In the two years since Google+ officially launched, the social networking platform has seen some mixed reviews. Google’s rebuttal to the rise of social giants Facebook and Twitter was, of course, quickly adopted by tech enthusiasts and a number of people involved in social media or SEO.
For the average user, though, it might not be clear why Google+ is worth the bother. It doesn’t have the same vast audience or support of its competitors, its user demographics reflect a gender skew nearly as strong as Pinterest’s (though in the opposite direction), and the interface can be confusing for users who haven’t kept up with Google’s recent updates. If you’ve played around with Google+ but haven’t felt you’ve gotten much benefit out of it, you might also be asking yourself – what’s the use?
In this post, I’m going to do my very best to convince you that if you’re in any way involved in online marketing – be it for a business, a personal site, or any other pursuit – you need to be using Google+. Why, exactly? Read on.
+1’s Might Be The Highest Correlated Ranking Factor
Recent research conducted independently by both Searchmetrics and Moz found Google +1’s to be the highest and second-highest correlated metrics with top search rankings, respectively. As Google has continued to be evasive about the extent to which social signals influence search, this is fairly earth-shattering news.
Matt Cutts at Google was quick to respond, and did his best to dispel the belief that the relationship between +1’s and higher rankings is anything more than simple correlation, adding on HackerNews that he would be “very skeptical of anyone who claimed that more +1s led to a higher search ranking in Google’s web results.”
The debate over what exactly this news means has yielded some interesting conclusions, but the main consensus seems to be about what one would expect: that +1’s are probably not direct ranking factors in the way we might think (i.e., more +1’s won’t earn you higher rankings), but that doesn’t mean they don’t influence rankings.
As Moz’s Cyrus Shepard points out, when a user clicks the +1 button on a piece of content, that usually creates a shared post on Google+. Any SEO value contributed by the Google+ platform gets immediately passed on to that content, pushing it farther up the rankings. Which brings us to the next major reason to use Plus:
Google+ Is The Best Social Platform for SEO, Period.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising that Google’s own social networking service is the one best optimized for its own search algorithm, but it is nonetheless worth taking a good look at exactly what using the platform can get you in terms of SEO benefits. After all, Google is doing everything it can to get people on board, and evidently that includes passing along some search value to those who make use of its network.
There are lots of reasons posting on Google+ will help your SEO, but here are the major reasons why:
- Links shared on Google+ pass link equity. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, which automatically add the “rel=nofollow” tag to links shared on their network, Google+ counts links shared on Google+, and pass on page authority in the process. That means you can use Google+ posts as part of your organic link building campaigns- something no other major social media platform allows.
- Does that mean you should run out and start carpet-bombing the rest of the Internet with posts every other minute? Of course not. But it does mean you can get some SEO value out of your organic social media conversations, helping out your website while sharing informative content with the rest of the web.
- Google+ posts are indexed immediately. Again, this is an advantage it has over the other platforms: while Facebook and Twitter tend to keep their data private, and away from the search spiders, Google+ indexes posts on its network as soon as they are made, making the benefits immediate and widespread. Anything you post will be added to Google’s index, and you should keep this in mind when using Plus as part of your inbound marketing strategy.
- Posts are optimized by default. Again, Google knows how to design a platform to be most friendly to its own search algorithm, and the structure of posts in Google+ reflect this. Each post comes with a unique URL and title tag containing 45-50 characters from the post body.
- And when you write longer posts–provided they maintain the same level of quality, informative content as your shorter ones, of course–chances are, you’ll see a payoff in rankings, not unlike what you’d see by sharing the same content via your own blog platform.
What’s more, posts on Google+ continue to live on in search result pages, routinely outranking other similar results from other websites. Using the platform as a launchpad for your content is an excellent way to make sure it gets seen, and a convenient means of optimizing that content for search, even if it doesn’t improve your own website’s rankings–and there’s still a good chance it will, if your site is linked to the Plus page that’s performing well.
Posts with Google+ authorship perform better.
Posting on Google+ itself, as indicated above, has its own benefits, but you’re probably wondering what difference any of that makes for content shared on your website, and not on Plus itself.
Google+ authorship, which attaches credit for content found on any website to the author who created it, won’t necessarily boost your site’s rankings–but it will almost certainly increase the rate at which users click on your results.
You’ve probably already seen results on Google with author “headshots,” full names, and Google+ circles information attached to a linked piece of content.
As part of its long campaign to increase content accountability and reward users who consistently contribute value to the web, Google will sometimes display these results–called “rich snippets”–including your Plus profile photo and name when your content appears in search results.
To enable these, you just have to link your Google+ profile to your website. (Google’s own instructions for doing this can be found here).
And it’s worth doing, because some studies have found that clickthrough rates for rich snippets can be improved by as much as 150%. From a user standpoint, it also simply makes sense that a result with an image and clear author is going to be more visually compelling, not to mention more credible.
For those of you still not convinced that Google+ is a good use of your time, I offer you this last contention:
Social Signals Are the Way of the Future
It still may seem contentious to some, especially if you’ve been following Google’s own statements refuting the notion that either Facebook shares or Google +1’s (as noted above) directly influence search rankings, but for most online marketers and SEOs, there should be little doubt that social is the future of search.
Consider the link-based model we all know well. Search engines always want to give users the most helpful, informative, and high-quality results available on the web, and in the Dark Ages before social media, linking to a site was one of the few ways you could endorse its reputation.
Now that we’re all basking in the post-Y2K glory of likes, tweets, and shares, it’s suddenly become much easier for search engines to determine how the rest of the web sees a given website–whether or not, in short, people find its content useful and worth sharing.
Social has becoming the ubiquitous, fast-moving, and ultimately democratic replacement for links. It’s only a matter of time before this becomes reflected in search algorithms. For us as marketers, that means it’s never too late to add social to your online strategy–especially not the brand of social designed by the site that drives two thirds of all search traffic everywhere.
Google will probably continue to tell people it doesn’t count +1’s, shares, or likes for some time. But they have good reason not to tip their hand, since there will always be a type of SEO that chooses spam tactics over responsible, beneficial content creation and web participation.
As a web marketer, you should absolutely strive for the latter, but don’t forget to promote that great content in the social circles where it can get awesome visibility and make your social strategy sustainable. Content-based marketing certainly isn’t likely to go out of style anytime soon, and as social continues to increase in importance, you want those endorsements attached to the content you’re posting.
To put it simply: Google knows search. Google wants people to use Google+, and will reward users for doing so. Both of these should be compelling reasons to make Plus a part of your online marketing strategy.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think about Google+? Is social the new link graph? Will social media play a larger role in your organization in 2014? Let us know in the comments below.