Your Google Plus Network Is More Powerful Than You Know

Your-Google-Plus-Network-Is-More-Powerful-Than-You-Know-V3 copy

A couple of weeks ago fellow Windmill Networking blogger Courtney Ramirez shared the following with me on Google+:

Here is why I love G+ – I’m researching Quora for an article, and since I’m connected to Mark Traphagen, I see a terrific post, and a board he and AJ Kohn created, that was posted in October. Not only was it informative, but now I am following him on Quora and learning more about Google Authorship there.

Where was Courtney researching? On Google+? No, she was searching in Google search. And because she and I have a connection there (we’re in each other’s circles), Google advanced my post in her personalized search.

This is the power of Google+ as a recommendation engine.

The Effect of Your Network on Personalized Search

About a year ago Google introduced what they called “Search Plus Your World” (S+YW). S+YW was a big upgrade to the personalization of search that Google had been ramping up since at least 2007. Search was already being personalized by such things as your location (picked up from your computer’s IP address and other clues) and your search history. But because of Google+, Google was able to bring in a whole new layer of personalization: your Google network.

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Google S+YW Icon

Network-based personalization only shows up when the user is logged in to Google. In the US and much of the rest of the world, you know you are in S+YW if you see a switchable icon at upper right with a silhouette and a globe. Switching to the globe turns off (most) personalization.

The assumption is that people you have in your Google contacts (Gmail, Gchat, and now Google+ circles) and/or people who have you in theirs, are important to you in some way. Thus what they indicate is important or authoritative may be for you as well.

Let me give a practical demonstration of how useful that can be.

Say I’m interested in a recommendation for the top Twitter users in real estate. Here are my top search results in non-personalized Google search:

google-result-personalized-search-off

Google non-personalized search results

Fine as far as they go, but I don’t know the @REALTORS Twitter account (who runs it? why should I trust them?), nor am I familiar with wefollow.com or what they do.

Now here are my results for the same query with S+YW personalization turned on:

google-result-personalized-search-on

Google results with personalization on.

The second result has now become one from Bill Gassett. Notice the little head-and-shoulders icon next to that result. That tells me this result was elevated in rankings for me because of personalization.

And now I’ve got a result that is truly valuable to me. Why? Because Bill Gassett and I have developed a relationship via Google+. He followed me because he is a savvy marketer who realized the potential of Google+ and who wanted to learn more about using it effectively. I followed him back because I quickly discerned that he is a guy who really “gets” how search marketing should work for real estate professionals.

So if I can find out that Bill has prepared a list of  his top recommendations for Twitter users in the real estate vertical, that list has many times the value to me over any others in the search results. I trust Bill, I know that Bill is a real estate social marketing authority, so I’ll trust that his list is good.

And to top it off, Bill is smart enough to be hooked up to Google Authorship, so I even get his smiling face in my search to reinforce our relationship.

What About Facebook Graph Search?

Some of you smart people (I know you’re smart; I read your comments!) are already thinking by now, “Hmmm….this sounds a lot like Facebook’s new Graph Search.” Yes, it does, but as I’ll explain shortly, Google is way ahead of Facebook in the recommendation engine game, and does it better.

First, though, let me explain Graph Search for those who may not be up to speed on it. Facebook’s new Graph Search is a huge upgrade to their present search, which nearly everyone admits is pretty horrible. Graph Search–which will be rolling out slowly to users over the next few months–enables Facebook users to mine the data of people, places, and events they are connected to in new and interesting ways. For example, you will be able to enter a search like “co-workers under 25 who like skiing,” and Facebook will assemble a list of your friends who work at your company, are under that age, and who have an interest in skiing (at least, the ones who have made all those data bits public on their profiles).

But the use case for Graph Search that Facebook seemed most excited about in their official introduction video is as a recommendation engine. Visiting San Francisco next week? Search “restaurants in San Francisco that my friends like” and voila! a listing of your friends, top City by the Bay eateries appears.

Or does it? Well, it certainly appears, but is this really a listing of what your friends think are the best restaurants in that city?

Remember that Facebook is basing this determination on what your friends have “Liked” on Facebook. But a Facebook Like often does not mean what we mean by “like” in real life. For example, if I’m talking with Neal Schaffer and he tells me he really likes the Kitayama Japanese Restaurant near his home, I understand that he means that the restaurant is good at the things that we usually expect in a good restaurant: great food, cleanliness, superb service, nice atmosphere. But if Neal has “liked” the Burger King down the street from him, does it necessarily mean he’s recommending it to me?

