More than a mere Facebook wannabe, Google+ shows real potential for small businesses
People like to joke that Google+ is a pale imitation of Facebook. But Google didn’t debut the network in 2011 just to give users a place to post cat pics and birthday greetings. It created Google+, which it calls a “social layer and identity service,” to keep closer tabs on Google users’ online activities. By all reports, it’s doing a bang-up job. As it tracks and collects data, it dictates what ads we see and how results rank in our searches.
This Big Brother act means real power and influence when it comes to shaping how consumers spend, at the search results level. And that influence is growing. According to big data firm Statista, 343 million people were active on Google+ as of November 2014, making it the second-biggest social network, behind Facebook, in the Western world (with 645 million users, China’s QZone is the second biggest in the world).
Even if you ignore Google+, your business will likely still have its own page. When it debuted, Google imported the information of most U.S. small businesses onto landing pages, to help refine its community searches.
We asked Mark Traphagen, senior director of online marketing for Stone Temple Consulting and one of the country’s foremost Google+ experts, for his tips on how small businesses can best harness this shiny new behemoth.
How You Can Use It
“In most cases, you can claim your Google+ page—click on a ‘claim this business’ button and Google verifies you by sending you a postcard with a verification code,” says Traphagen. “Google My Business is new in Google+ and it’s a center for local businesses to get their business properly connected with Google. If you connect that page with your Google+ page, it verifies you with Google. The more legitimate you seem to Google, the more likely they are to list you in searches and rank you higher. I don’t want to give anyone the illusion that doing all this automatically means you’ll start ranking higher. But it does give you a leg up.”
“Being active on Google+ has benefits, including that Google can start to show your business in a so-called Knowledge Panel result. Google will show a box in the right-hand panel instead of an ad. The box is very nice, has a logo and a brand name, and links to your site.”
“When you search Google logged in, the results you’re getting are different from everyone else’s results. Now, even logged out, some things are still affecting your search, including your IP address. Here’s where that becomes very powerful for a business: If someone in my Google network gives a business a ‘plus one,’ which is like ‘liking’ on Facebook, it will show up in my searches in a prominent position. Google used to annotate these search results, but they don’t anymore.”
In the End
“Google+ is not going to get you the numbers you get on Facebook. But what you get is going to be much higher quality. You’re reaching people in that moment of intent, when they’re looking to buy something. If you can be there—if Google is putting you in front of them—that’s huge.”