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Google (the search engine, not Google+ the social network) looks at many factors to decide which web page to promote as the most relevant to someone's search. Some of these traits include understanding how many other sites have linked to a certain page, what text they used when explaining the link, the value of the sites linking to a page, and more.
I asked Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land to explain how social signals work. This is when Google looks at how people use social networks to point people to a certain page. Danny has been active on Google+ since day 2 and has been working just as hard as all the other top search experts to uncover what matters most. Here's what Danny had to say: "Google already looks at social signals as a way to influence its results. Social connections on Google+ are looking like one of the most important of these-and potentially might be more important than gathering links.
Being "friends" with someone on Google+ means that your search results, if you're logged in, are heavily influenced by what they like and share. Things you wouldn't see in the top results can get pushed higher.
A good example of this was with Ford. It's one of the few companies currently allowed to have a "brand presence" on Google+. By being friends with Ford, I found that suddenly, they were ranking in the top results for "cars" in my search results-something that didn't happen when [it was] logged out.
Being friends, in this case, was the number one ranking factor for them doing well, for my results. So being on Google+, having people like you, follow you, is one of the best new SEO techniques out there."
There are many points to consider in what Danny has uncovered. It does matter who you add to your circles because Google now uses information it collects about those people to influence what information it gives you when you search. This has implications, obviously.
In Danny's example, being "friends" with Ford Motor Company made generic searches for "cars" rank Ford higher than other brands. That's a huge company with huge compet.i.tion. You can see this trickling down to smaller companies with even less brand awareness, and suddenly the people you friend, what they search, and how they react to your online presence influences what you buy.
From there, we get into the most important takeaway, as Danny explains it. If being "friends" becomes the #1 ranking factor and is so influential, it suddenly matters that people add you to their circles. How do you get added? You provide interesting information, and you respond to their comments and mentions. So, decades later, Dale Carnegie's book on winning friends and influencing people might now turn out to have some monetary implications.
What is the ROI of using a tool like Google+? Well, if what Danny Sullivan explains is any indication, it seems useful to have people add you to their circles, because that impacts the results they see in Google. It's a lot to consider. It means that if you're Dell, you might not just want people to circle Michael Dell, but you want them to circle Richard Binhammer, Lionel Menchaca, and any of the many other Dell employees with individual accounts on Google+. The more people circled from a company who share more and more links to a Dell site or product would then influence that person's search results for computers and so on
Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOMoz, is another search engine expert I admire and frequently read. One of my favorite projects that Rand does is Whiteboard Friday, where he and others shoot videos that talk about SEO and explain it to us novices. I can then talk to other people who do know about SEO, tell them these things I see in the videos, and seem like I know enough to get help. It works for me.
When I asked Rand for his thoughts, it was clear that he didn't want to be pinned down in a book about how Google+ impacts search because everything moves so quickly. (I understand this sentiment because this is the first time I've ever written about a software platform in any depth, and I'm naturally nervous about how much will change in the next several months.) But Rand's response is useful because it lets us know that we have to stay alert about how Google experiments with search and the impact that Google+ has.
Here's what Rand says: "As of today, Google+ directly influences the rankings of pages and sites in Google in two ways. First, pages shared on the Google+ social network appear to be crawled and indexed by Google's search engine very quickly (within an hour, often faster). Second, pages that are +1'd may appear higher in the rankings to anyone in your Google "social network," which can include connections from Google+ itself, as well as Twitter, Facebook, Quora, LinkedIn, and others.
Some important caveats do apply, though. Google has been rapidly experimenting with and changing how +1 and the Google+ network influence rankings (when, where, how, through whom, and so on). The most direct impact on rankings through +1s in a searcher's "social network" also seem to be far stronger closer to the time of that +1 and sometimes (though not consistently) fade away thereafter. Google+ and the use of social data in search results are still both in their infancy, and professionals in the search + social marketing spheres antic.i.p.ate plenty of changes ahead."
Simply by posting a link to a page on Google+, you influence how quickly that page is found by Google (the search engine) and how rapidly someone might find that page through searching the web. Sometimes, speed is of the essence. If you want to take advantage of news, for instance, as a catalyst for selling a product, you might find this is a useful piece of information. But in any case, getting your page indexed and crawled by Google faster is a benefit. It lets people find you sooner instead of later.
Remember also that Google has implemented the +1 b.u.t.ton as something to be used all over the web, and not only on Google+. Some of the information Google collects and weighs comes from this, as well, so that's not covered in what you do inside of Google+. This search engine stuff is tricky.