Not at all. People “like” a business on Facebook for all sorts of reasons. Maybe Neal wanted a coupon they were offering, or to enter a contest they were running. Those sorts of things and more are set up as “like-gates” by Facebook brand pages all the time in order to run up their Like counts. Facebook has incentivized what I call “Like inflation” as they have tightened up EdgeRank, making it more difficult for brands to get their content seen by fans. As engagement is one of the main signals used by Facebook to measure EdgeRank, brands have engaged in all sorts of means to get more Likes, from the nefarious (buying them from underground Like peddlers) to the ridiculous (posting tons of funny photos that have nothing to do with the brand’s message). And with the announcement of Graph Search, I predict we are going to see a land rush for Likes that makes all previous efforts look like a nursery school tea party.

So how much confidence can a Facebook user have about recommendations that come from a corrupted signal?

I have another doubt about the usefulness of Graph Search for businesses: search intent by Facebook users. People don’t think of using Facebook to search with commercial intent. They are on it primarily to keep up with family and friends and be entertained. Google has made billions on its search-based advertising because it has cultivated and reinforced that it is the place to go when you’re ready to buy something (although Amazon may be an increasing threat to that perception). But who thinks: “We need a new TV; let’s search for one on Facebook”? It’s a huge shift in habit that Facebook has to overcome.

All that isn’t to say that I think Graph Search is useless. It will be a huge improvement over the present Facebook search, and it will be fun (and often useful) to find common interests among my group of friends. But I have my doubts as to its utility for driving business.

Why Google+ and Google Personalized Search Are a Better Recommendation Engine

In January of 2011 Google put through a major update to their privacy agreement with users. Previously there was a separate privacy policy governing each different Google product, which you tacitly agreed to by signing in and using the product. The major change was to unify the policy, to make “one policy to rule them all.” This allows them to better track your activity and relationships across all of Google, and was the necessary groundwork for S+YW to be able to function.

This means that Google can build a profile about you that is many magnitudes more subtle and complex than what Facebook has, for all the rich data that there is in Facebook. Google is developing and perfecting algorithms that analyze how you use the web and how you interact with others in your networks. All of that feeds into the personalization of your experience on Google. And ultimately it leads to the kind of useful recommendations that I showed you at the beginning of this post.

The reason Google’s approach is better is that it is coming closer and closer to personalization based on real human behavior, rather than on what we write on our profiles and what buttons we click. For example, Google can cross-reference your search history with that of people in your Google network and decide that you need to see more (or less) of each other when you’re searching.

In addition, Google discourages “gaming” of +1’s and other social signals on Google+. Brands are prohibited from running contests based on +1’ing the brand’s page or content. So the signals Google gets are more trustworthy than those Facebook seems to be relying upon.

For all these reasons Google+ is valuable to Google (and to you as a networking marketer). It is Google’s way of identifying real people and learning about them so they can more easily find the things they need.

Why Your Google Network Is So Important to You As a Marketer

If you’re in any aspect of marketing, I shouldn’t have to explain to you the value of a well-crafted network. My value proposition to you today, though, is that of all the networks you could build online, your Google+ network may be the most valuable. Why? Because the larger and more influential your Google network is, the more search results you affect.

Stop and think about that for a moment. For over ten years now getting ranked high on Google for searches that matter to your business has been the holy grail of online marketing. Savvy marketers understand the incredible value of being found in search, because people searching on Google for products or services are at the moment of intent. They are on a mission to buy something, and you want to have your business in front of them at that moment.

So what if I told you there was a way that without buying links, without employing any expensive or risky SEO strategies, you could alter in your favor the search results of thousands or even millions of people who are your potential customers? I already have: it’s the power of your Google network.

As you gain following and influence on Google+, that power spreads exponentially. That’s because the personalizing effect can reach into your extended network (the Google contacts of the people who are your Google contacts). That means that if one person who has 10,000 Google+ followers (and/or other Google contacts, such as people in her Gmail contacts) follows you, you’ve gained the ability to potentially influence the search of not just one, but 10,000 other people, most of whom don’t even know you exist!

