The marketing implications of ‘search, plus your world’
Last week Google launched their latest feature called ‘search, plus your world’ or search+ for short. This change sees a deeper integration of Google search with its social network Google+, thereby turning search into a more social experience. They want to improve the search experience by making results more relevant and personal to users when they are signed into their Google.com accounts.
To do this they need social data which will come from what people post, share and +1 on Google plus. The +1 button is different from the Facebook 'like' and focuses on enhancing the visibility of websites on the search engine. A large number of +1's on a site is social proof to Google that it contains relevant and useful information, so instead of rankings being based only on algorithms, social signals now provide a powerful human element.
This new search+ feature is currently being rolled out to Google users so some of you might have it already whilst others have to wait a little bit longer. The main point though is that this update will have a big impact on the way search results are presented and might even change the way we search for information as content shared, and recommended, by people in our network will be pushed to the foreground.
Google has indicated that it is ‘transforming into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.’ To clearly explain the changes that are going to happen, Google developed a short video highlighting the new features and how search results will look with the integration of information from your social networks.
The information shared by people and brands on Google+ is going to be prominent in search results and therefore construction companies can no longer afford to ignore it. Search+ is encouraging companies and brands to use their Google+ pages much like their own website and integrate keywords and phrases into their posts to increase their relevant in search.
This should not be done in a spammy manner and if you’re already writing content that is targeted towards your audience then it will contain the keywords and themes related to your products and services. Companies within the construction industry that are unsure how to use this new social network should at least secure their brand name on the network until they have figured out how they are going to use it.
To create your business page today, go to plus.google.com/pages/create and follow the instructions to fill out your profile information. In a similar manner to Facebook, you can navigate between 'acting as yourself' or 'acting as the page.' Do this by clicking on the arrow underneath your profile picture where an alert will appear saying that all posts and comments will now come from [the chosen account].
At the moment only one person can administer the page (the same person who created it), so if your company has a social media manager then they are probably the best one to create the account. A way around this is to distribute the login and password details to all members of the marketing team that will be running the page. Google has said that multiple administrator support will be available in the future but we don't know when that will arrive.
We won’t be discussing the various elements of Google+ and how to use it in this article but read our blog post on ‘what makes Google+ different from other social networks’ and ‘are Google+ circles teaching marketers about segmentation’ to get a clearer understanding of some of its functions.
Main elements of search, plus your world
1. Personal results - if logged into your Google account and you choose to have personal results included then the first page of Google search results will be filled primarily with information that is specific and personal to you from your Google+ social circles. So if you or your friends have shared photos or articles in Google+ then these will show up in your search results and former high ranking articles or pages may actually be pushed down significantly. This is also applicable to content from brand pages that you have shared with your circles and this is the reason it is important for companies to share their content with the people in their circles. Use the Google toggle (top right hand corner on Google) to switch between personal and non personal search results.
2. Profiles in search - when searching for a name online this new feature will automatically find people you’re close to or might be interested in following and their profile will feature at the top of your results. If you click on this predicted profile you are given a small preview to show you what circle they are in within your network and confirm it’s the right person.
To illustrate this update, Google uses the below example showing how a search for Ben Smith reveals both an image of him and a direct link to his Google+ page.
Google+ business pages have a similar functionality called ‘direct connect’ which allows users to quickly navigate to a brand page and add them to their circles by including a + sign in front of the brand/company name.
3. People and pages - this will bring Google+ pages to the forefront for generic topic searches like ‘wood windows’ for example. When logged in, suggestions for Google+ brand pages (and profiles of influential people in that industry) to follow will appear on the right hand side. You can then easily connect with them by adding them to your circles. Google has argued that behind 'every query there's a community' so the goal is to make it easier to find people and brands related to your search query.
However, all the changes listed above will only be taking content from Google+ into account, not other social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This has led to a big debate and several favouritism allegations but I will not be discussing this argument today.
What this means for marketers
The main implications of this Google update will be the rising importance of social search and that an active presence on Google+ can dramatically increase your company’s online visibility. What hasn’t changed is that developing relevant content and creating meaningful relationships online is vital. An integrated social strategy is crucial to ensure that all online marketing activities are working together to drive quality traffic back to your website. The more employees, clients, industry influencers and even prospects share and interact with your content online, the higher this will rank in Google’s personalised results pages. The Google +1 button on websites and landing pages now has the potential to influence results especially for the people that are within your Google+ circles.