How People Come to Matter.
Brian Chappell wrote an interesting article about how Google+ might or might not impact SEO (http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/seo/google-plus-seo/). The most evident and interesting point is that Google+ is trying to solve the challenge of understanding how people pa.s.s trusted information versus how sites and pages pa.s.s information. Brian says this about Circles, for instance: "Basically Circles can be seen as a vote for people, like links are a vote for websites. This enables Google to better understand the influencers within its network."
Simply understanding who you've added to your circles (and who have added you to theirs) tells Google more about who you trust and how you value that data. This goes back to what Danny Sullivan was saying, and it gives us a hint about how to get real, tangible value from Google+: The more people validate us by adding us to their circles, the more it shows Google that people value the quality of what we post and share.
Does this mean you should rush out and seek to be part of yet another numbers game? It depends on what you want from your experience on Google+. Remember, you can't make people add you to a circle, so your only real option is to be interesting. (You could beg, but that wouldn't be attractive, would it?) On the other side, perhaps you should consider who you've added to your circles because if this is how Google starts to understand who you value, it might be interesting to know how that impacts your search efforts and any other measures of influence that Google might try to understand.
Circle who you want, and don't worry about how this impacts any search algorithms. To be circled by influential people, say interesting and unique things. Be helpful. Comment on their posts with meaningful information. Or just leave it to chance and focus on creating useful material for your core audience. (That's what many people do.)
Serving Suggestions for Using Google+ to Improve Your Search Results.
Building search value inside Google+ simply requires that you create posts with terms that others might tend to search for later in Google. Not unlike other web pages, there's no value to stuffing the post with repet.i.tive search terms (Google actually discounts for actions like this), but if you write something that would appeal to a human reader, chances are you'll have created something within the parameters of what Google considers okay. Do this with an example.
If you sell lobsters, for instance, you might write a post that looks like this: Maine Lobster Shipped Anywhere When the team at JR Booker's Lobster says it ships lobsters anywhere, it really means it. It recently received an order for a half-dozen lobsters to be sent up to the International s.p.a.ce Station! The little fellers are going to be astronauts!
Here's a picture of the lobsters before putting them in the special packing container that can ensure their fresh arrival into s.p.a.ce.
(with an appropriate picture, of course) This is (obviously?) a fict.i.tious example. I'm not sure anyone's had lobsters in s.p.a.ce. But in this case, the post is t.i.tled with something that might be searched on in Google, "Maine Lobster" but also "Lobster Shipped." "It ships lobsters anywhere" is in the first line of the post, in case that's what someone might ask about. Other things could be added, such as the company's phone number, a street address, and an email address. But then it would start to look like an ad. That works sometimes but is not so great all the time.
But overall, this post might be of interest to the stream at large. It has some search terms embedded in it, near the name of the company, and hopefully with some potential for being found useful to someone who stumbles upon the post out in the larger world of Google search. The goal to make this useful to a potential buyer should be met. But you can consider a few other areas.
Ensure that some of the links in your profile use good anchor text. (The blue words of the links should be words that relate to a search term that you hope someone will find valuable.) For instance, I sell a product called "Blog Topics," so I put a link to that offering with the anchor text "writing advice and blog topics." Try this. It won't hurt.
Use Your Profile.
Although covered in a previous chapter, make sure your profile on Google+ has several ways for people to contact you. To continue with the previous example, if you're James Richmond Booker, and you run JR Booker's Lobsters, you'll want the company website listed in the links on the right of your profile. You'll want your introduction to talk about how your company ships lobsters anywhere. You'll want to enable the "send email" function, if you are willing to check your email often. You'll probably want to put your phone number in the profile area and list address information to your store or stores.
In this case, the profile can become the static ad for your company on one level. But don't forget to leave in the personal information to draw people to want to get to know you when they're not in the market for a lobster. Talk about your family, your hobbies, or where you live and what you're into besides fishing for lobsters. Make your profile personable but also useful to your business at the same time.
Taking Full Advantage of Google+ to Help Your Business.
When it comes to search, realize that Google+ enables you to post photos, video, text, links, and location data. All these post types enable a prospective buyer to learn more about you, and when you post this information to your public stream, you're giving Google permission to index and crawl that information and thus help others find it outside of Google+. You can post location data to your restaurants, one post after the other, until it's clear where you're located. Throw in a picture or a text post of the week's specials, and you have something that might be useful to people.