Google Networking Strategies

If you now understand the value of your Google network, you’re ready for some practical suggestions on how to grow it strategically. By strategically, I mean not just in terms of numbers (though that’s not unimportant) but in relevant influence. Here are the ways I’ve gone about doing that:

  • Be choosy whom you circle. Mother used to tell you that you’re known by the company you keep. Of course, she was right, but in this case you need to be aware that Google knows you by the company you keep. The Google patents connected to Author Rank and semantic search inform us that Google is looking to measure individual authority not only by what the individual does and produces, but by those with whom he or she interacts the most. Cultivate relationships with the influencers in your topics.
  • Make it clear what you are about. Make it easy for people to have the right associations about you or your brand. Do this both by what you put in your profile and the content you produce and share. When people see my name, I want them to be thinking right away “Mark is an expert on Google+ for business.” Then that’s what they’ll write about me, recommend me for, and interact with me about, all of which will be signals to Google for where my influence should lie. There’s even strong speculation that Google pays attention to the names of circles you’re added to. If a lot of people add my friend Bill Gassett to circles that have “real estate” in their name, that would be a good signal to Google that he ought to rank for that in personalized results. Just don’t earn your way into a lot of people’s “spammer” circles!
  • Join active, relevant communities. Communities are the new hot spot on Google+ for becoming a useful authority to people who might never have discovered you before. In my previous Windmill post, I explained Google Plus Communities and how to use them strategically. Not only can you gain more valuable followers by being active in Communities, just as with Circles, there is speculation grounded in some interesting statements from Google staffers that Google may use the topics of Communities in which you are active and influential to affect your influence on personalized search. Do you understand now why I jumped to create the first and fastest-growing Google Authorship Community on Google+?
  • Connect with Google Authorship. Make sure everywhere you post original content online has a link back to your Google+ profile, and link to those places from the “Contributor To” section of your Google+ profile. That way Google can begin to assess your level of topical authority based on how people interact with your content across the web. This undoubtedly contributes to the signals Google uses to decide whom you should influence and for what.

Beyond those, don’t forget to “work” your Google Plus network just as you would a real life network. I’ve learned so much about this from my Virante colleague Phil Buckley. Phil almost literally knows everybody in the marketing community of the Triangle region of North Carolina, and they know and love him. He doesn’t just maintain contacts, he shows up to support others’ events, offers free help to small businesses, and is beloved for his monthly free SEO meetup, the largest in the country, according to Meetup.com. Be like Phil: make yourself useful to and beloved by your online network. They will pay you back by spreading your influence. And as we’ve seen in this post, Google will take that ball and run with it farther than you can imagine.

Mark Traphagen
This monthly Google Plus column is contributed by Mark Traphagen. Mark is Director of Social Media Marketing for Virante. A former teacher, Mark has worked directly in Internet marketing since 2005, but has been involved in social media and online community formation since the mid 1990s. When not helping Virante clients improve their online presence, Mark participates in competitive storytelling, plays with a Dixieland street band, and (surprise) spends more time on the web. +Mark Traphagen
Mark Traphagen

@marktraphagen

Social Media | SEO | Content Marketing | Online Brand Building | Personal Brand Building | Sr. Director of Online Marketing - http://t.co/nyhAqaUA2O
Getting a column in a prominent publication is great way to leverage OPA (Other People’s Audiences) http://t.co/CEsyVursfk - 5 hours ago
Mark Traphagen
Tailwind

Comments

  1. says

    Thanx for a great article. This fits perfectly with my idea of FUFISM (Functional User Friendly Integrated Social Media) which I blog about at http://4ubrand.blogspot.com

    G+ is growing stronger by the day, and getting better at predicting the aboutness of your search requests. Like you say in the article Quote ” Google can build a profile about you that is many magnitudes more subtle and complex than what Facebook has|” end Quote

    This is a powerful tool that needs careful attention to your other online efforts, especially your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) strategies and related marketing efforts.I would appreciate it if you could write something about how you integrate your G+ stuff with your SEO efforts and the potential impact of this on your SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages)

  2. says

    Great detailed post as usual Mark! I think you notice the effects of personalization more than others because of the large network of google + followers you have. I’m starting to get more involved in Google + as you can see what’s coming! Thanks for a great post.

