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Google+ for Small Business

Google+ debuted in mid-2011 to much fanfare, as the search giant sought to enter the social media landscape. Many people believed initially that Google+ was intended as an answer to Facebook — and by that measure, it wasn’t exactly a roaring success. It’s true that Google+ has some surface similarities to Facebook. But Google+ has its own distinct character, and its benefits go far beyond what meets the eye – and in many ways, far beyond what Facebook can offer, especially for business purposes. Here’s a rundown of what Google+ is, and why it’s an increasingly important part of online promotion for your business.

Why is Google+ important?

All social media have certain purposes or strengths, which could be summarized briefly as follows:

  • Facebook – keeping up with family and friends.
  • Twitter – following news.
  • Pinterest – creating virtual scrapbooks.
  • LinkedIn – professional networking.

By contrast, Google+ is about establishing expertise and credibility. Simply stated, Google assumes that businesses and individuals who use G+ are more credible than those who don’t (much more about this later), and gives them higher priority in online searches under some circumstances. That’s the biggest reason businesses can no longer afford to ignore it. A crucial distinction between G+ and all other social media (which are essentially stand-alone platforms) — G+ is completely integrated into Google and its impressive list of products, including:

  • Google search
  • Gmail
  • Google Maps
  • YouTube
  • Picasa

In fact, in 2012 Google changed its privacy policies and terms of service for each of these products so that when you log into one, you’re logged into all of them for which you have a user account. So, for example, if you use Gmail and have a G+ profile, you’re automatically logged into G+ whenever you’re using your e-mail — even if you are not active on G+. Further, if you have a G+ account and go to Google’s home page to perform a search, you’re logged in unless you take the time to log yourself out. This enables Google to give you personalized search results. Understanding this is a crucial part of why G+ is important, as we’ll see below.

The basics of G+

G+ is a bit like Facebook in that you establish a personal profile and a business profile, from which you give and get “likes” in the form of +1’s. Special features of G+ as a platform include:

Circles: G+ really got it right by forcing personal and business users to categorize any individual or business page you +1 into a “circle,” or list, from the beginning. This enables you to view and sort your newsfeed by circles. This may not seem important now, as G+ is still a relatively new platform, and most users have not circled that many people. But circles allow G+ to neatly sidestep a major problem with Facebook – an overly crowded news feed — that has only gotten worse as Facebook users gain more friends and “like” more Pages. This feature also means content on G+ can be much more targeted — if you want to post something that’s only of interest to a certain subset of people, you can make a post that’s visible only to a specific circle.

Note that circles are for your categorization purposes only. No one you +1 can see the name of the circle you have placed them in, so you can call the circles whatever you want.

Communities: Communities on virtually every subject are available on G+. Joining communities and posting to them is a great way to interact with experts and enthusiasts on virtually any topic, from social media to crafting to web coding to European history. In fact, G+ is probably the best of the available social networks for connecting with new people about a shared professional or personal interest.

Hangouts: G+ has a sophisticated “hangout” feature with several options — people can chat by text only, have a private video chat with up to 10 people, or have an “on air” hangout that can be broadcast live over YouTube (which is also owned by Google).

Local pages: Even if your company has never been active on G+, your company probably already has a local business page that’s integrated with Google maps (don’t believe us? Log into Google+ and look)! Again, the key feature of G+ is that it’s integrated into all Google products, including maps and search.

Other special features of G+ include G+ events (if you RSVP to one, it shows up automatically on your Google Calendar), sophisticated photo editing capabilities and more.

How to set up a Google+ presence for yourself

G+ is similar to Facebook in that you must have a personal profile to establish a business page. If you use any Google product, log in. If not, go to Google and click on “create an account” at the bottom of the page, and follow the on-screen instructions. Once you’re logged into your existing or new Google account, go to Google+, and click on “create profile.” From there, setting up a personal profile is pretty self-explanatory – just follow the prompts.

It’s a good idea to take Google’s suggestion to find people you might know who are already on Google+, and you’ll also receive a list of suggested users that Google thinks you might find interesting. Google will give you default circles to sort people into, such as “Friends,” “Family,” “Acquaintances,” and so on, but you can rename these and/or create some of your own – “College Friends,” “Hobby People,” or whatever. When you add someone to a circle, they’ll get a notification that you did so – but again, they won’t be told the name of the circle.

How to set up a Google+ presence for your business

Now that you’re on G+ and have a sense of how it works, you can create your business page. First, visit Create a Page on Google+. You’ll be asked to choose a category:

  • Product or Brand
  • Company, Institution or Organization
  • Local Business or Place
  • Arts, Entertainment or Sports
  • Other

In the vast majority of cases, the Local, Business or Place category is better for small businesses because it allows Google to connect with your physical business location through Google Maps. In fact, as of this writing Google will not verify any other category besides local businesses. (Verification is signified by a little check mark by your business name on the page, and means that Google certifies that the page is actually you). Again, your business is probably already present in G+ if you have a physical location – enter your information at the prompt, and if you see your business name, select it from the drop-down menu. If not, enter in the relevant details and hit submit.

