Google Plus – A Beginner’s Guide

Why You Must Not Ignore Google Plus

google_plus_beginners_guideThis blog post forms the basis of the Google Plus training sessions I offer to small businesses.  If you haven’t been active on Google+ so far, now’s the time to get started!

Google Plus is the 2nd largest social network with around 360 million users worldwide. However it is far more than a social network –  it acts as a “social layer” between all of Google’s products (Gmail, YouTube, Docs, Drive, Calendar, and of course Search)

Google has repeatedly said that “social signals”, i.e. activity across social networks, are becoming increasingly important as a ranking factor in search.

If you are active on Google+ then your content is more likely to show up in the search results of the people you are connected to.  Search results are highly personalized nowadays.

When you set up Google Authorship, the content you publish on the web is linked with your Google+ profile image and this image displays next to your link in search results, making it stand out on the page.  It has been shown that search results with the author image get a considerably higher click-through rate.

It has been shown that Google+ profiles and pages have “Page Rank” which is one of the factors used in determining search results.  It’s a measure of the “authority” of a web page (or G+ profile/page) in terms of how important it is when linked to by other pages.

For an in-depth overview of Google+ and its SEO implications, read this article:

http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/google-plus-seo-8351/

Your Google+ Profile

Even if your main goal is to promote your business, you must start by creating a personal profile. (In the same way as you have to set up a personal Facebook profile before creating a business page). As with all social networks, it’s essential to complete your profile fully, including keywords based on potential searches that people might run when looking for your products / services.  Make sure you also include a good quality image (ideally a professional photo of you) and an appropriate cover image. The cover image is large, so you have plenty of scope for branding!

Despite the fact you want to promote your business, it’s important on Google+ (more so than on Facebook, for example) to maintain an active personal profile and build your following.  This is because of the Page Rank feature mentioned above.  If your personal profile is linked to many “high authority” profiles, and you are interacting with them regularly, then this will in effect transfer some Page Rank to you.

Circles

Circles are unique to Google+.  They represent a means of segmenting your contacts into groups (Twitter lists are a broadly similar concept) and it’s entirely up to you how you construct your Circles.  You are given a few suggestions when you first set up your Profile (Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Following…. etc) but these are fully customizable and you can add further Circles as you wish.

When you add someone to a Circle, they get a notification, but they do not know which Circle you have put them in. There is no obligation to reciprocate, i.e. if someone adds you to a Circle it’s entirely up to you whether you do the same for them.

This is a powerful marketing tool, because you can send messages to specific Circles – your updates can be crafted to appeal to particular customers or potential clients.

Posting, Formatting and Hashtags

Google+ has a status update area which is fairly similar to Facebook’s – it suggests you “share what’s new” –  however you’ll notice that there are clearly labelled buttons for adding photos, links, and videos.  You can also create an Event via the status update field.

When you share a link, it’s important to do this via the Link button rather than simply include the link with your text update. This is because links posted via the button are “Do Follow” which means that they are crawled by Google’s “spiders” and therefore benefit your SEO (if the link goes to your own website).  Links shared in the text box are “No Follow”.

You are able to format the text in your Google+ updates.  Surrounding a piece of text with asterisks * will make it bold, while surrounding it with underscores _ will make it italic.  You can also combine both to make it bold AND italic. This feature means that you can highlight important information.  Remember to include appropriate keywords!

Google+ allows the use of hashtags (as do all major social networks nowadays).  Hashtags are searchable and clicking on one will take you to a screen of posts with that hashtag.  This can be useful for research.  If you don’t include hashtags in your post, Google+ will often suggest an appropriate one (it’s displayed at the top right of the post)

+1s, Comments, Shares and Mentions

You’ve probably noticed the +1 button appearing on websites….it’s similar to Facebook’s Like button in that it acts as an endorsement. If you don’t already have it on your website and/or blog, you should consider adding it. Google has said that +1s don’t have a major impact on SEO, but every little helps, as the saying goes!  An added bonus with the +1 button is that it also gives you the option to share to your own Google+ profile, and when people share your content, that does boost your SEO.  So the more shares you get, the better.   It has also been shown that +1s and shares within Google+ actually contribute to the +1 “score” on the actual blog post or web page.

Commenting on people’s updates is a good strategy because it shows Google that you’re actively engaged – increasing your “social signals”.  And mentioning people is highly beneficial for the reasons previously stated.  The custom on Google+ is to share valuable information, with a link to the article or website, a short comment of your own on why you found it helpful, and a mention of the author.  To mention someone on Google+ you prefix their name with either + or @ and their name then appears, highlighted, as a link to their profile.  Because of the Page Rank factor, if you’re fortunate enough to be mentioned by “high authority” profiles, you’ll get authority passed on to you – this is massively important for your search rankings.

Communities

Communities are the place for sharing your hobbies and interests with like-minded people, or for learning about virtually anything you can think of.  They’re similar to Facebook Groups and it’s well worth browsing to find a few that suit your interests.  When you participate in Community discussions, people start getting to know about you and your business and who knows, some may even become clients in the future.

Learn more: http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/communities/

Business Pages

As previously mentioned, on Google+ your personal profile is very important – especially for smaller businesses. In fact it’s not strictly necessary to set up a business page straight away – concentrate on getting familiar with Google+, building up your Circles and interacting on a regular basis.  Once you’re comfortable with the platform and all its features then by all means start a page for your business.

If you’re a local business, having a Google+ page benefits your local search optimization by linking with Google Maps – customers can also leave reviews that show up on your page.

Managing a page is very similar to managing a profile – one obvious difference is that a page has a red “follow” button.  You also have a “dashboard” with your page – a central hub where you can edit your  page info, post an update, add managers, create adverts etc.  Posting an update is exactly the same for pages and profiles; a page can be followed by profiles and other pages, and it has its own Circles.  See: http://www.google.com/+/business/index.html

Google Authorship

I’ve already mentioned the importance of Authorship.  There are a couple of ways to set it up – see:

https://plus.google.com/authorship

I’ve previously written about Authorship.

But beware, Google does make a distinction between different parts of your website – if you have a blog, then it’s fine to apply authorship to your articles.  Don’t apply it to your static web pages, as Google considers this “commercial content”.  If you have authorship markup across your entire website, you could be penalized by Google.

Learn more: http://www.blogaid.net/google-penalizes-authorship-markup-abuse

Hangouts

Hangouts have been promoted as one of the most exciting features of Google+ and with good reason. A Hangout is simply a group video conference, run on the Google+ platform.  They can either be private (a “Hangout Video Call” or HVC) or public – a “Hangout on Air” (HOA).  A HVC can include up to 10 people, a HOA has no limit on numbers and is streamed live to the host’s YouTube channel.  So in effect, a HOA is similar to a webinar, but even more flexible as there is no limit on attendance.

There are all sorts of possibilities for businesses using Hangouts, either private or public. And of course as with all Google products, a Hangout can be viewed on mobile as well as desktop devices.

Find out more: http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/

References

Simply browsing Google+ is a valuable exercise – there are many Communities dealing specifically with Google+ questions and resources.  I would also recommend the following websites/blogs:

www.plusyourbusiness.com

www.martinshervington.com

http://www.gplushow2girl.com/

www.websighthangouts.com

www.thehangouthelper.com

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Need help setting up or managing Google Plus for your business?

I enjoy working with businesses to achieve more from online marketing and I’d love to hear from you – get in touch now on 01777 249075, email me or take a look at the training and management services I offer

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