Is Relationship Building On Google+ The New Link Building?

Is Relationship Building On Google+ The New Link Building?

During the past year, I’ve become much more heavily engaged on Google+.  When I first joined in 2011, the network for me was a bit of a ghost town and it took a while to learn that with Google+ (and other social networks) the goal is to give more than you get (credit goes to Eric Enge for that one). After finding and participating in different communities and actually engaging with other users, I finally understood what made Google+ different.

For me, the main unique value proposition (UVP) of the social network is the in-depth, meaningful discussions I have with other users that share similar interests – something I’ve yet to experience on any other social network. Engaging and taking the time to get to know people on Google+ has led to new networking and relationship building opportunities including content publishing, Hangouts on Air, and a community management role.

I’m going to explore how using Google+ as a platform for meeting, sharing, and ultimately building relationships with other users is an effective way to increase the visibility of your own brand. Earning links is the outcome from sharing great content. The greatest reward will be the relationships you build along your journey on the network.

O.K. so you like Google+, what does this have to do with links?

Google+ is the social network and the power behind it is the people. I’ve learned that building relationships on the network is really about building trust which eventually leads to authority and advocacy. Having relationships with users on Google+ that are excited about the content you publish increases the chances they’ll share, engage and create links back to your posts.

The goal of any link acquisition initiative is to increase awareness and visibility for your brand on channels and sites that have a high probability of sending qualified traffic back to your pages. The by-product from building and earning links from websites and users with trust, is an increase in the authority of your own pages which may lead to an increase in visibility for search queries closely tied to topics relevant to you on Google+ and Google Search.

Links are the by-product of sharing great content

Google Plus High Visibility Circle

I’ve created a circle of users that consistently share quality content that’s related to my interests. Because I’ve built relationships with many of these users and consider them to be an authority in their respective areas of expertise, I frequently share their posts with my followers and include links back to content they’ve published in my own posts as resources. This earned media increases brand awareness for the users in this circle and also the chances others not familiar with them may also share and or link to an article.

Can +1s and links created from reshares on Google+ lead to higher search rankings?

There were some in-depth discussions last year regarding the correlation between engagement on Google+ and higher search rankings. Most marketers agree that great content is likely to get shared, which in-turn leads to increased visibility and potentially inbound links.  These inbound links may increase the relevancy and authority of your pages, and as a result may increase the ranking position of a webpage for related search phrases in organic search results –  this is what I like to refer to as the indirect ranking power of social media.

Analyzing engagement: I get by with a little help from my friends

There are a variety of useful Google+ statistic and analysis tools, but one that’s built in to every post you share publically is the Ripples feature.  Ripples are a great way to measure if and how the content you are sharing is resonating with your audience.  It’s valuable to identify other influential users who were key in increasing the visibility of your posts.

Google Plus Ripples

Using the Ripples feature is a great tool for identifying influential users that share similar interests. Having this information available can be actionable in that you can take the time to get to know the users who are sharing your content that you haven’t built a relationship with already.

Using Google Analytics to monitor mentions on Google’s Data Hub Activity

One relatively new feature in Google Analytics is the ability to monitor conversations around the content you publish across all of Google’s Data Hub partners. There are currently 21 social networks which are social data hubs included in this view including Reddit, Disqus, Blogger, Google+, Google Groups, etc.

Google Data Hub Reports in Google Analytics

I find this report especially useful for discovering shares of my posts that didn’t included a mention, which provides me with new relationship building opportunities. For more tips on discovering shares, mentions and comments on Google+, I’d recommend reading Stephan Hovnanian’s resource on the topic.

Do links affect the visibility of users in a personalized search?

As Google continues to integrate its “social layer” across its other products and services, we are seeing an increase of users who are searching logged-in. A logged-in search can be defined as being logged into a Google product including Gmail or YouTube, and then performing a search from the same browser. Logged-in searches may deliver different results by evaluating a user’s search history and also by including results from other Google+ users in the searcher’s circles. In the below screenshot, you can see personalized results for the query “Google+ authority.” Two of the top three results are from users that are in my circles.

