Google Plus: The Rise of a Social Network
Google+ started as an invitation only “field test” in June of 2011 and was soon available to everyone 18+ and older by September of that year. Google+ was preceded by other Google social platforms that include Google Friend Connect, Orkut (one of the most visited websites in India and Brazil) and Google Buzz.
Despite some early criticism, Google+ has grown to be the world’s second largest social networking site behind Facebook, and now claims over 500 million user accounts worldwide. In October 2013, Google’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, announced that Google+ now has 300 million monthly active users, up from the 190 million reported in May of 2013. So why has Google made such a consistent effort to have it’s own social network?
One of Google’s objectives with Google+ is to integrate, identify and authenticate users across its other products including Google Maps, Google Local, Gmail, YouTube, Google Play, Google Events, etc. This integration effectively creates a social layer across Google’s other products and services.
Goodbye Keyword Referral Data, Hello (not-provided)
In October 2011, and in response to a growing interest surrounding the security and privacy of its end-users (at least that’s what we were told), Google announced that all logged-in searches would be encrypted. As a result, analysts and marketers were now able to see which of their website visitors were logged-in to a Google product by the missing keyword referral data which was replaced with the now infamous not-provided.
With Google’s announcement in September of 2013 to encrypt all searches, the number of not-provided visits from Google Search will continue to rise and will eventually reach 100%.
Rewind: Google Introduces Personalized Search
Personalized search was first introduced by Google in 2005 and the feature was extended to signed-in users in 2009. Here’s a quick video from the Google team uploaded in February 2011, explaining how Google’s social search update will personalize the search results of logged-in users:
In January 2012, Google introduced Search plus your World which deepened and expanded personalized search results by introducing Google+ people, pages and profiles into the search results of logged-in users.
A New Element to SERP Visibility
With the introduction of Search plus your World, it became possible to have a Google+ post or profile relevant to a searcher’s query appear in a user’s personalized search results. These new results added a new element to SERP visibility that was no longer dependent on the algorithms Google traditionally relied upon to display search results. By increasing the number of Google+ users who have you in circles, the possibility of your Google+ profile or posts appearing in these users’ personalized SERPs is becoming a reality.
How Can Semantic Search Affect My Personalized Results?
To understand the context behind semantic search, it’s important to understand the concept behind the semantic web. The term the Semantic Web was originally coined by the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee. It is a collaborative movement to markup webpages with metadata to assist computers with the understanding, organization and retrieval of information on the web.
Google, and other search engines, have begun to incorporate this meta data in conjunction with machine learning, predictive analysis, and certain elements of semantic search, to help it understand the contextual meaning behind webpages and the intent behind users’ search queries. Google will continue to utilize information from Google+ to analyze connections, interactions, and search history to quickly and accurately evaluate, personalize and resolve users’ search queries.
How Will Building my Network on Google+ Help Me Increase Visibility in Google’s Results Pages?
With more Google Search users performing logged-in searches, comes an increase of personalized search results. The connections and relationships you build on Google’s social network can influence the visibility of content (Google+ posts) you share on the network. Here’s an example of my personalized search results for the search query Google Helpouts which includes Google+ post results from other users that are in my circles.
Building a Network on Google+ = Building Relationships
Google+ has given marketers, businesses, and brands an incredible opportunity to engage with prospects and industry influencers alike by utilizing the interactive format of Google+. By engaging on Google+, it’s possible to expand your network and increase the chances that the content for which you are the verified author (Google+ posts, YouTube videos, content with Authorship Markup) may appear in the search results of other users who have you in their circles. These personalized results will appear with a rich snippet (Google+ head shot photo or thumbnail for a YouTube video) next to the result which has been shown to positively impact the CTR (click-through-rate) for these results (more on this in a minute).
Equal Personalized SERP Visibility for All?
While being included in a user’s circle increases the chances that a post you’ve shared on Google+ may appear in their personalized search results, many users have reported that these results seem to be limited to a few users who have a high profile authority (AuthorRank) or PageRank.
What is PageRank and How Could This Influence Google+ Post and Profile Visibility?
PageRank is a link analysis algorithm developed by Google co-founder Larry Page. PageRank is one of over 200 signals used in Google’s ranking algorithm and also helps Google determine the crawl budget or allocation of resources it dedicates to crawling a website.
PageRank works by looking at the quantity and quality of inbound links pointing to a page and creates a numerical score that is used to evaluate the authority of websites and webpages. The algorithm is built around the premise that web properties which provide a great user experience are more likely to earn inbound links from other websites.
Google+ Profiles, Pages & Communities Can Accumulate PageRank
In April of 2013, I first noticed that my Google+ profile had accumulated PageRank as indicated by the PageRank Status Chrome extension I have installed on my browser.
Because I use Authorship markup in the articles I publish, I have multiple inbound links pointing to my Google+ profile. The image below shows an arrow pointing to the toolbar PageRank (PageRank 3/10) that my profile has amassed.
While many SEOs and marketers have speculated that Google is starting to incorporate other signals into its ranking algorithm, earlier this year Matt Cutts confirmed in an interview that Google is still heavily reliant on links to evaluate the relevance and authority of a webpage and that the link graph is alive and well. This statement leads me to believe that Google+ profiles, pages and communities with a high PageRank may get crawled more frequently than pages with no external inbound links and that profiles with a high PageRank may also receive more visibility in Google’s organic search results.
Search and social media marketing expert, Mark Traphagen has drawn a similar conclusion about profile authority (AuthorRank), PageRank and how both may increase post visibility in personalized and non-personalized search results
Google+ Post Visibility in Organic Search
Google has provided users with a free tool that allows us to see the search performance for all content for which we are the verified author called Author Stats. Everyone with a Google account can access their Author Stats by logging into Webmaster Tools. Once logged in to WMT, click on Labs in the left navigation and then select Author stats.
In the above screenshot of my personal Author Stats, you can see the Google+ posts that are receiving impressions and clicks in Google Search or search verticals (image, video, mobile). Here’s a breakdown of the available data in Author Stats and what it all means:
- Impressions are the number of times the post has appeared in Google search results,
- Clicks represents the number of clicks the result has received,
- CTR (clickthrough rate) is the percentage of impressions that led to a click
- Avg. position is the average top position of your result for a query that generated an impression of your result.
What we are not seeing is the search queries that led to an impression. We can make an educated guess from the title and hashtags used in the post as to possible search queries Google is finding relevant to your post that are leading to impressions and potentially clicks. Here’s an example of a hashtag search result for a post I shared that I discovered in my personal Author Stats:
Implementing Authorship markup, engaging with other users and staying active on Google+, can all play an important role in increasing the visibility of your Google+ profile on the network, and also in Google Search. The potential is there, it’s now up to you to harness it and make it work for you.