Either way, you’ll be prompted to enter your phone number for verification, or if that’s impractical you can ask Google to send a postcard. You’ll receive a code, which you type in to complete the verification process. From there, fill in all the relevant information. Create and upload a header graphic and profile photo (here is a good guide to graphic dimensions for the most commonly-used social media). Search for friends and business associates on G+, and “circle” them (G+ will give you a default list of circles for business use, which you can rename and/or add to).

Make sure you have a G+ button on your website, and enable the “Publisher” tag. This helps Google to connect your G+ page and your business website. When people search on your company name, they’ll get a large box with your G+ page’s most recent update in their SERP (search engine results page) — like this — essentially, a large ad for your business!

You may need the assistance of whoever set up your website to do this– essentially, a short bit of code is inserted into the website coding. Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool can verify that Publisher has been set up correctly. As with Facebook, it’s possible to designate multiple individuals as managers on a G+ company profile, so that more than one person can make posts and interact with others as the company profile.

Personal vs. company pages

G+ is about establishing expertise -- so your goals are to establish expertise for yourself, and for your company. The degree to which these goals overlap depend on your career goals as an individual, and on your position within your company.

Learning to use Google+ can be a little more challenging than some other social networks. Further, for many people, determining how to navigate using both personal and company G+ pages is a little more daunting than it is on Facebook (in part because the functionality of Facebook company Pages is comparatively limited, so there’s less to learn there). Which should you spend more time on — your personal account, or your business account?

When considering this issue, keep in mind that G+ is about establishing expertise — so your goals are to establish expertise for yourself, and for your company. The degree to which these goals overlap depend on your career goals as an individual, and on your position within your company. Generally, establishing personal expertise on G+ through your personal profile (see the Authorship section for more about this, below) helps your own career while also adding credibility for your company (obviously, the latter effect is strengthened if you are the company founder or CEO, especially if your last name is part of the company name).

At the same time, you should also post as your company, and interact with others as your company. Remember, it’s your company page that’s connected to Google Maps — which is especially important if you’re trying to drive customers to your location — and it’s your company you want people to find in Google search. You may find, however, that it’s easier to collect followers on your personal profile than your company page, and it’s not hard to understand why — most people would rather talk to another person than to an institution or business.

Now what?

First learn how to toggle back and forth in G+ between your personal and business page.

Get comfortable with the platform and using your business page. You’ll notice very quickly that you can do a lot more with a G+ business page than you can with Facebook – Facebook, for example, does not allow business pages to post on an individual user’s timeline, comment to an individual user, or “like” an individual user (or +1 them, to use G+ terminology). But business pages can do all of those things in G+. That said, in G+, “timelines” don’t exist in quite the same way as they do in Facebook – when you want to make a post on someone’s page, you simply add their name (and other names or circles, or “public,” if you wish) in the “to” box. They will get a notification — and if they are the only person you post to, the post remains private, between you and the recipient only.

Search communities and join the ones you find interesting as your business page. In the beginning especially, posting to communities is vitally important. Remember, your “public” posts only show up in the news feeds of people who follow you, and it takes awhile to build your follower list (although public posts are searchable by everyone on G+). Joining communities (and then making posts and responding to others’ posts) is an important way of interacting on G+, getting your content out there, and gaining followers – this is not Facebook, where business pages have very little ability to interact with individual users! For example, posting to a community with 5,000 members will get more eyeballs on your post than if you have 100 followers and post publicly.

Find relevant people and organizations to follow. Spend some time on G+ finding relevant people, organizations, and companies to circle — many of them may circle you back. Look for nearby businesses, industry leaders, clients, prospects, mainstream media, industry publications, friends, and vendors.

Make sure you understand how circles work. The concept of circles is a little confusing. Posting to a specific circle does not push the content out to people in the circle – instead, it limits those who can see it to only people in the circle, just as posting to an individual is private, visible to you and that individual only. That said, if you post something only to a specific circle, you’ll have the option of checking a box that says, “Also send an email notification.” This might sound like a good idea, but do not do this unless members of the circle have asked to receive e-mail when you post — it’s considered spam.

Respond to others’ content, and engage with people. Ask questions, make comments, hit +1 when you see something you find interesting. “Tag” (by typing the @ sign in front of their name) the original poster in responses to make sure they get a notification. Interact with relevant people who have a lot of followers — they might just respond, and there’s evidence that your profile gains authority, or PageRank, when high-authority profiles follow you, +1 your content, or mention you.

Give credit where credit is due. If you post a link to an interesting article, tag the author and publication in your post. Add a comment explaining why the article was so interesting, or chime in with an insight of your own. Acknowledge particularly relevant comments on your posts, and again, tag the person who commented to ensure they receive a notification. Doing so is not only good G+ etiquette, but also helps generate the interactions you’re looking for.