Google Personalized Search Results

It’s been observed that users with a high profile authority (PageRank) will typically have a higher visibility for posts that contain related search queries in personalized searches.  For those aren’t familiar, PageRank is a link analysis algorithm that measures the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to a webpage. PageRank is one of over 200 ranking factors that Google takes into consideration when evaluating reputation and trust and assigns a ranking score.

It’s speculated that users who consistently publish content on trusted sources using Authorship markup will amass PageRank on their profiles. Here’s a screenshot of my profile in April of 2013 that shows a PageRank of 3/10.

Google Plus Profile PageRank

Social and search marketing expert  Mark Traphagen, has been building his authority on the network for years and is a common face in my personalized search results.  Mark has created an in-depth resource on Google+ profile and page authority which I’d recommend referencing for additional information on the topic.

By slowly building authority through publishing valuable content and building relationships with other users, we can increase the chances that our posts might appear in personalized searches for related search queries for users that have us in circles.  This new “ranking based on relationships” in personalized search is changing the way many marketers are looking at visibility in Google’s results pages.

Building relationships, earning links

Contributing to discussions and actively participating in communities and with other users can also increase the chances that someone may link back to your Google+ profile.

I have a modest following across my social networks, but many of the people I’ve connected with are engaged and excited about learning how to use Google+ to meet their specific needs. The below screenshot is taken from the social content analysis tool Buzzsumo. You can see that out of all posts published on the topic of Google Plus over the last 30 days, my article “Four Tools To Help You Rock Google Plus” was in the top 5 for total number of social shares.

BuzzSummo Google Plus
This above report tells me this post was relevant to my audience on Google+.  These social shares (links) greatly increased my shared media which led to additional brand visibility and awareness, referral traffic and earned editorial links.

Social shares are links

At the end of the day, a link at its core is just a way to get from one page to another on the web. While currently, social signals may not have the ranking power as an editorial link, they do help establish credibility for readers who land on your page and see that other visitors have “voted” for your article. What we do know with certainty is that engines use social shares to discover new content. We also know that a +1, will immediately send Googlebot over to a post to crawl URLs included in a post. The below screenshot from my personal Google Webmaster Tools “Craw Stats” report shows a spike in the crawling of my site which coincides with me sharing the below embedded post the same day on Google+.

Webmaster Tools Crawl Stats

Backlink portfolio: Maintaining a healthy distribution of follow and nofollowed links

A healthy and natural looking backlink portfolio will include a mixed distribution of nofollow and followed links.  Depending on how other users choose to share your content, Google+ will assign a nofollow attribute or allow the link to be followed and pass PageRank. The below image shows all external links highlighted in pink included in a post share that have a nofollow attribute. The image on the right shows links highlighted in green are followed and can pass PageRank. For an external link to be followed, a user will need to share using the link share or video share option (if you choose to share a video).

Follow and nofollow links on Google+

Did the increased visibility from social shares lead to links?

I have been able to earn links from friends and followers sharing my content which led to editorial links in write-ups and other posts related to the topic. For newer posts, I rely on trackbacks in WordPress and the All Referrals report to alert me to any new links to posts I’ve published. This is just one example that showcases the power of utilizing Google+ and other social media networks to build relationships, and the potential to increase the earned media and (potentially links) for the content you publish. This concept isn’t new, and the benefit is you get to make real friends along the way.  Here’s a link I recently earned from Ana Hoffman that included an article I published in her 2014 SEO resource guide.

Earned Link

While this post had an emphasis on earning links through relationship building, the real reward is creating content that resonates with your audience. Google+ is filled with amazing people and is rapidly becoming an incredible resource that spans a wide variety of topics and interests, so have fun and share your expertise with your friends!

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