Google+ search update moves social network to centre stage


Google’s move to integrate its own social network into search results is further proof that Google+ is not going to be a mere spectator in the social space any more; this year it is edging closer to centre stage.

The (quite naffly-titled) “Search, Plus Your World” update gives Google its first practical opportunity since the buzz died down about its launch to make a real land grab in the social space.

Search, Plus Your World tailors Google search results to individual users by importing related data from their friends and Circles to the top of the page.

The preferential treatment for Google+ has resulted in a subsequent public spat between the search giant and Twitter.

In a statement, Twitter went as far as saying the move was “bad for people” – as well as publishers, news organisations and its own users.

Twitter’s argument is that Google isn’t providing the most relevant search results by promoting Google+ content – especially when users are searching for breaking news, where the scoops have often been uncovered by Twitterers first.

However, this argument is somewhat diluted by the fact that Google’s agreement with Twitter that gave the search engine access to crawl its tweets expired in July and was not renewed. Google implies it was Twitter that chose not to extend the contract.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is even looking into whether there is too much “Plus” in the update after privacy watchdog EPIC filed a complaint that Google is creating an unfair advantage to its social network in search results.

Eric Scmidt, Google executive chairman, argues that the company is also “happy” to give companies like Facebook and Twitter preferential treatement on its search results too, providing they gave their permission.

These arguments and legal wranglings are likely to continue for some months, but in the meantime, Google is prominently flying the standard for Google+ on the most prominent flagpole on the internet; a marketing campaign of massive global proportions that has not cost Google a penny – at least for now.

The changes have given brands the strongest incentive yet to ramp up their own Google+ strategies. The majority of big-names have already created their own Google+ company pages, but now is the time to bring them out of dormancy.

Just as brands must ensure content on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts is compelling enough to ensure users would be willing to engage with their posts, they must now apply the same principles to Google+ – with an added SEO twist.

Andreas Pourous, chief operating officer, at search marketing company Greenlight explains: “[Brands must create] content that not only begs to be shared, but also which uses search terms and themes that the audience might be searching for, therefore increasing and broadening rankings.”

For instance, he adds, if your brand is a computer game retailer, you should be producing regular Google+ content such as the top 10 most-purchased games – things that you know people will be searching for on Google (all of which can be proven by Google Analytics data).

As brands, publishers and individuals begin to promote more relevant content, based on what people are actually searching for at that time, users may start to see a distinct incentive to return to Google+ on a relevant basis that differentiates it from other social networks.

Of course, social networking as a concept is less about engaging with brands and more about catching up with friends – friends who might post a funny video, a mind-boggling game, or an wacky blog to share. These are yet more reasons as to why brands should be creating fantastic content, on and off Google+, to ensure consumers are linking to them and in turn boosting their search visibility.

As Google further integrates its social network with its vast array of products – from search, to Android, to cars that drive themselves – it further sharpens +’s edge against its rivals – all backed by powerful data-driven technology. Perhaps it won’t be too long before the term “to Google” doesn’t just refer to search, but to do everything else the internet has to offer (OK, admittedly, that’s still a tad far off).

“Search, Plus Your World” has moved Google into dangerous territory with its rivals, but by complaining, the likes of Twitter et al. have put the spotlight on that other social network that was quietly hiding in the corner and the power it has to attract an audience.

Google+ is no longer just in the dramatis personae; it’s now ready to start performing.

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