Not to be outdone by Facebook's historic IPO, May has shaped up to be a momentous month for tech giant Google. There was plenty of sideshow entertainment, such as Google's team of lawyers finally smiting down Oracle's patent infringement claims, Larry Page on Charlie Rose whining about Facebook's data hogging, and Sergey Brin running around the globe showing off his Google glasses. However mixed in with these shenanigans were three seemingly unrelated developments that, when taken together, outline the future of Google's social strategy.
And I thought Asteroid-mining April was exciting.
Google recently announced the merger of its local search product, Places, into its fledgling social media site, Google+, to create Google+ Local, as well as a new category for us bloggers to write about: social local context-based search (I'm sharpening my pencil).
With the flick of a switch (at least that's how I imagine it), Google transferred 80 Million Google Places pages into the same number of Google+ Local Pages, essentially forcing Google+ down the throats of millions of small business owners at one stroke (as all great Empires have learned since time immemorial, if the carrot isn't working, make sure you've got the stick handy).
I wish I had that power.
For small businesses, the change may actually prove to be a good thing, especially given that Google has incorporated Zagat reviews (free of charge) into the new product, allowing G+ users access to the company's comprehensive 30-point reviews of local merchants. Interestingly, Zagat's review system will also appear outside of Google+, on both Google Maps and SERP.
Speaking of SERP, yes, Google's search engine will be indexing Google+ Local Pages (as if you had to ask).
With the introduction of Google+ Local, the Tech Empire is trying to drive more qualified traffic to its flagging social site by compelling millions of business owners to create engaging, interactive, and geo-locally relevant Google+ Local pages that automatically integrate with Google's search engine. Much like siege warfare, this strategy may eventually work, especially if you've got a really smart, context-savvy search engine.
Like Google's Knowledge Graph.
(PS: For a truly comprehensive review of Google+ Local Pages, check out Greg Sterling's excellent blog on Search Engine Land)
KNOWLEDGE (GRAPH) IS POWER
I first wrote about the Knowledge Graph in February, where I explored the darker aspects of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) search engine. Blogger paranoia aside, I must admit the idea of a quasi-intelligent search engine that can distinguish the meaning of queries based on context (aka semantic search) is pretty cool stuff.
According to its principle author, Google exec Amit Singhal, the Knowledge Graph's context-savvy results are supposed to spur people on to do more searches. This in turn gives users a greater chance to eventually stumble down the Google+ rabbit hole... or I mean to interact with Google+ Local Pages.
Singhal confirmed as much to the Wall Street Journal last week, noting "people are interacting with it [the Knowledge Graph] more" and "doing more queries."¹
Unless you type in Facebook or Bing, that is. According to Facebook analytics firm PageLever, Google referrals to Facebook Pages have dropped 51% year-over-year; traffic from Google to Bing has fallen even more dramatically (57%).²
Well, maybe the Knowledge Graph induces more searches for all queries except those of your principle competitors...must be a glitch in the system.
In any event, an AI-juiced semantic search engine fused with an algorithm favoring Google's local-optimized (with Google+ Local) social network would be of great advantage to companies that build up their Google+ Pages, right?
In the absence of voluntary mass adoption of G+, Google's decided to stack the deck.
Very Empire-like of them, isn't it?
SOCIAL SEARCH (VIDEO EDITION)
And finally, we come to a small move, the cherry on top, of Google's May social strategy: the introduction of the G+ social share button on YouTube. Or, as I like to call it, social search, video edition.
No big deal, you say? Taken in isolation it isn't. But given the huge shift to all things social video in recent months, the move is another signal that Google is doubling down on Google+.
By pushing G+ on YouTube, Google is getting a double benefit. By tapping into YouTube's massive audience of 800 million monthly users (in 2011, YouTube had 1 Trillion views, or almost 140 views for every person on Earth), they can draw huge traffic to G+, bringing social video sharing to its social network.²
Perhaps more importantly, the move gives G+ access to YouTube's huge mobile audience. There are 600 million mobile views on YouTube each day. This is especially significant given the US consumer shift to online video. The average American is now watching 21.8 hours of online video- up 46% from last year.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Much like the evil Emperor on Star Wars going to great lengths to keep his prize possession (Darth Vadar) alive, Google is doing its level best to pump life into Google+. By forcefully integrating its search engine (Knowledge Graph), geo-local (Maps and Places), and social video (YouTube) capabilities with its Google+ social network, the Tech Empire is clearly doubling down on social.
Google's May-time moves represent a concerted push to assimilate businesses into its Google+ social network. My advice to all businesses great and small: get down with Google+, or face the consequences.
In a Machiavellian sense, Google has to do this if it's going to keep Zuck and crew, flush with billions in cash, from getting any ideas (rumors are already swirling about a Facebook phone and search engine).
Like all empires before it, preserving the existing order (with Google on top of it) is of the greatest importance to Google. To do this, Google needs businesses and users alike to put their faith in Google+ and start interacting with the social site in a meaningful way.
As Google doubles down on its Google+ social network,the Tech Empire expects businesses to fall in line-or else.
Recall the words of CEO Larry Page, who said on a recent interview with Charlie Rose, "I think it's been unfortunate that Facebook has been pretty closed with their data." And Google's traffic to Facebook is down 51% this year.
Or, as Darth Vadar once said, "I find your lack of faith disturbing."
¹ Search Engine Land, "Google Says Knowledge Graph Has Led to More Searches"
² eConsultancy, "Search Engine Driving Less Traffic to Facebook Pages: Report"
³ The Reel Web, Episode 40, "How Social TV Influences Social Video Marketing"