Google+ takes a lot of stick, and has done so since its launch. The fact is that it isn't the thriving social arena to talk with all of your friends (at least not in the same way as Facebook), but instead it has a much more professional audience.
The way is see Google+ is as a happy medium between LinkedIn and Facebook, but instead of having a terrible interface that you can barely navigate around (LinkedIn) or a ton of questionable ads asking me to buy the latest 'miracle muscle growth supplement' (Facebook), Google+ makes for an awesome user experience and tons of opportunities for marketers.
Now, I know that a lot of people will disagree with me when I say that Google+ really is an awesome social network. My girlfriend finds the amount of time I spend on Google+ 'speaking to my businessy friends' (as she puts it), particularly amusing.
One of the reasons why I spent so much time on Google+ since getting that first beta invite is because I saw the potential to generate more traffic to my sites. Google+ has a lot of unique advantages over many other social networks that enable blog owners in particular to bring in large proportions of their traffic from it.
To name a just a few, here are some of the reasons why I devote more time to Google+ than any other social network:
- Google+ Authorship is becoming more and more important to SEO.
- The ability to email users that you don't even have the email address for.
- The layout of content is very similar to Pinterest (awesome for generating traffic - just look at this).
- Image sharing gives you huge visual real estate within feeds.
- The introduction of interest/niche specific communities.
- Google+ Hangouts... arguably the best feature of Google+!
As I said, these are just a few reasons why I love Google+, but there are definitely some down-sides to it as well (as there are with many other social networks). One of the issues that I find is that Google+ isn't the 'general' social networks that I think it wants to be. It's dominated by members from specific industries with less of an emphasis on being 'social' and more towards achieving business-orientated objectives.
Google’s vision is of a Facebook-style network that encompasses hundreds of millions of people and a broad range of activities. The problem is that no one seems to want that except Google.
The above quote was from within an article that I read last year on GigaOM by Mathew Ingram. Mathew makes a good point here, and if I'm honest, I would go as far to say that under 5% of my Facebook 'friends' are on Google+; however, Facebook isn't a huge traffic generator for me - it is my only truly 'social' network.
Using Google+ to Drive Traffic to Your Website
I could talk all day on the debate of 'is Google+ a good social network?', but I'm pretty sure that you guys would get quite bored. Instead, I'm going to tell you how you can use Google+ to generate good quality traffic to your website (both directly and indirectly).
I'm not going to go into the whole process of setting up a Google+ account because there are loads of resources online that talk about this (just check this out). What I am going to focus on is a few different ways that I've been driving traffic through to my blog using Google+, as well as the websites of a number of my clients.
One thing to remember is that Google+ isn't going to be the best source of traffic for every different industry. Like most social networks, it is more effective in some niches than others. The digital marketing niche, anything related to tech, real estate and travel all work particularly well.
In general, industries where you have a lot of great imagery will tend to do well on G+. As I mentioned before, the design is very visual (like Pinterest), which gives you the opportunity to catch people's attention quickly with powerful images.
Establishing Yourself as an Authority
I hear this all the time within articles that I read, and it kind of annoys me when people brandish it around as a strategy that can be achieved overnight. Becoming an authority online is very much a long-term strategy that requires a lot of commitment from you.
You'll need to make sure that you're adding value in everything that you share, be regimented in sticking to your schedule and engaging with the right people. There isn't one set way to do this, but my best advice is to stick with it. Offer as much exclusive content through Google+ as possible as well and you'll reap the rewards in the long turn.
Just take a look at the likes of Mark Traphagen, a digital marketer who has almost become the 'go-to guy' for Google+. Mark shares huge pieces of information (bigger than most blog posts) within Google+ that really give people a reason to follow him. Not only that but a lot of Mark's posts actually rank for competitive keywords that bring through traffic to his Google+ profile.
From within the real estate niche, Bill Gassett does a great job of branding himself as an authority within Google+. Bill set up one of the biggest real estate communities within Google+ (I used to help him moderate it) and he gets tons of engagement and followers as a result.
Gain More Visual Real Estate With Images
One of the biggest improvements that I've found to gain interaction on my Google+ posts is to share images instead of links. Jeff Sauer first alerted me to this and it's been a revelation ever since. Just check out how much visual space this post within my feed has:
The best thing is that if you share an image related to your content and then mention the URL within the post content, Google will still correctly attribute the +1s and shares to the URL (unlike most other social networks).
As a general rule, I always share links to my posts via images or videos now (videos have the same effect). The increase in engagement on my posts since this has been phenomenal.
Become a Community Moderator
The introduction of communities to Google+ was really well received and I've found that a I get a huge amount of value from some of the communities that I'm part of. One in particular is Dan Petrovic's SEO Hangout Panel, which is full of digital marketing experts that share some awesome advice.
As I mentioned before, I helped out with Bill Gassett's real estate community as a moderator for a period of time. You may be asking, "Matt, what the hell do you know about real estate?" The answer would be... nothing. What I do know is how to market real estate businesses online, so my role was to moderate the 'SEO & Social Media' thread.
During my time as a moderator for the community I received a huge spike in my followers and had lots more engagement coming my way, which was great. All I did to become a moderator was get in touch with Bill and ask him if he needed a hand - it's a simple as that!