Use hashtags in your post. #Hashtags are a feature adopted from Twitter that allows G+ users to search posts on specific keywords that are hashtagged. In fact, G+ will usually assign them for you, if you don’t include a hashtag yourself.

Getting +1’s to your content increases its visibility. When someone +1’s your posts, you’ll receive a notification. People who have both you and the person who +1’d your post in their circles may also see the +1 and your post in their streams. In other words, the more you can network, the better!

Mobile apps for G+ are available. You can download free apps to access G+ for your smartphone. However, as of this writing, there’s no easy way to toggle back and forth from a personal to a business profile with the iPhone G+ app — you have to log out and log back in. You can easily toggle back and forth between multiple profiles on Android, however.

Your dashboard, follower count, and view count give you a good idea how you’re doing. The dashboard (look under the “profile” menu on the upper left of your screen) will give you information on your views over time. Your follower count is the number of people who have +1’d you and will receive your public posts in their streams (others can find your content through hashtags or search). Your view count, which is the number to the right of your follower count in the upper left of your profile, shows you how many times others have seen your content – this includes comments on others’ posts. There is also an “Insights” feature available in your profile dashboard with more detailed information.

The SEO benefits of G+

Again, Google+ is part of Google, which means it is integrated into all other Google products – especially search. The search engine optimization (SEO) benefits of being active on G+ are significant, which is untrue for any other form of social media. Here’s how it works — G+ affects the search rankings shown to people when they’re logged into Google+ (which happens automatically if they’ve signed up for Google+ and are logged into any Google product, including Gmail). If the person performing the search or anyone else in their network has followed you or “plussed” any of your content, your company name and content produced by your company will come up higher in search results than it would otherwise.

Now, that might not sound all that impressive – maybe you don’t think you know that many people who are on G+. But consider this: an estimated 500 million people have signed up for a G+ account, even if they don’t post — and many people spend their entire working day logged into Google because of Gmail or YouTube. In fact, Google makes it hard for people who use any of their products to log out, because their entire business model depends on being able to deliver search results that are personalized.

Finally, all indications are that the number of active G+ users continues to grow. In fact, some experts predict that all businesses will have a G+ page within five years. Also, it’s important to note that actual content on G+ — like posts, shares and so on — is indexed by Google search.

Google Authorship

Google Authorship helps Google connect the dots between your personal G+ profile and content you publish elsewhere on the Internet, in your company blog or online media of any kind – just as Google Publisher connects your company website with your company G+ presence. Google Authorship used to mean that if an article you wrote appeared in a search engine results page (SERP), your byline would appear with a thumbnail image of your G+ profile photo, along with your follower count — this increased click-through rates as much as 30%.

However, Google recently began restricting author photographs to well-established authors, and in late June 2014 Google announced that this “rich snippet” would disappear. (Exception: the author photo may still appear in a user’s SERP if the author is in the user’s G+ extended network). Google’s John Mueller has said that this change is to “clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices.”

It’s unclear what the change will mean in the long term, although one expert believes that this represents the beginning of the next phase of Authorship, and that early adopters may be rewarded. Regardless, there are still concrete benefits to enabling Google Authorship. G+ users who have enabled Authorship will still receive a byline, while others may not. Also, there are search engine optimization benefits to utilizing Google Authorship. If the person performing the search or anyone else in their network has circled you or +1’d your content, they may see you and your topics appear above other search results as a direct result of that connection.

To get Google Authorship set up, you must first have a personal G+ profile with a recognizable headshot as your profile photo. Then, go to the “About” section in your profile and add the URL of your company site, and any other site(s) you create content for, in the “Contributor To” section. You also must make sure the content you authored on your website can be identified as such by Google. First, make sure a byline with your name appears on each page of your content. If your e-mail address is on the same domain as your content, you’re almost done – just submit your e-mail address to Google, here.

If your e-mail address is not on the same domain as your content, you may require the help of your website developer by enabling the authorship tag (more about how to proceed can be found here). You can test that Google Authorship has been set up correctly by entering a page of your website you have authored into Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool (here’s an example of a result).

The future of Google+

In the past few months, there has been wild speculation about the future of G+, generated by the departure of Vic Gundotra, one of G+’s chief architects. A widely-quoted blog post in TechCrunch even predicted that Google would kill off G+ entirely. However, most experts believe this to be unlikely, as G+ is so integrated with Google’s entire suite of products – although some predict that there are some changes to come in how G+ is branded and marketed.

Like all social media, G+ will continue to evolve — in fact, the change in benefits associated with Google Authorship (elimination of the author photo and circle count) is so recent that it required us to re-record a portion of this podcast. But no matter what, the most important feature of G+ won’t change — it’s part of Google itself. The data Google gains from people’s use of all its products, including G+, is incredibly valuabledwarfing even what Facebook knows about us. Clearly, Google has huge plans for the future.

This podcast dates from July 2014. For a July 2015 update on G+, visit here.

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