Article by Eli Fennell
Google+ is a success and, for the foreseeable future, is here to stay as a major player in social networking. After all the “ghost town” stories and all the claims of “low engagement”, and all the talk about how Google “doesn’t get social” or was “too late to the game”, multiple sources of analytic data (and Google’s own internal numbers, such as they have made public) are converging on the conclusion that Google+ is one of the biggest social network players. If you want assistance with Google Plus plus utilize this resource: Google Plus SEO Help.
GlobalWebIndex, for example, shows Google+ as the second most popular social network below Facebook, though one suspects those numbers to be slightly inflated because that would place Google+ ahead of YouTube. Other sources show Google+ Sign-Ins to be the #2 social sign-in on the web overall (and growing) behind Facebook, and the #1 social sign-in for Android.
More recent numbers from GlobalWebIndex show that the Google+ mobile app is the #4 most frequently used app behind Google Maps, Facebook, and YouTube and ahead of Twitter, Skype, and many others. What makes these numbers interesting is that, unlike many other studies of Google+ usage, there can be no confusion here between an active user of the Google+ social network and someone who just happens to use a Google+ account with Google’s other services.
At this point, the onus is on skeptics of Google+ to explain why one of the largest active user bases of any social network on both desktop and mobile devices shouldn’t be regarded as successful, whether or not it ever “kills Facebook” or any other social network. The question then becomes: how? How did Google overcome all the obstacles to build a successful social network? What makes Google+ different?
Users will often subjectively report preferring Google+ and the users they meet there, but those subjective factors alone can only explain it so much. Google’s own marketing efforts and efforts at integration also provide some explanation, but not enough, especially given the relative rarity of mentions Google+ receives in the media and in social marketing efforts. During the most recent Superbowl Sunday, Google+ was mentioned exactly 0 times during commercial breaks.
On the flip side, Google+ can be said to have exploited a niche between Twitter’s largely-passive short-burst engagement style and Facebook’s longer conversational format. Like Twitter, Google+ still isn’t the place “everyone you know” will be found, but it allows the engagement between users to be deeper and more organic. Google+ also has exploited the emerging markets for image sharing social networks like Instagram, videoconferencing apps like Skype, and video sharing sites like YouTube.
We could also point out that some bad decisions, scandals, and poor execution have plagued the efforts of certain rivals like Facebook. Honorable mention should also be given to the privacy crowd that prefers the granular control and data portability of their Google+ accounts, or that extremely small crowd that is in open revolt against advertisements in their social streams/news feeds/etc…
Still, even taken together, the Google+ phenomenon seems hard to explain. In fact, it was the obvious and inevitable result of the strategies they pursued. In particular, Mobile and Search. For more on help with the value of Google Plus please reference this link: Google Plus Help for Local Businesses.
Google+ was born on the web, but after half a decade of Android and iOS development, and some renewed focus on design, Google now has mobile in its blood. After a couple of early efforts that were somewhat inelegant, the Google+ app has reached a level of maturity, and consistency with its desktop counterpart (while still being true to its platform).
Facebook, on the other hand, is still struggling to create an app that is both elegant, and performs smoothly on any platform, let alone to optimize for multiple screen sizes including smartphones and tablets. Facebook has never attained the same popularity on mobile as they have on the desktop. It may be true they have the second most popular app (behind a mapping app), but people don’t live in that app like they did (and many still do) on the desktop. That’s why Facebook has been pushing Facebook Home, an app designed to lure you back into living inside of Facebook. It might even have worked, if it had been any good.
Twitter has done far better with mobile, admittedly, than Facebook. They were born on mobile so it makes sense they understand it. I’m still unimpressed with the quality of their apps, but that’s a matter of taste. An app only needs to be so good to do basically four simple things, after all. The limitations of the network itself, however, mean that it isn’t really in competition with Google+ or Facebook directly.