  3. says

    Hi! This is Mark, the author of this post. I’ll be monitoring the comment stream here, so feel free to ask any questions or add any feedback you might have about this article. Thanks for reading it….and if you reshared it, we are friends for life!

  4. says

    Never understood why an article of such quality gets so many tweets, +1’s, shares, yet nobody comments on the post itself.

    Good article Mark.

    I keep reading about Search Plus Your World, and maybe I am the only person in the UK without it….but it is frustrating not to have it as I value the opinions of the people in my circles far more than I value the opinions of Google’s algorithms.

    But this really does show to me that there are a lot of people and companies who are going to rue the day they missed the boat.

  5. says

    What a powerful and incredibly useful post! Thanks for sharing this with the world, Mark. Guess what – I found this article via a Google+ recommendation on the Google search page. Point underlined :)

  6. says

    Such an easy explanation.I used to be a real estate agent first, but have found that I am now a marketer first. I have much to learn, far to go, but am learning as much as I can from people like you and Bill Gassett. Thank you!

    • says

      Andrea, so glad it was helpful to you. The realization is still coming slowly to many small business people that “we’re all marketers now.” People like Bill Gassett are leading the way in their industries. You are wise to follow his lead.

  7. says

    Mark great article. This has really helped me understand G+ on a deeper level. One thought I had when I started using Graph Search last night was, wow I need to update all my likes and make sure they are relevant. Are other people going to have the same reaction? Is facebook counting on this? What are you thoughts? Thanks

    • says

      Josh, human behavior is the hardest thing and the easiest thing (at least in mass) to predict. Based on the fact that the vast majority of Facebook users never bother to adjust their privacy settings or build Lists, my guess would be that very few will be as thoughtful and intentional about it as you are.

      At my most cynical, I think perhaps Facebook doesn’t care. As long as they can perpetuate the illusion with advertisers that people are using Graph search and giving reliable signals, they will continue to get the ad revenue.

  8. says

    Great article Mark, when people begin to see the real power and effectiveness of G+, I think we will also see a surge of new profiles appearing and those who sit on the sidelines waiting for the “ghost town” with a lot of very active ghosts in it, to come to life, will soon be kicking themselves that they didn’t take a look sooner :)

    • says

      Well said, Carol. In my selfish moods, I’m glad so many in my business still buy into the “G+ is a ghost town” or “failed network” myths. More territory that belongs to me! But seriously, I’m a believer in “there’s enough pie to go around for everyone,” and that’s why I keep sharing what I’ve learned.

  9. says

    Hi Mark,

    Thank you so much for this very helpful and insightful article. I’m curious how this can be leveraged for brands who maintain a G+ page (vs. profile) and don’t link their blog posts to authors outside of the brand.

    Do we need to change our posting process to involve individuals (and their profiles) to activate these benefits and become content authorities or does the action of us sharing our posts on our G+ page essentially do the same thing but for the brand itself?

    Any further insight into that would be much appreciated!

    Our G+ page is: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112473644790671059406/112473644790671059406/posts

    • says

      Hi greenkidscrafts! I thought I had replied to you previously, but I don’t see it here, so let me try again.

      I would highly recommend to anyone to get authoritative authors who use Google Authorship and who are known for writing about your topic areas to guest post on your site. When Author Rank kicks in, you will be way ahead of others in your vertical, because their posts will rank better in search, and their authority will flow to your site.

      To take advantage of the latter, you should link to your Google+ Page from your site, with rel=publisher attached to the link. The Google+ Badge will do that for you: https://developers.google.com/+/plugins/badge/

    • says

      Hi Gail! No, Google does not reveal the Communities that personal profiles are connected to, with one exception: If you “own” a community, your name shows up in G+ searches that show the Community. But searching by a person’s name will not bring up their Communities unless they have put their name in the About section of the Community (which is indexed for search).

      The only other Community I currently “own” is the Vine Videos Community (https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/107692731363351532560). I am a moderator or participant in too many others to mention here!

  10. says

    More inspiration to up our commitment to understanding and working with Google+. Thanks Mark for the detailed information on the benefits of the Google + Network

  11. says

    It can be true but I have some questions. If I don’t have enough friend on google+ , how can it useful for me? For exp. I have 30 friend on G+ it can’t be good for me. If I have thousand friend on g+ it can be possible.
    My question is, If anyone who use G+ search anything ( but not my friend ) can anyone find my blog? ( he / she and me use the G+ )

    ps: my english is not good but I tried. If it’s bad, I’m so sorry.

