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Giving Google Plus a Second (or First) Look

Google Carousel

Google recently presented a live, invite-only webcast for small businesses and marketing agencies. Naturally, it was focused on the company’s own Web products, tools and strategies, but Google being Google, that’s a pretty good chunk of what anyone needs to know about marketing online.

The presentation felt especially relevant since here at 4x3 we’ve been paying more attention to Google Plus, the search giant’s social networking platform. Most of you probably know Google Plus (or Google+) as that profile page you are forced to accept along with the suite of Google products you actually use (YouTube, Gmail, analytics, etc.). Yet Google Plus, long the butt of did-they-really-think-they-could-compete-with-Facebook jokes, deserves more than a passing glance, and not just because the platform is steadily gaining active users. Google seems determined to make it a lynchpin of SEO.

Google Plus and SEO

Have you noticed the carousel of thumbnails that appears across the top of search results when you type in a phrase like “Philadelphia restaurants”?  Or the sharp-looking display box with pictures, a map, and reviews that shows up for some businesses to the right of results? (Search for “Bibou Philadelphia, PA” to see what I mean.) These are businesses with active Google Plus profiles, and Fred Vallaeys, the company’s search marketing evangelist, made it clear that high activity on Google Plus — the number of “Plus Ones,” posts, ratings and reviews — determines whether you will show up on that carousel or get your very own special box. 

“Ranking number one organically is not as important as it once was because of Carousel and other new formats for search results,” Vallaeys told webcast attendees. This is kind of like when the guy who guards the secret Coke formula suggests you might want to "up" the amount of vanilla in your soda recipe. It’s not the sort of tip you want to ignore. 

Reviews were mentioned several times during the webcast. They help organic search because they tell Google your business is important to people (recent algorithm changes emphasize fresh content and frequency of engagement). The Google guys recommend asking people for reviews on receipts and business cards. It’s also a good idea to offer incentives for people to connect with you on social media. 

At this point, it’s difficult to say just how important Google Plus is, or how much time and effort you should spend on it versus Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other more popular platforms. One thing seems sure though: while Google Plus may continue to make some snigger, Google has the reach and resources to make sure they get the last laugh.   

Jim Sturdivant is 4x3's content marketer and SEO copywriter.