Google Plus, the burgeoning social network from search giant Google, recently overtook Twitter in the list of social platforms with the most active users, despite the latter officially winning the crown for fastest growing network for 2012.
Supposedly, 25% of the global internet population actively use Google Plus in one way or another, compared to the 21% on Twitter. Facebook is still very much in the lead, with 51% using it on a monthly basis.
Google Plus has a number of killer features which are driving its growth and helping it steal precious attention away from the established social networks.
The key to Google Plus is its deep integration with most other Google products, such as Search, Gmail, Calendar, Drive and Picasa. Instead of using a social network which requires complex integration with other core web tools, or the use of multiple applications to create a single dashboard experience, Google has built a social platform which is woven tightly with our day-to-day experience of the internet.
This has allowed Google Plus to grow rapidly thanks to a seamless usage flow from mobile via Android through to the desktop browser, providing the complete digital toolset most of us have been craving. And we can see Google continue its war of attrition with the recent launch of Google Keep, clearly targeted at overhauling its tepid Tasks functionality and taking on the Evernote and sundry ToDo apps market.
We can also witness this developing social layer by the automatic creation of a Google Plus brand page for any business present in Google Local, using the model which Yelp and other listings companies have followed in encouraging brands to take control of a pre-built social presence.
A feature which sets Google Plus apart from other social networks is its group video chat tool, Hangouts. Skype has offered this feature for a while but currently charges for it, and has the disadvantage of having to collate contacts' Skype IDs before being able to make the call. As a freebie, using Hangouts is a no-brainer.
Google+ Hangouts allows free video conferencing for up to 10 people, and are perfect for client or staff meetings, hosting networking sessions, collaboration on projects, augmenting a virtual work environment. You can also “Enable Hangouts On Air” to stream your live hangout publicly on your Google+ profile, your YouTube channel, your website, and of course, to invited guests. If you activate Google+ premium features, the limit increases to 15 participants for both Hangouts and Hangouts On Air. Hangouts are also increasingly being used to broadcast conference panels live on YouTube.
SEO benefits for Google ranking
Given the tight integration between Google Search and Google Plus, it stands to reason that Google rewards social actions from within its social network with better page ranking in Search. This is particularly visible within Google's personalised search results – +1 an article and it is pushed up the rankings for people who have you in their Circles. This is highly effective if one of your articles or sites is +1 or posted on Google Plus by someone who has been added to a large number of Circles.
Ensuring your content is submitted to your brand page, or promoted by your staff to their personal Google Plus networks, becomes a valuable activity which directly affects your SEO. If you already push out content or links to your site via Twitter and Facebook, the impact on search visibility is greatly increased by doing the same on Google Plus, validating participation over other social networks.
We can see the effects of this deep integration in the changes to what users are doing on each of the main three social networks. For example, thanks to Google Plus' Instant Upload in its mobile app, photos taken on smartphones are automatically uploaded, ready to be shared. Seamless features such as these will affect usage, which we can see on the chart below.
I'll be investigating the latest features added to Google Plus and whether they will be enough for Google to worry Facebook in the social networking space in another blog soon, so keep an eye on our blog feed for Part 2.