether or not your audience is active on Google+. If they don’t use the social network then less people will be talking about your page and your effort will likely have been wasted. Don’t join G+ just to improve your rankings, go where your users are gathering and form a dialogue with them. Perhaps that place is Twitter or a small forum. Conversely there might already be a conversation taking place on G+ which you are not a part of. You might want to join to take advantage of this, create a profile and turn natural socialisation into higher rankings.
- Your Product – Is your product personal? There are some valuable products at the top of their market which people would never think of sharing. They might be embarrassing, private or boring. We need to analyse why people share because sometimes you don’t have a ‘shareable’ product. Perhaps you don’t want it to be shared.
- Available Resources – It is all well and good jumping on the G+ bandwagon (though it has yet to start rolling), but there is of course a cost attributed to investing time and resources into a new social profile. Creating a Google+ page is easy. Making it one of the most talked about and respected profiles in your sector could consume time and money.
- The Location of your Business and Customers – You might create a different page or initiate a different conversation dependant on the location of the company or the consumer. Are your customers in a different country? Do you speak their language? If not, socialising with them could be difficult!
- Seasonality – If you run an annual festival such as the Academy Awards you may not want to create a Google+ page, or any social networking page for that matter. If interest in your business is seasonal then you could spend time creating a page which will peak and then be ignored for the rest of the year.
- Competitors – Are your competitors on Google+? Playing catch-up to an established profile could be ineffective or perhaps necessary depending on your situation.
An interesting watermark for the social reaction to an article is the bar of sharing buttons, as pictured below. You will see these ‘widgets’ on all types of blogs and websites. On most of these tabs it seems that Twitter is the most used and Google+ the least used. Keep an eye on these bars going forward; they might help you make an informed decision.
Getting the Biggest Bang for your Buck
Online marketing is constantly evolving. We are still in the early stages of social and cannot predict how this will develop. But rather than follow general advice to create a Google+ page or ignore the platform entirely, businesses and agencies would do well to analyse their product and marketplace and determine whether the cost of investing in Google+ would be worth the potential rewards. Or, as they say in that terrible film ‘The Girl Next Door’, determine whether “the juice is worth the squeeze”.