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.
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:
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:
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
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.