This highly-personalized and social SERP complicates search marketing. On the personal-social SERP, prominent visibility often depends on whether your customers are participating with your brand. For instance, if people are chatting about your brand on Google+ or sharing your brand’s social content, your brand is more likely to appear on the personal-social SERP. And those search results will be perceived as more relevant—thus more clickable—because the searcher sees that his or her friends have influenced the results. The personal-social SERP enables searchers to break through the clutter of the entire Web and focus on what their friends think.
Building product manufacturers that want to position themselves as 'experts' and 'thought leaders' in specific topic areas such as sustainability can benefit from these changes. Creating an optimised Google+ page for your company (and maybe some key employees) that discusses issues, new standards, gives advice and information on sustainability will help increase visibility for specific keywords and search terms. By doing this, your page is more likely to appear in the new 'people and pages' recommendation section when architects and specifiers are searching for information surrounding sustainable products. If you have written a lot of content on this subject that has been shared and +1'ed by people and companies within your social network then your brand page is more likely to rank highly for those prospects who are searching.
Search, plus your world further emphasises the relationship between content, social and search. They can no longer be treated separately. Creating content that is socially engaging and easily shared has to be incorporated into your SEO campaign because that will be given preference in the new personalised SERPs (search engine result pages). Do your research to identify keyword opportunities and determine what your key messages are so that they are consistent with your overall online marketing strategy.
Bottom line, if you want to be as visible as possible on Google, you will have to become more active on social networks. You have to identify the influencers and brand advocates that are having social conversations about products and services related to your industry. Strike up a relationship with them, become a thought leader in your field and make sure you are responding to online comments, both positive and negative because these will start showing up in personalised SERPs.
*Note: you can completely de-personalise search results by just moving that toggle (illustrated earlier) but many people will not know about this and automatically receive these new personalised changes as Google is implementing this as an ‘opt out’ feature.
Google+ was only released late in June 2011 but, like it or not, Google+ results are prominently displayed in search plus your world, leaving out content from other popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Google’s search results only show the company's Facebook or Twitter homepage but not any of the content within the sites. This is because Facebook doesn’t share their data with Google and Twitter decided not to renew their previous agreement to display Twitter content in Google’s search results. Google Executive, Eric Schmidt says that Google is not favouring Google+ content over Twitter and Facebook. If the right permissions were given to Google to access Facebook and Twitters content, they themselves could have these pros added to their social networks.
Another issue is privacy as search+ gives greater visibility to private information you might have shared with other people or companies within your Google+ circles. It’s very easy for someone using personalised search on Google to come across an unexpected photo or article from a friend and then re-share it to the public. This is similar to the latest Facebook timeline update which brought back material that users posted years ago but might not be comfortable with people seeing now. The problem is not that this information did not exist before but the fact that it is reappearing again now when you might have forgotten you even shared it in the first place. Some might not like this, if material they’ve happily forgotten suddenly seems to reappear
Some would say that they expected the integration of search and social to go differently. Emphasis on social data, such as social signals, would instead be used to improve the relevancy of search results rather than introducing personalised search where results are influenced by your own social circle. This view was expressed by Mark Traphagen who thought Google's update meant that "search would be enriched by the aggregate of signals coming from social networks. In other words, social would be one more 'vote' among the many votes (such as links from other sites) that go into determining search result rankings." Do you agree with him?
I will leave you with 3 tips shared by Google on how brands and companies can optimise their Google+ pages to ensure that they will benefit from this move towards a more 'social and personal' search experience:
- Make it easier for people to find your brand by creating your +Page. Make sure to add a high quality photo and fill out the “About” section so people can recognise your +Page.
- Share and comment on the topics you care about and Google will share your posts and comments with your Google+ followers when they’re searching.
- Once you've created a +Page and engaged with your audience on topics you're interested in, you'll be eligible to appear on the right hand side of search results. The more quality content you create and the more people that engage with your page, the more prominent your +Page will become.
Overall, the same basic rules apply to Google+ pages as to other social networking platforms. Find your audience, interact with them, get them to add you to their circles and share good quality content around the topic areas that are relevant for your business. The more people add you to their circles, the more likely your prospects will be exposed to your content and social actions. Your company page will rank higher in personalised search results depending on the quantity of social signals (likes, tweets, +1's) and quality of responses to your content (comments, shares).
Article by Pauley Creative: www.pauleycreative.co.uk The digital marketing agency for the construction industry.