The caution is that you don't want to look like a steady stream of advertis.e.m.e.nts, especially not on your primary personal account. It's asking to be uncircled. However, if you can take that kind of interesting information that's useful for search and turn it into stories that draw people's attention, you have something. Like the lobster company example, the idea is to make news and stories out of your business. Also, don't forget about the effectiveness of video testimonials about your business with clients. This doesn't have to be award-winning material. Just shoot less than two minutes of you asking a customer a few questions using a camcorder and post it to YouTube. Post it to Google+ with some information, being clear to add in information that is search-worthy, and you have another opportunity to help people inside and outside of Google+ to find your business and start a relationship.
Always think about ways you can make a story out of business. Do you have the most amazing banjo-playing woman in the packing department? Then shoot a video of her great work and post it up, explaining how cool the people who deliver your products are. Do you have a CEO who runs off to play rugby with the Irish Fireman's League? (The CEO of the company I used to work for does this, and I thought he was crazy!) Post photos from his recent match, and point out that your CEO can kick other companies' CEOs' b.u.t.ts. (Why not?) Make stories out of your customers. If someone uses your product and gets great results, make him the hero. Ask for a photo. Ask for a quick video. (A photo is probably a bit more likely.) Write the story with more information geared toward the customer and less about you. Don't make the story look like this: "Were it not for her smart decision to use the Greppo 3100, Janie Stamper would be homeless!" Instead, make it like this: "Janie Stamper is the best apple carver in all of Ohio, maybe the WORLD! She can get amazing results out of her Greppo 3100 and is the envy of church bazaars everywhere!" The difference, quite subtly, is that the story is about how amazing Janie is, and not how your tool is what makes her carve apples better than the other apple carvers. You with me?
Above all else, don't worry about mechanical means to try to boost your search results on Google+. Don't look into paying people who offer to improve your ranking or who offer to get you more followers. Remember: It's not how many people who circle you that matters, nearly as much as it's about the quality of the person who circles you. Besides, there are many ways to get in trouble with search ranking when you consider using inorganic means to get there. Why risk doing something that causes Google to remove any result relevancy to your sites or posts?
Tell great stories. Write interesting posts that get influential people to consider circling you, and work on your own quality of information more than anything else. That's what can get you the most benefit from using Google+.
If you're interested in learning more about search, check out Danny Sullivan's and Rand Fishkin's blogs: * http://searchengineland.com.
You can find other great sources out there, but these are two of the guys to pay attention to when you aren't sure what to do and when you want to improve search results. Search matters.
14. Next Steps.
We've covered a lot in this book. I've tried not to talk too specifically about the features and technology aspects of Google+ because the tools are still evolving and because they aren't the most interesting part of using the platform. What scares most people about a new social network such as Google+ is learning how to click everything that needs to be clicked and how to avoid doing something embarra.s.sing. Though those are important parts of the learning process, what we have talked about in this book focuses more on the business opportunities inherent in using Google+ as part of your outpost strategy for your digital channel.
This chapter sums up some potential next steps, in case you've mostly been reading along and haven't jumped into action. Now that we've talked at length about various aspects of Google+, from those "day-in-the-life" glimpses to understanding how to execute a "warm sell," to thoughts on how to circle people and develop a content strategy, let's outline some of that here. I don't want to repeat what we've already covered, but it's important to give it order and also provide a simple reference section.
Following is a list of initial steps you can take: * Decide who in the organization should be involved in Google+ for business. The more the merrier, but this depends on your business and on how you intend to implement it.
* Determine whether you'll use standard Gmail accounts or if you'll use Google Applications accounts. (There's technically no difference, but for a level of enhanced business branding, if you use your Google Apps accounts, you can use corporate or alternative-to-corporate business email addresses.) * Write a simple "rules of engagement" doc.u.ment (no more than one page in length) that spells out the simplest possible goals of anyone's interactions on Google+, which spells out the absolute no-no's and off-limits behaviors (such as trashing compet.i.tors) and explains what to do if something goes wrong.
* Consider a "launch day" (or days) to gather people together and train them about the uses of Google+ and so that you can reiterate the policy you've put together for the rules of engagement. Remember that different departments (if you're a larger company) will have different goals, and that this might actually be the point where it becomes clear that people see the possibilities of using Google+ differently. Also remember that some people won't feel as technically comfortable, so this is your chance to help them feel a bit more acclimated.
* It would be exceptionally good to invite the Legal department (if you're a larger company or if you're highly regulated) to this experience far earlier.
