The One Reason Your Business Can’t Afford To Ignore Google+

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There’s really no disputing that Google+ has grown quickly (at least in terms of sign ups) since it launched earlier this year.

The still fledgling social network, deemed by some a “Facebook killer” grew from 10 million users in July, reaching 25 million users within a month (a feat that took Facebook 36 months and Twitter 33 months to reach, says ComScore). It went public in August, and by last official report, Google+ had  40 million users in October.

Today, Paul Allen writes that Google+ has now grown to a reported 62 million users as 2011 comes to a close. Here’s his chart illustrating the growth of G+ since its launch until today:
a chart showing strong initial growth for Google+
Despite its rapid growth, it has yet to see mass consumer adoption beyond a relatively small (but loyal) core group of active users, prompting some to declare it either dead or at least a ghost town that is simply no match for Facebook’s huge, well-established, active user base (Facebook now claims they have over 800 million active users). (but as Drew Olanoff writes today on The Next Web: it might be that none of that really matters).

Google+ For Businesses

Let’s back up to November when Google+ opened its doors to businesses, allowing them to create pages. For the first week or so after those gates opened, brands flooded onto Google+ and dominated the conversation. Once the sheen had worn off, however, many of them quickly reduced the amount of time and effort they were investing in their G+ presence (with some exceptions).

The return likely wasn’t as high as they were seeing for their efforts on more mature social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

So the big question: with consumer adoption slow to take off, is it worth investing in creating and maintaining a Google+ page for your business?

Yes. And here’s why.

There are a number of reasons to use Google+ for business (depending what type of business you’re in). Personally, I think that Hangouts have a lot of promise as a really nifty way to engage customers, as a number of early adopters have found (just make sure you know the limitations, especially the tricky bit about them being limited to 10 people at a time).

But the main reason to set up a Google+ page has nothing to do with Google+. It has to do with good old-fashioned search engine optimization (remember that old thing?)

That’s right. Even if for no other reason, you need to establish a Google+ page for your business simply for  the search engine lift that it will give to your business. And also to avoid the potential harm that not having a G+ page could cause.

It’s All About Search

You see, Google, in addition to now being in the social networking business, also happens to run a popular search engine. Google. You may have heard of it. If not, go ahead and Google it.

As such they determine how to rank results for various searches and they’ve recently started including Google+ pages prominently in their search results pages (as my friend Jessie Eckert pointed out last week over on Twitter).

Now, this can be a great thing. If you have a reputation management problem, such as negative results showing up prominently in search results for your name or the name of your business, creating a Google+ page can be a great way to push those results further down the page, or even off of the first page of results entirely as Google seems to almost automatically give these pages more weight than profiles pages from other social networking sites.

But this can also be a much less good thing. See, for example:
Google search results showing my Google+ profile above my website
I recently re-launched this blog, so I don’t have a lot of inbound links, it doesn’t rank that well in search results, etc. so Google actually puts my G+ profile above my website. Not good.

I wondered if the same thing was happening for business pages, and it turns out, yes, it is. For this (admittedly, small) business called Memorabilia Exchange, their G+ business page ranks three positions above their website in a search for their brand name. (I’d love to hear if you find other good examples)
Google search results showing a Google+ page above the website for a small business
While far from ideal, this does not have to necessarily be a terrible thing. Of course, for one, make sure you perform some basic SEO on your site to make sure it ranks first for branded searches.

But for most businesses we’ve come to the point where I think it’s probably worth investing in creating at least a minimal presence on Google+ to ensure that if Google continues to rank G+ pages so prominently in search results, you won’t miss out if a customer clicks through and finds your G+ brand page sad, neglected or abandoned.

In fact, for some large brands, posting fairly regularly to Google+ could prove to be a way to drive traffic directly from search results pages to their site even if consumers continue to neglect G+.

The NY Times is a great example of this. Their G+ page is not only the second search result when you search for “New York Times” (their website is, mercifully, number one) but Google also shows their two most recent G+ posts directly in the results:
Brand Google+ posts embedded in regular search results
Since consumer adoption for Google+ remains so low, I wouldn’t necessarily advise businesses to invest a lot in an elaborate G+ business presence (at least not yet), but investing a little (think: posting once or twice a week) to reap potentially large gains in search seems to me to be worth the time.

Google is likely to also continue refining how they present Google+ content in search results and vice versa as they move towards a tighter integration of all of their products with Google+ as the glue that binds them all together.

You’ve surely noticed the +1 button appearing more frequently in search and in Google Reader, your Google+ circles appearing in Gmail, a move towards a more uniform design aesthetic and other early signs of this integration, but these early hints are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

UPDATE (12/30): After looking a little closer at the search results for brands that are maintaining very active Google+ pages, it appears that the G+ content is not really the second result, but really just part of an extended first result. (Thanks, Monish)

See, for example, the first result if you search for “Burberry.” Here, Google shows not only a location for the nearest store and the usual sitelinks, but also includes Burberry’s G+ page, a button to Add their page to your G+ Circles and their two most recent posts.
branded search results for Burberry showing images and google+ posts embedded
I especially like Burberry’s use of photos on their Google+ page (in general) and you can see that this really carries through to the search results.

These visuals really enliven the top of the first page of results and likely result in higher click-through rates (unfortunately, to Google+, not directly to Burberry’s website). This is another consideration for brands to keep in mind – make sure, if you post product photos to G+ that they include a link back to the product page on your site to enable visitors to easily click through and purchase.

Using photos in this way could be another tactic brands could test in the same way many optimize content for image search, local search, and use YouTube videos to ensure that strong visuals appear on the first page of search results for their branded search terms.

What do you think? Is your business using Google+, and if so, do you think it’s worth the effort? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.