Guest blog post by Steve Abramowitz, senior digital marketing manager
If you haven’t already heard, this week, Google announced plans to incorporate results from its upstart social network, Google+, into search results. Why is Google making this move, and what impact will it have on users — and most importantly, why should small businesses and organizations take notice?
How does it work?
In Google’s ongoing quest to personalize search results for higher relevancy, it will soon be folding in personal social content into your search results. In addition, Google’s algorithm will now rely more on social signals (specifically, +1's) to influence how and where websites, blogs, photos, videos, and other digital assets rank in search results. For example, check out this screen shot:
When you perform a search on Google, such as the one above, if you're signed into a Google+ account, then you'll see the standard universal search results you're accustomed to and ones from your Google+ account (such as photos and videos). The personal results will be identified by an icon resembling a person's head. Only you will see your own personalized search results, but content you've shared within your Google Circles could populate in other people's results. You can also opt out of having your shared content included in search results.
Why is Google doing this?
The answer comes down to this equation: Relevance + Engagement + Loyalty = Revenue. Simply put, Google wants you to stay on their website longer. Like all other websites, including those that serve ads, increasing the "stickiness" by engaging people with content, tools, or technology increases repeat visits and eventually translates into revenue.
Peeling back the onion a bit, a number of factors drove this initiative. One, however, is rooted in the evolution of consumer purchase behavior that's influenced by the wide adoption of social media. Before social media, search engines enjoyed a more direct digital pathway from search to purchase, with a few external sources, such as word-of-mouth or online reviews, influencing a purchase.
Fast forward to today and the path includes stops on social media sites to gain peer reviews and insights. Last year, a GroupM study called The Virtuous Circle: The Role of Search and Social Media in the Purchase Pathway found that almost 60% of consumers began their path to a purchase with a search. Of those, 40% then went to Facebook or another social site for information related to their purchase decision. In addition, while on a social site, consumers may have clicked on a paid advertisement for a product, thus closing the deal. In those cases, the sale would be credited to that social network, which reduced the perceived value of the search engine.
Suffice it to say, Google took notice of this and decided to make a change.
Although it took years of development and failed attempts, imagine if you could perform a search, receive regular and personal results, and have it backed by social influence — all in one place. Welcome to the new Google Search+.
Why should you care?
More of your customers, clients, members, or prospects have and will be exposed to Google Search+ by virtue of their existing search habits. (Not to mention the on- and offline media, advertising, and general social buzz.) Chances are good that many more people will eventually join Google+ (some predictions are in the hundreds of millions by the end of 2012). However, it's still to be determined to what degree those people will actively engage in Google+ when they’re already using other social media sites. Either way, search results will soon be influenced by Google+ activity, so you’ll want to pay some attention.
As a small business, what should you do?
Get in the game. Google is now a search engine with a self-fulfilling engagement platform. Those who actively participate on Google+ have a better chance of getting in front of their target audience via search results. As consumers begin to adopt and favor personalized search results via Google+, those brands and businesses that engage on Google+ will have an advantage over those who don't.
Ask and listen to your customers or prospects (on- and offline) about whether they're using Google+. If they are, then you should be too. Even if they’re not currently active, get ahead of the curve and set up a Google+ business page. (You’ll need to have a personal account first). Build out your profile, add the +1 button to your website, and share the page with your contacts. As with anything, the more you put into it more you’ll get in return.
Full disclosure: As a digital marketer who recently launched a small family-run business, Google+ was not a top priority for me. However, during the development of this post it became clear to me that it should become one of my many priorities. Google+ is another means to get in front of and engage with customers and prospects in a familiar environment, using tools they’re already accustomed to. Earlier today, I set up a Google+ business page and am in the process of adding the +1 button to our website, alongside the Like and Follow Us badges.
What do you think? Are you using Google+? Does this change to Google Search make you more likely to sign up and use the social network? Share your thoughts here or on our Facebook Page.
Martin Lieberman is Constant Contact's managing editor. He develops blog posts, articles, guides, and more about email marketing, social media marketing, event marketing, and online survey best practices, as well as small business and engagement marketing trends. Martin has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing content for a variety of audiences. Martin's tips, ideas, and solutions help small businesses and organizations build successful customer and member relationships. Follow Martin on Twitter at @martinlieberman.