Hear that, content marketers?
That is the sound of inevitability.
It’s the sound of you creating a Google+ page for your business and working diligently to build up a network there with content, conversation, and the occasional cat photo.
Goodbye … free time.
Shameless (yet eerily fitting) references to Agent Smith of The Matrix aside, here’s why every online content marketer needs to be building a Google+ network.
I’ll also tell you why Google+ may just become more important than Facebook or Twitter when it comes to deciding where to focus your limited time and effort.
What’s new with Google+
Since I first wrote about Google+ shortly after it launched, the search giant’s “social network” has grown to an estimated 67 million users as of November 2011, closing fast on Twitter’s stated 100 million active users. This kind of growth should put to rest claims that Google+ is dead or dying, and yet isn’t as meteoric as it could be given Google’s huge existing user base.
But the real growth of Google+ could be just ahead.
The main points I stressed in my original article were that Google+ is an excellent content sharing platform, and that the data gleaned from sharing and other activity would have a direct influence on Google’s search results. I said:
Building an audience on Google+ may be the smartest thing you do as a content marketer when it comes to improved search rankings. You still need to understand the language of your audience and reflect it back in your content, but Google will now have direct indications that you’re putting out quality stuff.
As of last week, Google did more with Google+ and search results than I (and most everyone else) expected. Much more.
Google+ is Google … period
Toward the end of last year, it became clear that Google+ was much more than a “social networking product,” like the failed Buzz. So far, Google+ has been significantly integrated with Google Docs, Chrome, Google Reader, Gmail, and YouTube.
Google also redesigned the header across Search, News, Maps, Translate, Gmail and many other Google products to incorporate Google+. In short, Google+ has become the glue that unifies Google’s various offerings into a seamless whole.
As Mike Elgan smartly put it, Google took its various products and turned them into features of Google+, rather than treating Google+ as a standalone social network. But that was just a warm up for what was to come with Google’s bedrock function, search.
Google gets all up in Your World
Last week, Google announced Search, plus Your World, which is the merger of personalized search with social search, including the addition of relevant Google+ results.
In other words, Google search results now more than ever send you to … Google.
You’ll only see the Your World aspects when logged into Google, and not everyone can see them yet (you can also easily turn it off if you want). The Google+ results are drawn from the people you have “circled” in Google+ (and vice versa for others who have circled you).
Search sensei Danny Sullivan calls this the most radical transformation of Google search results ever, and with good reason. According to Google’s algorithmic guru Amit Singhal, Your World takes personalized and social search and combines it into one seamless experience:
The social search algorithm, and the personal search algorithm, and the personalized search algorithm are actually one algorithm now, and we are merging it in a way that is very pleasant and useful.
“Pleasant” and “useful” are open to debate, and there’s plenty of debate happening right now. But the one thing that’s for certain, like it or not, is that content marketers can’t choose to simply ignore Google+ and sleep well at night.
Does Google have you in a stranglehold?
My opening Agent Smith reference makes a little more sense now, huh? Do you feel that metaphorical arm around your neck, with the inevitable sound of the train bearing down on you?
Let’s not get overly dramatic, young Neo.
But it does feel somewhat like a take-it-or-leave it deal. We already knew that participating in Google+ would have some positive impact on our search results, but now it seems as if you have no Google+ presence and your competition does, you might lose existing search traffic going forward.
That’s only the beginning of the drama:
- Twitter issued a statement decrying the preferential treatment for Google+ results over Twitter. Google responded by revealing that it was Twitter, not Google, that chose not to renew the agreement with Google to use Twitter content for real-time search results.
- Jon Mitchell of ReadWriteWeb thinks Google+ is going to mess up the internet, because Google+ posts about his content were outranking the actual content itself when he searched, and this was even before the official announcement of Your World.
- Danny Sullivan points out that Google is violating what made Google so useful in the first place. Search engines provide value by sending you away to the best results, not keeping you trapped within a “sticky” web of their own making, no matter how expansive that web within the Web might be.
- Lee Odden is skeptical about the usefulness of the new socially-integrated results that he’s seen so far, but he nonetheless encourages online marketers to get involved with Google+, build out a quality content presence, and actively participate.
- John Battelle thinks it sucks for the web that Google and Facebook can’t play nice together. But as Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt points out, Facebook purposefully blocks Google, both with technology and terms of service, from indexing Facebook content and putting it on equal ground with Google+ results.
- And the rumblings regarding privacy, antitrust, and FTC action are well underway.
One the plus side, others see this development as inevitable in a good (or at least not evil) way:
- Stephan Shankland of CNET argues that Google had no choice but to make this move. The web is more social than ever, and the primary search engine on the planet must evolve along with the web, with or without the cooperation of Twitter and Facebook.
- John Henshaw of Raven Tools says Google knows exactly what they’re doing with Your World, and it’s not an act of desperation or necessarily devious. He recommends avoiding cheap SEO tricks that Google is already anticipating, and rather immerse yourself in the Google+ social ecosystem while continuing to create great content.
- On the anti-antitrust side, Eric Goldman of the Santa Clara University School of Law points out that when Google+ launched, it was welcomed by many as competition against the massive dominance of Facebook in social networking. Now that Google+ is actually getting competitive, everyone’s getting upset.
The only inevitability is change
Look, I’m as concerned about Google’s dominance and the potential for abuse as anyone. I have been for years, which is why I designed Copyblogger Media so that it would survive (and even thrive) if Google sent us zero traffic.
That said, I like getting targeted search traffic from Google. It doesn’t suck, not one bit.
And let’s face it … I also like Google+. It’s been a great experience to hang out over there the last 6 months or so, and I think it’s clearly superior to Facebook, while providing a truly different environment than our primary social networking / content distribution platform, Twitter.
Regardless of all the other potential issues laid out above, the fact is that we online marketers hate changes like this. But Google is constantly changing, and must change, as the Web itself changes.
Universal search (the last “most radical change ever“) arrived in 2007, and personalized search arrived across the board in 2009. Each time, people wrung hands, gnashed teeth, and wailed hysterically about how everything was different and wrong and awful, and they’re still doing it today.
As content marketers, we really have limited choice when it comes to what Google chooses to do.
One choice is to simply decide that we don’t really need search engine traffic.
Another choice is to observe, adapt, and conquer in ways that make the most sense for our businesses.
My guess is Google is going to be tweaking things rapidly over the course of the year, rolling out more cool new features, and generally looking to strike a balance that rapidly grows Google+ without becoming cannon fodder for the Justice Department.
Circle me up on Google+ and we’ll observe, adapt, and conquer together.
About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Google+.