Guest post by Matt Polsky, social media director for Veterans United Home Loans
By now, many of us have already started setting up our Google+ business pages, and have noticed that there's nothing overly special about these business pages yet, since they currently lack a vanity URL, have no setting for multiple admins and closely resemble a personal page. However, they will be connected back to Google's search engine in a way that removes the noise made by competitors.
Towards the end of October, I did a simple search using the + operator, which has long been used as a way of identifying words that are required to appear in the desired results. Instead of receiving my query, I was given an error message saying, "The + operator has been replaced. To search for an exact word or phrase, use double quotation marks."
So where did the + operator go, and why would they replace it? Simply put, the + operator has been assigned a new job - directly send users to a business' Google+ page. Google refers to this as Google+ Direct Connect and gives every business a reason to have a Google+ page.
For traditional searches, Google+ pages will show up in the SERPs like any other page and will not be weighted any more different than any other page, to comply with anti-trust regulations. However, when a user searches with a "+" in front of a business' name, they will go directly to that business' Google+ page, and will not see any other search results.
This feature could be extremely advantageous for brands, making them able to funnel users directly to the information they want show, removing the presence of other sites that get in the way.
Google+ Direct Connect is still in its beta phase and won't work for every Google+ page just yet. As Google experiments with Direct Connect, they will establish a stronger algorithm and will make it more widely available. As of now, a page's eligibility for Direct Connect is determined by signals that determine relevancy and popularity, such as social signals, a link between your Google+ page and your website as well as the number of actual searches for that particular brand.
So after the addition of branded pages, will Google+ become the next Facebook or Twitter? Well that is up to Google. They most certainly have the resources, but they lack providing value that is different from Facebook or Twitter, which has caused users to refrain from repeatedly using their service.
At Pubcon 2011, a premier online marketing conference, one of the speakers asked a room of 300 social media specific marketers, who uses Google+ and nearly every hand went up. The next question was who uses Google+ on a daily basis and only four hands went up.
While Google+ may be lacking in stickiness as of now, you must still consider that Google, the premier search engine, is in control of this social network and in the past months, social signals have had a strong effect on the SERPs. In addition to this, remember that Google+ has only been live just over 120 days, yet holds over 40 million users.
As Google sorts out how to provide value different from other social networks, the only remaining problem for businesses is finding the right strategy to persuade customers to use the new + operation and bypass other brands results.
Google loves change and to keep people guessing, which means I feel we can all expect to see Google+ go through a metamorphosis in the upcoming months to a platform that will make it a true competitor with Facebook. With all that being said, what features would you like to see Google add to Google+?
Matt Polsky works in Search and Social Media Marketing and is the Social Media Director for Veterans United Home Loans, the nation's leading dedicated provider of VA home loans. Connect with Matt on Twitter @mattpolsky.