Unanswered Google+ Questions Remain Following Google I/O
Google+ just celebrated its third birthday, but Google was remarkably quiet about the milestone. Defying expectation, discussion of the platform’s future was conspicuously absent from last week’s developers’ conference, Google I/O.
While questions about Google+ have dogged this platform since its launch on June 28, 2011, they’ve become particularly pointed about Google’s intentions since the departure of the platform’s creator, Vic Gundotra, in April. Without its passionate advocate at the helm, where is it headed?
With Gundotra’s exit, headlines this spring included Google+ Is Walking Dead from (TechCrunch) and What Would Happen If Google Really Did Kill Google+? (from Marketing Land). Google I/O seemed the time to affirm Google’s commitment to Google+. In 2013, it was featured prominently in the conference’s keynote address and there were a number of panels dedicated to it that positioned Google+ as a key part of Google’s overall strategy. This year, it was barely mentioned throughout the event.
So how should brands approach their Google+ strategy, given the uncertainty around it? Is the ROI of building an active Google+ presence clear?
Google+ ROI discussions often focus on SEO with experts ranging from enterprise software giant SAP to integrated marketing strategists who contend that Google+ activity can boost SEO. Studies have shown a direct correlation between Google “+1’s” (Google’s answer to the Facebook “Like”) and higher search ranking. Moz’s bi-annual study that was released in August 2013 proclaimed, “After Page Authority, a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor.”
Just when strategists thought the case was closed, Google’s own Matt Cutts, head of the Webspam team, took to Hacker News to debunk the claim. Cutts wrote, “Just trying to decide the politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings. Let's start with correlation != causation: http://xkcd.com/552/”
His comments sparked lively debate with Cutts adding, “Suffice it to say that I would be very skeptical of anyone who claimed that more +1s led to a higher search ranking in Google's web results.” One month later, Eric Enge published Direct Measurement of Google Plus Impact on Search Rankings that found no correlation between “+1’s” and SEO ranking.
With all of the back-and-forth, many brands felt the confusion, and debate was one more reason to focus elsewhere. In fact, The New York Times kicked off 2014 with a front page piece in February, declaring, The Plus in Google Plus? It’s Mostly for Google.
While Google reports it has 300 million monthly visitors (putting it behind Facebook’s 1.2 billion, but ahead of Twitter’s 241 million), Nielsen reports that the average user only spends just under seven minutes on Google+ but will spend 44 minutes on Facebook. It seems the majority of visitors don’t spend much time there.
So that’s it, right? Google isn’t talking about Google+. The press is saying it’s a ghost town.
But responding to Miller’s piece, passionate users wrote in and Google+ pride was clear. And brands are finding a loyal fan base there.
Social media management system Hootsuite reports its own following is growing. Evan LePage notes on the Hootsuite blog, “Our Google+ audience has proven itself to be very passionate, very technical and very social-savvy.”
This platform is different from other social networks and the community takes pride in that differentiation. It takes work to get it right. Content that does well on other platforms may not work on Google+. What many successful pages find is that not only is the platform a great place for photos, but that content – quality content – is truly king. Google’s Matt Cutts has repeatedly said that brands concerned with SEO should focus on content.
Building a robust social strategy is about making connections, powerful storytelling and empowering fans to become brand ambassadors. Questions may remain unanswered about Google+, but brands have an opportunity right now to reach a community ready to engage.