While some stats suggest that Google+ usage rivals Facebook, skeptics point out that anyone with a Google Mail account is, by default, a Google+ user whether they actually "use" the tool or not. On top of that, Google recently created an online uproar through its requirement that users of its other property, YouTube, have a Google+ account in order to access the site. And, those who use Google+'s most popular feature-Hangouts-are also considered Google+ users, whether they actively use other features of not.
Still, while the site's statistics may involve a lot of smoke and mirrors, most believe that it's an option that can't be ignored, primarily because of its impact on SEO.
All About SEO
"I didn't care for G+ when it first came out," says Penny Sansevieri, founder and CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., in San Diego. Like many, she balked at paying attention to "yet another social media site." But this site is different from others, she notes. "From an SEO perspective, G+ is mandatory," she says. "If you want to show up in Google, you have to be on G+. There's no way around that."
Richie Lauridsen, director of operations with SEOhaus.com in San Diego, also says that: "Google+ metrics matter." Links shared on Google+, he says, are "crawled extensively by Google's search indexers, meaning that things shared within the network have a high chance of ranking on the search engine." He also notes that he has seen a "drastic correlation between Google+ ‘+1's' for a page and domain, and their ability to be competitive within the search engine."
Given Google's move to "hide" organic search results, the SEO boost that Google+ is purported to bring is certainly a driver for many content providers and a big reason to become engaged through this social media channel.
But, is anybody else really out there?
Show Me The Numbers!
Despite claims that Google+ participation numbers in the millions, many are skeptical. "Google is playing a little bit fast and loose with its user numbers," says Tad Miller, vice president of accounts with Marketing Mojo, in Charlottesville, Va. For instance, he notes, "users of Google Hangouts are counted as users of Google Plus, whether they make a status update post on it or not." But, he adds, while the site is "not as mature a social media channel as Facebook, and may never be, content marketers need to understand its worth lies in more than just engagement numbers."
Still, say the experts, Google+ is a must for content providers. The big reason why: Google Authorship.
Big Benefits for Content Providers
"Content marketers need to understand that Google Authorship and Google+ are part of each other," says Miller. "Getting that little avatar of the content author next to the search result can make a huge impact on getting clicks to your content."
Ian St. Clair agrees. St. Clair is junior CEO at Clicks and Clients in Englewood, Colo. "Google wants authorship to connect people to content and places on the web," he says. "Over time, when people search for things, those with authorship will appear more often. Not because it's improving their ranking, but because Google will look to use authorship to remove disreputable results from their search results." With Google+, says St. Clair: "Google knows more about who you are and can better identify your relationships to people, places and things both online or off."
Authorship, says Oleg Korneitchouk, EVP and director of digital marketing and SEO with Smartsites in the New York City Area, accomplishes three key things for content providers:
- You get your headshot in search engine results which makes people click through to your article over other links.
- You build a resume/portfolio which is easily seen via your Google+ account or directly in search engine results.
- When you are an authority on a subject, all the articles you write for the topic (on any website) will rank higher in search engines.
Regardless of what you may think about Google+ at this point, it's likely to be a force worth watching-and one that may someday need to be reckoned with, says Miller.
"Marketers need to get in early, even if they aren't impressed with the actual engagement volume," he says. "They need to do what they can to build a following on Google+ and to get favorable personalized search results for their content, products and services."
The implications, he says, are greater than just social engagement numbers that the site is delivering right now.