10 Ways Google+ is Changing Online Marketing for Small Businesses

With 343 million active users, Google+ has surpassed both Twitter and YouTube and is now ranked as the second largest social platform worldwide! The chart below from Marketingland.com shows that even though Google+ is far from catching up to Facebook, its jump on YouTube and Twitter is surprising and definitely worth noting.

[caption id="attachment_1552" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Graph of global active usage of social platforms Graph courtesy of MarketingLand.com / Report: Google+ Now 2nd-Biggest Social Network Worldwide[/caption]

UPDATE: Since this post was published, usage of Google+ has continued to grow. On 6/24/13, there were 359 million active users, pushing it far ahead of Twitter's 200 million active users. On 9/25/13, Dustin W. Stout reported that Google+ is closing the gap with Facebook even more, with 1.01 billion registered users vs. Facebook's 1.15 billion. At this rate of growth, it's only a matter of time before Google+ catches up to Facebook. In fact, according to a SearchMetrics study, in terms of social shares, Google+ is projected to pass Facebook by February 2016. Check out this article for more information on the study.

Many laughed (myself included) at Google’s attempt to capitalize on the social media movement when Plus was first introduced. But, Google quickly turned the tables, showing that Google+ is a major player in the social world and will probably have the most influence on search in 2013.

So, what does this mean for your small business? If you do not yet have a Google+ profile, now is a very good time to get started.

One of the major advantages that Google+ has over other platforms is that it has the financing of the search engine giant to support it. Many have become frustrated at Facebook’s attempts to monetize and turn a profit from its users. Having the benefit of a financial cushion, Google+ jumped on the opportunity to exploit this by focusing on creating an enjoyable and engaging user experience.

In addition, Google has been incorporating Google+ into search results in what they call the Personalization of Search. Around a year ago, Google introduced “Search Plus Your World” (S+YW). According to a post on WindmillNetworking.com, S+YW works under the assumption that those people that you have in your Google network (including Gmail, Gchat, and now Google+ circles) and/or those who have you in their network, are important to you in some way, so what they indicate as authoritative or as important for them may be for you as well.

While all of this is exciting for us techy geeks, the bottom line is that Google+ will have a significant impact on your business’ online identity and marketing strategy. Small business owners who embrace Google+ are ahead of the curve, which will allow them to reap the rewards when the inevitable algorithm update takes place. In fact, as mentioned in an article on TechCrunch.com, Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, has alluded to Google Authorship becoming a major determining factor in ranking. But, we’ll save that discussion for a future post. Right now, let’s just focus on how Google+ affects your business today.

Google+ logoTen Ways Your Business Can Benefit from Using Google+

Assuming that you already have a Google+ profile and business page (don’t worry if you don’t – check out this post from PracticalECommerce.com for steps on how to get started), it is crucial for small business owners to include this platform in their business and marketing strategies for 2013.

As Google+ continues to grow, the benefits of taking advantage of this platform will only continue to magnify.

1.  Management of relationships: In order to connect with another person or company on Google+, you simply add them to your circles. Google+ allows you to create and customize circles based on any criteria you want, including industry leaders, competitors, clients, potential clients, employees, and more, making circles a much more natural way of managing online relationships. And as we all know, relationships are at the core of a successful business.

2.  Safer sharing: Anytime that you share a piece of content on Google+, you can choose exactly who you want to see it. Whether you want the public at large to view your piece or if you only want it visible to a specific group, you have the ability to assign privacy levels the moment you share it. This allows you to target specific demographics of your business directly. The more targeted your efforts, the more likely you are to elicit a response.

3. Better search: Given that Google+ is the social extension of Google, it seems like it should be a given that Plus has better search. But, it’s worth mentioning because search really is better on Google+. Much better. Facebook’s Knowledge Graph may seem promising, but it’s years behind Google+, both in capability and functionality. And, now with S+YW, Google+ is only going to continue its dominance in search. In fact, probably one of the biggest changes in the algorithm that we will see this year is the importance of Google Authorship. Put simply, Google Authorship connects your Google+ profile to your content. When your content comes up on a search engine result page (or SERP), your Google+ profile picture will be displayed next to the link to your site. While an entire post could be spend explaining the role authorship will play in content marketing, small business owners should set up a Google+ profile right away in preparation. If you want to learn more, check out the How Authorship (and Google+) Will Change Linkbuilding post on SEOmoz.org for an extensive and comprehensive overview of Google Authorship.

4.  Indexing: Perhaps one of the most important aspects of using Google+ is that pages and profiles get indexed. This means that Google crawls Plus pages and profiles and includes them in search engine results. In increasing the visibility of your company, it is critical that you are included on search engine result pages (or SERPs).

5.  Hangouts: The best way to describe a Google+ Hangout is a chat room on steroids. Not only are you able to connect with others via webcam, but you are also able to share documents and record sessions, making Hangouts a beneficial and cost-effective (it’s free!) business tool. Some businesses have even used Hangouts as a way to interact with customers, leveraging them as question and answer sessions which they then post to their page. With Google+ Hangouts, the options are endless.

6.  Integration with other Google services: It’s possible that you are already using Google services in other areas of your business. Google+ easily integrates with all other Google products. In fact, if you are using other Google services, you may have already used some components of Google+ without realizing it.

7.  Tracking topics: Similar to the way that hashtags work on Twitter, you are able to search for topics that are trending on Google+. Not only that, you are able to follow certain communities that may be relevant to your small business so that you can stay up-to-date on what’s trending in your niche. And, Google+ allows you to filter results and searches in order to target your stream, eliminating irrelevant topics that may not be of interest to you.

8.  Better ads: While Google+ ads are not a reality quite yet, it is only a matter of time. There has been some recent buzz about being able to promote your Google+ page outside of the platform (like this post on SocialFresh.com), differing from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn who allow users to advertise their profiles on their respective platforms.

9.  Photos: Uploading photos to Google+ is much simpler than on other platforms, and it allows you to edit pictures once they have been added to your profile. Regardless of your industry, pictures are a very effective marketing tool for your small business. The photo options on Google+ alone make it a necessary platform to include in your online marketing efforts.

10.  Browser integration: Adding Google+ features to a Chrome browser is easy and painless. You can simply add notifications and a Google +1 button to your toolbar by installing plug-ins to your browser. Not to mention, the Google+ app works great in Chrome as well as on mobile devices (especially Androids).

What’s the bottom line? As a small business owner, you need to take advantage of the tools available to you, especially free tools like Google+. Having a presence on Google+ will not only give you the edge over your competitors who are not yet on the platform, but it will help you to be strategic in your online marketing efforts.

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