Pro Tip: If your business page is a moderator on a Google+ community, all of the +1s from that community will be added to your business page's tally (and if that's linked to your website, it will pass on to your homepage!).
You can also set up a community of your own, which I've also done. I actually have a private community that I used to be very active in running. Unfortunately, my time was a little stretched and I had to spend less time on it.
Having a community of your own is another way to push your content, increase your following and engagement, plus it gets you closer to being seen as an 'authority' figure.
Engage Regularly With Your Google+ Influencers
Google+ does a great job of helping you understand who is enjoying the stuff that you share and, more importantly, who your 'influencers' are.
I wrote an article earlier this year that dives a little deeper into this (view it here), but I will break this down into a few points:
- Use Google+ Ripples to find out who has shared your content.
- Add anyone who has engaged with your posts into a new circle.
- Regularly interact with, and share content to members of the circle.
Email Important Posts to Key Targets
One of the early reasons that I saw potential in using Google+ to build traffic to my blog was the ability to send emails to users without actually having their email address.
For me, this was an invaluable feature.
When I first started using Google+, it only allowed me to send emails to circles that were around 10-30 users large, otherwise it displayed a message saying 'you can't send emails to that many people'.
Now that I've got a lot more followers and I engage regularly, I can send emails to as much as 600 people in one go - amazing!
Pro Tip: I've found that if I haven't posted on Google+ for a couple of days, the message will appear saying 'you can't send emails to that many people'; however, once I've pushed out a couple of posts, Google will let me go ahead and send to them. There is clearly a threshold here, and it's clear to me that the more engaged you are on Google+, the higher that threshold is.
One thing to note here is that you don't want to spam people. There's no need to send out an email on every update that you put out because people will end up 'muting' anything you send.
My advice is to ensure that you segment the people you follow into interest-specific circles, so that when you do have a big content piece that you want to push, you can send it to only the relevant people.
Use Google+ Outside of Google+
Alongside the methods that I've mentioned above, you can drive engagement within Google+ by using some features of the social network outside of it. One of these features is embedded posts.
This, like Twitter's embeddable tweets, and more recently, Facebook's embedded posts; Google+ allows you to interact with posts from Google+ that have been placed within other webpages.
It's a pretty cool feature that you can use to great effect if you've put together a huge post with loads of value within it (like the example I gave from Mark Traphagen).
I've used it in the past to get more conversation going around a specific topic and actually drive some more social signals through to the shared URL.
Run Regular Webinars With Google+ Hangouts
I love Google+ Hangouts (so much so that I deemed it worthy to bold the word 'love').
The ability to have multiple people within one video conference, that can also be broadcast live over YouTube, for free, is nothing short of amazing. Combine this with the use of events within Google+ and you're onto a winner.
A perfect example of someone doing this right is Unbounce.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Unbounce's webinars go directly into my Gmail calendar whenever they send an event request through Google+. This means that even if I don't see them on Google+, I will still get a notification on my iPhone around 30 mins before the webinar is about to start.
I've found that this has caused me to join in on the webinars every now and again (which are really awesome, btw).
The fact that you can then have the whole webinar available on YouTube afterwards is great because this can then be used within a blog article or an emailer, etc. You can also have those lurkers that don't want to participate, but want to tune in, simply watch the broadcast live on your YouTube channel. This will likely boost your channel subscribers in the process.
Last but not least, there's the small matter of Google+ Authorship.
For those not in the know, Google filed a patent application back in 2005 for an algorithm they named 'Agent Rank'. To save you reading through the patent, I will explain very briefly what it involves.
Agent Rank will focus around ranking webpages based upon the authority of controlling 'agents'. More specifically we predict that this will focus around the power of content authors.
Once direct way that Google can identify authors of content is through Google+ authorship (i.e. linking your Google+ account to the content you've produced).
Note: Agent Rank isn't active yet and Google+ Authorship has no official link to website rankings at the moment (according to Google).
With Agent Rank seemingly an imminent update waiting to happen, it makes sense to improve your standing as an author within Google+. Regardless of what people say, we don't yet know what will constitute being an 'authoritative' author; however, building your following and writing for a number of different websites isn't going to hurt your cause.
My advice would be to follow the tips I've outlined above and start contributing content (that you link to your Google+ profile via authorship) to as many good quality online publications as possible.
Virante have recently built a small tool that gives you an overview of the quality of websites that you're contributing to and the volume of content that you've produced, then it gives you an 'Author Rank' score. It's pretty good for getting an idea of how you're doing so check it out.
Another great way to check out how your content is performing across the different sites that you write for is through Google Webmaster Tools' 'Author Stats'.
This is a great feature that will show the organic search impressions and clicks for any of the content that you have set up authorship on.
As you can see, my travel blog articles that I've written bring in a ton load of search traffic, but I also get a lot coming in from the posts that I write on Moz, Search Engine Journal and Find My Blog Way (amongst others).
- Google+ isn't quite the ghost town that everyone makes it out to be.
- Use images wherever you can instead of just links when you post on Google+.
- Engage regularly with those that are 'influencers' of your content.
- Use the 'email' feature carefully and strategically.
- Get involved with communities and become a moderator.
Other Useful Resources
Virante's Author Rank Tool (Virante)