Google Plus, What is it and Why Does it Matter?

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Is Google plus the next great internet app or is it just another failed social network from our favorite search provider? In this two part series I will explain why Google Plus matters and how your website can take advantage of it.

What exactly is Google Plus?

Google Plus is a social network that was launched by Google in June of 2011. At the time of this writing that was just over a year ago. It is still a fledgling network, but it has made some fairly serious gains. Google Plus now boasts over 250 million members, quite an accomplishment, but still nothing even close to Facebook’s reported 950 million users. One of the ways Google has gotten so many users is such a short time is that it has levied the power of its Google software suite. If you want to sign up for any Google service you have to also get a Google Plus account. Most people trust Google and sign up, they poke around to see what it’s like, and then they never come back. To tell it truthfully Google Plus is currently a wasteland with a lot of accounts, but very few active users.

So, why is it important?

You are probably thinking to yourself “why would I use a social network that isn’t active”? The reason is that Google is basically forcing you. Google’s latest search algorithm update, called “penguin”, has drastically increased the importance of links that come from social networks, with the most importance being placed on Google Plus. They are trying to make social search a reality, and they are succeeding.

What is this social search?

Social search has been the dream of the search engines for a long time now. The goal is to give users more relevant search criteria by using their friends’ social media activity. Here’s an example of social search in action: let’s say I am in downtown Seattle with a client and we want to go to an Italian restaurant. I pull out my iPhone and type in “Italian restaurant downtown Seattle” on my phone. Normally I would get the standard list of Italian restaurants and the ones with the best SEO would be at the top. But what if a friend of mine had given a good review of an Italian restaurant on Google Plus Local? That particular restaurant will most certainly be at the top of my list. Even if their site had poor search optimization.

How does Google know?

To put it bluntly, Google tracks almost everything you do. Don’t believe me? Google even shows you exactly what it thinks your interests are, checkheretoseewhoGooglethinksyouare.

Here is my list. It seems Google knows that I really like photography and camera gear, I like gadgets, and since I am a web designer I am always searching for new apps and tutorials. I have also been looking at a lot of astronomy articles lately as well because of the recent Perseid meteor shower and the Mars Curiosity rover.

You can see that Google is almost disturbingly good at tracking you, the more Google devices you have the better the tracking will be. Google Plus is just another device in its arsenal; Android phones, Chromebooks, gmail, the chrome browser, and Google Docs all contribute to better hone their tracking info.

How Google is forcing Plus

Google has thrown their considerable weight behind Plus, they can’t technically force you to adopt the service, but they can make it very inconvenient for those who don’t. Here is the gist of it: If you and a competitor both have websites that are equal in SEO the one that is using Google Plus will be ranked higher. If you want your site to rank high on Google Search you have to be using Google Plus. This might seem unfair and there are serious privacy concerns, but that is a topic better left for another day. The fact is that if Google Plus isn’t a part of your social media strategy you will be left in the dark. Since the Penguin update went live there have been a lot of people in the web design community saying: “SEO is dead and social media has replaced it”. Only time will tell if they are correct but nobody can deny that things are changing at a blistering pace. Is your social media strategy keeping up with the times?