Despite being the second biggest, Google+ is the least well-known and most misunderstood of the social networks. Many of the clients I work with have either never heard of it, or are unsure of how or why to use it for their business.
Google+ is arguably the most important social network for both businesses and marketers and as such is something you need to embrace now if you haven't already done so.
Both Google+ and Google Authorship (explained later in this article) should be integral to your content-focused SEO strategy, so this article aims to provide a basic introduction and overview as well as highlighting some of the key benefits.
An Introduction to Google+
Google+ is a social networking website, but more than that, it integrates with the entire Google stable and it carries significant weight in terms of SEO and organic search visibility.
Google+ was launched as an invitation only social network on the 28th June 2011. Despite a lot of speculation in the wake of failed social network attempts like Google Buzz, early adopters clamored to get invites to jump on board and so began the slow and steady rise of Google+. The invite only model didn't last long. As it became apparent that there was a lot of demand, the new social network was opened up to all.
Early adopter feedback was largely positive, with Google+ being widely regarded as benefiting from having all of the best parts of the main pre-existing social networks and putting them together to create one super network.
Whilst in the UK monthly active users of Facebook continue to decline, in under 2 years, Google+ has risen up the ranks to become the 2nd biggest social network with over 359 million active users, facts that many business owners remain unaware of.
Source: Business Insider
What Can You Do On Google+?
I'm a huge fan of Google+ and have been using it for just under two years now - despite my role, I don't jump on the latest social media trends, (in fact I was a relatively late convert to Facebook), but having previously used the failed Google Buzz, I was keen to get on board from the outset with Google+ and i've not been disappointed.
Google+ allows you to post video, links, picture and text content just like you can on Facebook. Google+ however introduces the concept of 'circles', essentially allowing users to group followers according to interests or any other criteria they wish to assign, for example work colleagues, business contacts, or customers; which makes targeting your content far easier to achieve than it is on either Twitter or Facebook.
Google+ also benefits from the unique concept of 'hangouts', put simply these are either video or text chats that you can host or participate in with multiple people at the same time.
More recently Google+ has also introduced picture editing capabilities, allowing you to edit any of the pictures that you post on the network, super handy if you aren't a graphic designer with a copy of Photoshop to hand!
For a more comprehensive guide to Google+ take a look at the Keepoint Free Google+ Guide for Business
Reasons Why You Should Be Using Google+
Neat Integration - easy to share content across all Google products
Google+ neatly integrates various other tools, making it super easy to share and manage content across all Google services which helps to make your activities more efficient.
+1 - a popularity ranking signal for SEO
When you create a Google+ page people are able to +1 your page which is essentially the same as a Facebook like. Google uses the number of +1′s that your page has to help it determine how popular your business/brand is, making +1′s an important ranking signal.
Google+ Circles - ideal for targeting your messaging
Circles allow users to group followers according to interests or any other criteria you wish to assign (for example, current customers, prospects or competitors). This means you can use groups to closely target your messaging.
Google Authorship - an emerging SEO ranking signal
Google+ is a critical component of Google Authorship - increasingly being used as a ranking signal. Authorship allows you to link your content across the Internet, letting Google know what content you have created and that it originates from you. The more quality content that you publish and the more it is shared, the more positively Google will regard you, helping to boost your Author Rank.
Hangouts - a great way to knowledge share or obtain feedback
Creation of hangouts allow you to schedule online group events such as a live Q&A session that allows multiple people to participate, think of it like a giant chatroom that you can control.
Communities - great for relationship management, lead nurturing and authority building
Google+ Communities allow you to create, or participate in, focused groups of both individuals and companies who share a particular interest. Participating in existing communities is an excellent way of raising brand awareness, creating trust and getting direct feedback from customers. Creating a group allows you to start a community, closely aligned to your own brand values. This can help to improve your brand awareness, helps to position you as an authority, and helps you nurture relationships.