A similar point could be made for Instagram, Pinterest, etc… They are limited, or focused narrowly if you prefer, on niches, whereas Google+ serves a wide range of uses, perhaps not dominating any one category but pulling in some users across all of them.
The most glaring advantage of Google+ is the discoverability provided by integration with Google Search and Search Plus Your World. There can be little doubt that using Google+ is an important part of Search Engine Optimization, the process by which sites and pages attempt to achieve high ranking in Search results (of which Google is, of course, the largest provider).
While some cry conspiracy theories about Google disadvantaging other social networks, the real truth is exactly opposite of that. Facebook, Twitter, and many other social networks implement various methods that block or obscure the ability of a search engine to rank their pages/posts/groups/communities/etc… One example is the rel=nofollow attribute, a bit of html code that tells search engines not to follow links on a page, used by Facebook and Twitter.
Why does it matter if social networks do this? Because it makes it well nigh impossible to optimize Search results for the Web 2.0 era where social must be a ranking factor to provide maximum relevance. Microsoft knows this, and has cut deals with many social networks for Bing to have access to the “firehose” of their social data (allowing them to override or get around the limitations Google deals with).
While these social networks certainly have the right to do this, and some might argue that it makes good business sense, it also goes radically against the best practices of Search Engine Optimization experts. In a nutshell, these networks were (and are) deliberately practicing bad SEO! Why would they do such a thing, you might ask? Because if they didn’t, Google might well become your primary way of “Searching” the social networks. And, as we know, providing relevant search results is the biggest achilles heel of nearly every social network.
For Google, the social web was going dark to their web crawlers, and they had two choices: 1) Agree to a deal with the social networks for their data, which would have required them to promise (among other things) not to launch a competing social network (this was, at least, a specific condition demanded by Facebook according to insiders), 2) Launch a competing social network optimized for Search, and make it a success at all costs.
They chose the latter, and while they continue to experiment with the best ways of ranking and surfacing social results in Google Search, the ease of optimizing for a social network they control (and which, consequently, can never wall itself off from the mother ship) and of tying it to together with all of their other products and properties, has been one of the keys to its success. One could easily argue this is the same reason Google acquired YouTube: to prevent that vast database of searchable videos from being walled off from them.
Google Search is still the primary way most people find their way around the world wide web and, increasingly, even the real world. The hubris of Facebook, Twitter, and the other social networks was in believing they could not only ignore this, but replace it. The hubris might even have been justified, if they’d offered any real replacement except for an endless stream of disorganized chatter. Compared with the ability of Google Search to deliver relevant results, social networks like Facebook and Twitter should frankly be embarrassed.
Google’s strengths in Search also extend to their social networks, Google+ and YouTube. YouTube’s ability to surface relevant video results can hardly be questioned at this point, and Google+’s Search feature is so useful (in my opinion, at least) that increasingly I find it more relevant at times than Google Search. Admittedly this is probably, in part, because I have very focused Circles and post very focused content, but the ability to improve with use is one of the “automagical” parts of using Google and should not be dismissed lightly.
The irony is that this never had to happen. Facebook, Twitter, and the other social networks need never have walked away from the negotiating table. While I doubt Google would ever have agreed not to launch a social network, or that the social networks would ever have given them entirely uninhibited access to their firehose for free (or at any cost, for that matter), a mutual agreement could surely have been worked out to benefit both sides in the short-term, leaving each party responsible for their own long-term success or failure in the market without strangling either side deliberately.
In the end, though, Google may be very glad they could never reach an agreement. It forced them to rely on their own (vast) resources and innovative prowess to present their own vision of a Social Network, and how that network might be integrated with Search and other services. It made them confront their own past failures in this market, and shoot for the moon.
Whether or not Google+ ever “kills” other social rivals matters less than that they bring a vision of social networking to the market that not only reaches satisfied end users, but allows Google to influence the market and to transfer some of their existing strengths to the new market without being bound to an outdated business model. It has already achieved that much, at least, and may achieve a lot more by the time all is said and done.