* For everyone you decide should have access to Google+ in the company, build robust profiles. You might put some guidelines in place for what should go into a profile, but I'd also encourage some flexibility in this area after covering specific corporate goals. For instance, don't enforce corporate ID photos as the standard avatar photos for Google+. Be creative and permissive, but with some "b.u.mpers" in place so that people know what won't be okay in the profile-creating process.
* Put together a "cheat sheet" of how to delete a post, how to share a post, how to set circles specifically for sharing, and any other matters that might prove immediately useful to employees who find themselves in a bind.
Listening on the social web is a matter of implementing search tools to understand what people are saying about you, your brand, your compet.i.tors, and more. This is really the secret gold of using social tools for business.
* Google+ enables you to cook up repeat searches. Simply put your search terms up in the bar at the top of the page, and then select Save Search to keep a copy of that search on your left sidebar.
* Build searches for your products, your services, your company name, any location that's specific to your business, and maybe even your compet.i.tors' information, and use these frequently to see who's talking about you.
* Be diligent to the Notifications part of Google+, but realize that it won't catch every mention of you or your business. Use both the search feature plus the notifications system to find people who could use help.
* If you have one department listening on behalf of the whole company, have a simple routing policy that tells this person how to send post information to the appropriate party. For instance, if your PR department manages your Google+ presence, but it sees a customer service request, it would want to forward this to the appropriate customer service person, and if that PR person finds a sales lead, he should know how to move that lead along to the appropriate salesperson.
* Realize that there are many ways to search for opportunities. For instance, I posted back in November 2011, about point-and-shoot cameras, asking what everyone was using. If you represented Panasonic or Sony or any of those companies, wouldn't you want a moment to tell me about your latest and greatest? There's revenue to be had in searching based on whatever one might be saying that invokes an interest in your product or service. Test this quite frequently and tweak your search terms as you learn what brings you more opportunity.
Consider an editorial calendar, where you encourage team contributions to posting. If you think about it, this is another point where you might discover cross-purposes in the use of Google+. In a larger company, imagine the kind of post and frequency of posts a salesperson might want to see. What about the marketing department and the PR department? What do they need? How can the senior team engage? Does support run your social media? Whatever the mix, if you push together one or two teams or disciplines into one Google+ business page, for instance, you need to put together an editorial calendar that explains which posts are coming out when so that you have a balanced approach.
If you encourage employees to post on their own pages, be flexible enough to allow (maybe even encourage) personal posts. Realize that we are all humans seeking to interact with other humans. If you sent your sales team to a conference to find prospects, you wouldn't expect them to lead with talk about your world-changing products. You'd encourage them to make small talk and find points of similarity between themselves and their prospects. The same is true of Google+. By learning about the person behind the employee, many a better business relationship can be forged.
If you decide to adopt some kind of "vetting" process for posts, realize that the more complicated or red-tape filled this is, the less interest employees will have in posting. I've seen many corporations do a great job of getting their legal team involved early in the process to build out communications plans, and this tends to work best. Unless you're in a highly regulated industry, put up the simplest of b.u.mpers to help your employees know where the boundaries are, and then let them experiment a bit.
Encourage sharing, as well, so that employees don't simply post the company news and the company's perspective. The more your prospects and customers feel that you're sharing information that's useful to them, not just information that helps sell your product, the more trust those prospects and customers will have, and the more your efforts can take on a community feeling versus a sales feeling.
As stated elsewhere, posts with pictures get more engagement than posts without pictures. Slightly longer posts (more than 100 words) but not vast posts (more than 1,000) words will get more comments than those outside those margins. Video posts often get fewer comments, but that doesn't mean people didn't find the videos interesting. (The experience of video tends to make us lean back and not type as much.) Posting frequency is something of an art more than a science. For instance, if your posts matter only to a certain geography, you don't have to worry about finding the sweet spot in four or more time zones. If you're a media brand such as Wired Magazine, you will likely post more often in a day than if you are Glynne's Soaps. As a starting point, consider putting up four posts a day, either every 6 hours (if you serve the world at large) or across the morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, and evening (if you're central to a single time zone). Post repet.i.tion is not a crime, but it might bug some of your followers. On Twitter, it's great to repeat posts because they flow through the stream quickly and get lost. That's not as much the case on Google+, so I don't recommend a lot of post repet.i.tion. For instance, if you're having a contest and there's a time deadline, it probably won't be a great idea to promote that contest every few hours every day. Try mixing those promotions in with other content.
Following are some pointers for sharing: * Sharing is caring. Make sure to cover sharing in all your strategy and policy conversations.