    • says

      Hi trafik, your English is good enough for me to understand. Thanks for your question!

      On Google+ the following won’t come to you (at first). You have to go out and find it and make yourself worth circling back.

      Use the search in Google+ to find people who are talking about things you are interested in, and politely enter into their conversations. Be sure to add something useful and interesting. If it looks like someone who often discusses your topic, circle them so you can see other posts they make and engage with them. After a while, people will recognize your name, know you’re worthwhile, and start circling you.

      Use the search to also find Communities on topics you’re interested in and do the same as above. After you enter a search term, use the drop down filter menu to select “Communities.”

  12. says

    I have learned more in this post about Google+ and its influence than in any other source out there so far. I have been looking at going the Google+ direction to market my clients and my sites and this gave the deciding facts.

  13. says

    Mark,

    I see your point in the Beta Phase of Graph Search. But anyone can see where Facebook is going: Mobile. Which means that just like Yelp and Four Square more and more people will be giving recommendations on Facebook Pages. “Likes” tell us something more than a blue link.(search results) Just as Bill Gassett being in personal search tells us more in Google. Check ins tell us more. Google Plus Local has check-ins too. Problem is that most old Places pages have not even been updated. Also, Google+, while gaining some ground on Facebook, has no where near the amount of active users or interaction at this point. Which means that Facebook will continue to have more business pages and check ins which means more recommendations and ratings.

    Not to mention that Facebook gives incredible insights into who is interacting with your page for free. These insights would cost thousands of dollars to have on your website. Way more meaningful and easier to use than Google Analytics.

    I look at it this way. A “Like” gets you a pool of people to try to get to interact with. As you come into the front of their mind more and more they will remember your brand. Eventually they will visit you and if you are smart you are telling people to check in. Or in my case if I am dealing with them by phone I ask them to check in. No difference in my mind in a virtual world. Once in the door hopefully my service is good enough to warrant a recommendation. If I am smart enough to ask for it then I will get it. I am not even going to get into the perils of not monitoring these recommendations and ratings for feedback on what to improve.

    All that to say this, I think you have a point about “likes” not telling as much as you think they would. But I feel that you leave out the fact that check-in and recommendations do. Not to mention ratings on the “Nearby” function. Do you really think more people check in on Google Plus local now than Facebook? If not then there is no way that Google has better information. Facebook is just getting started on this too and all the experts that I have read see Graph Search as a mobile play not so much a desktop play. The fact that they limit the size of your custom page tab photos now for upload speed would seem to indicate that.

    I think Four Square and Yelp could be in trouble. One or the other or maybe both. A crappy search function was all that was holding Facebook back. I also think if they can make it so your recommendations and check-ins do not automatically go on your timeline it will help them too. No one wants all that on their Time Line. Then it comes down to Google+ Local and Facebook for check in and recommendations.(I see Yelp surviving because of Apple and SIRI) but as a third more upscale option) I think it will be interested because Google has the phones and glasses is coming. But Facebook said from Day One when Plus was announced that it has the information and user base. From real people not search histories.

    Meaning that if location based mobile search is going to move beyond Restaurants and similar things to everything(Yelp already has an everything search) Facebook will probably make that happen because everyone is on it. That is how things are adopted mainstream. When that happens look out because businesses will be going under left and right because they never dealt with their hidden flaws and the world will see them.

    Great post with a lot of great points but we need to get past this whole “like” argument and talk about tips, reviews, and recommendations. Let alone when they are shared on Facebook and friends can see. Not a lot of that going on in Google+.

  14. says

    I’m curious is anyone sees a lot of checking in happening on Facebook. I have over 800 “friends” and I see very little checkin activity. I think once again it’s a function that FB provides but people don’t use, because it’s now what they think of Facebook for. We’ll see ;-)

  15. says

    Thanks a lot for these Google+ tips!
    I’ve also noticed that my Google search is different when I log in to G+!
    Like the idea of personalization in Google search! That’s truly great opportunity to expand influence (number of followers has major role indeed)!
    Like you said people on Facebook will less likely search for something on FB!
    They will use Google! And that’s one of the reasons why G+ is very important!

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