Events - easy to set up, share and promote
Google+ Events work in a similar way to Facebook Events. The main difference however is that events allow for higher levels of interactivity. Anyone using Gmail or Google Calendar can easily add an event they are invited to right onto their calendars and invitations will automatically go out to whoever you select, from individuals or groups. Events are a great way to promote things such as free webinars or on-site open days.
Business pages - enhanced discoverability
Google+ Business pages work in a very similar way to Facebook Business pages. Just like with Facebook, you'll need to be a regular Google+ member before you can set up a business page.
Your Business Page gives you another page that can be indexed by search engines and neatly showcases your business, allowing you to make regular updates to your wall, and linking your business page to any content that you've created using the rel="publisher" code.
Insights - stats that show you what activities are working
Google+ recently introduced analytical insights that allow you to see key stats from your Google+ dashboard including how many views your business listing has received, how many times you've been viewed in local search and how many people are engaging with you.
Google Places - enhanced visibility in local search
Google Places are separate business listing pages that are perfect for local businesses which allow you to display reviews, photos, key business information like opening times and contact details, as well as displaying a fully integrated Google location map. This provides you with another page that can be indexed, helping to enhance your visibility in search results and drive traffic.
How to set up Google authorship
Before you can get Google authorship implemented, you will need to have a Google+ profile set up and you need to make sure that your profile picture is a clear head shot.
Locate your 'Contributer to' section within your profile (do this on your personal profile page and not your business page). Click 'Add a custom link' and enter a title and the URL for the content you want to link yourself to.
Google+ > About > Contributer to > edit
Next, you need to add a link back to your Google+ profile in the body of your content you want to be credited as the author of. Your link code might look something like this:
Check me out on Google+.
Use Google's structured data testing tool to make sure you've set it up correctly. Enter your URL and click 'preview' and you should see your head shot now appear.
Please remember that it won't be live immediately, it typically takes around 2 weeks for this to start actually working. The rel="publisher" code is implemented in the same way, but should be linked to your business page.
For more detailed information, take a look at Google's getting started guidelines.
Tips to help you get the most from Google+
People routinely respond better to post which include pictures or video than they do to plain text posts. Google+ tweaked the layout of pages in May 2013 leading to a layout that lends itself even better to visual imagery, so make the most of this!
Start a community
Creating a community is very quick and easy. Your community could be set up to aid knowledge sharing, it could be based on an interest or it could be to support a good cause.
Don't make the community all about you - if all you do is spam it with your content people aren't going to join and you'll lose those that do pretty quickly - as with all social media activities, make sure you vary what you do.
Set up Google Authorship
For increased visibility in organic search, Google Authorship is an absolute must. Authorship is the driving force behind Author Rank which is a very powerful (and increasingly so) ranking signal that Google uses. Make sure that this is set up and working correctly.
Share content from a range of sources
Sharing other peoples content is always a good idea - it gives you more things you can post about which makes you in turn more interesting and appealing and it also brings you to the attention of the content source, which in itself has clear strategic benefits. Even on your business page this should be the case. Curating a broad range of content on the same theme will help you to build authority and position yourself as a thought leader
Make the most of your profile
Make sure you have filled in all of your company details and that you are making use of the profile image and cover photo (which is massive!) as these will allow you to make a high impact and grab peoples attention more effectively. Make sure you provide links not just to your website but to your blog and all of your social network profiles.
Improve the images you post
Google has recently introduced the ability to edit images that you upload. This functionality is especially good for those who don't have their own image editing software such as Photoshop. The Google+ image editing function allows you to make various changes to your image including auto colour fixing, cropping and adding text.
Google+ is now the 2nd biggest social network in the UK and whilst Facebook is in decline, Google+ continues to gather momentum.
Many marketing and SEO experts are agreed on its importance as both an SEO and communications tool, and whilst the full extent of the impact that Google+ has on SEO is still very much open to debate, the belief is that Google will place increasing weight on related ranking signals, making Google+ a critical part of any SEO or content marketing strategy.
Google Plus Daily
Google Plus features - image editing
Google Author Rank and Authorship
Keepoint Free Google+ Guide for Business