I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning from all of the articles and editorials about Google’s incorporation of Google+ content and other personalized search results. While there’s lots of conversation about whether the changes are good or bad for Google and the future of search, whether Google is opening themselves up to more anti-trust investigation, and whether Google was simply too late to the social media game to make a difference, I’m going to leave those arguments to others. I’m more interested in the potential opportunities and challenges for marketers that this integration of search and social presents.
- It may give marketers an additional metric to track for social media. Google will be surfacing your brand’s Google+ social content directly into personalized results, for consumers who’ve added you to their circles. These search results may also include content that a consumer’s friends posted about you. That means qualified clicks on your social content—and that means possibly tracking how much search traffic you generate to your own sites through social marketing.
- It may provide a concrete answer to the question, “What are the benefits of amassing a huge social media audience?” This is a question I get asked a lot from marketers who have a large social fan base, but haven’t figured out what to do with it. Well there’s potentially a clear benefit with Google+ content in Google search: if your brand is in more circles, there’s the potential for more engagement, and more engagement may lead to more personalized search results from and about your brand.
- Accelerating growth for your social audience. Make no mistake: one major benefit to Google of this change is that it should increase Google+ usage from its over 60 million members. As good personalized search results are exposed, it should spur more engagement, and more engagement should spur more user acquisition for Google+, and those new users will create more content and the virtuous circle should continue. If that’s the case, marketers may be reaching very large audiences on Google+ in the near future…
- …But accelerating the growth of your social audience depends on that activity picking up. Many people have noted that though there are more than 60 million members of Google+, usage of the service doesn’t seem to be taking off yet. For the virtuous circle to happen, good content and engagement has to be created in the first place—by both brands and users.
- Brands will now have to get serious about being social content marketers, not just chatterboxes. Friendly conversations are nice, but they won’t drive search results. You’ll need to think about the topics you’re writing about, the links you’re posting, and the photos you’re uploading to ensure that you’re truly adding value.
- All this great content will need to be relevant to your users. To make sure that your social content shows up in search, you’ll have to be just as smart about clarity in your Google+ posts as you are with other kinds of content. And those photos that you’re uploading? Make sure the filenames are explanatory and descriptive, too.
As I said, these opportunities and challenges are all hypothetical at the moment. We don’t yet know if Google users will be drawn in or repelled by their personalized search experiences. But today, I think it makes sense for marketers who have the resources, to test more carefully-crafted content and see what results they get. This is a brand new development, so it wouldn’t make sense to shift resources away from social programs that are already successful. But if your team has bandwidth for experimentation, I think this is a pretty good use for it. That way, you’ll be ready if it turns out Google’s users love the personalized experience.
And if those users do fall in love with the new features, I think there are two important possibilities for the future of social/search integration. Much has already been said about the fact that Google is incorporating only its own social content, at least partially due to the limitations of data provided by other social networks. If Google is able to convert their dominating search user-base into social searchers, the other social networks may be forced to loosen the reins on their closed systems and allow the search giant to index their data. But Google currently owns only the search space. The other possibility is that the dominating social network (Facebook, obviously) will decide to build its own search engine and bring its social graph right along with it. Either way, I don’t think Google’s changes are bringing the Google vs. Facebook fight any closer to a conclusion. It just makes it more complicated than the simple feature one-up-man-ship we’ve seen so far.
So there’s my take. But what do you think brands should do? Wait and see? Test and learn? Dive right in? Sound off in the comments.