Google recently released a beta program called Google +1 for a fortunate few to test. The program is a new social media platform, and invites were sent out in the past two weeks. The response was so positive that Google’s servers had to shut down, and only last week did the smoke clear enough to allow new invitees on board.
So why did Google dive into the social media game when Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter seem to have it sewn up? Perhaps the best answer is because they could. Based on the early popularity it appears they made the right move. But why should I add yet another platform to my online marketing efforts? Two reasons come to mind.
First off, Google +1 handles your social network differently than all the rest by allowing you to form and invite others to “circles” of friends. Your default options for circles are friends, acquaintances, family, and following, but you can add your own custom circle. Google already has your contacts handy if you’re a gmail user, and it will show you who’s on the service automatically. You simply drag that contact to whichever circle you’d like.
What’s the point? Have you ever been nosy about a person on Facebook, but didn’t really want to be their friend? Or maybe you just wanted to share a post to a certain group of people like your fellow DUI or bankruptcy attorneys. Circles allow you to do just that. Gone are the days of the take ’em or leave ’em approach to friends. If you place someone interesting to you in a circle, they’ll be notified of your add, but they won’t know which circle your put them in, and they won’t automatically be reciprocating. I.E. they don’t have to be friends with you in return. They’ll be able to see whatever profile info you’d like them to see.
The true benefit to circles lies in your ability to share information with certain people. For example most attorney pages on Facebook get little traffic and not too many people care when you post the “Top 10 Ways to Beat a DUI”. People, like your preacher or cousin, probably don’t want to hear it, but since they liked your office page on Facebook they’re stuck with it unless they de-friend your or hide your posts.
Not so with circles. Law firms that embrace this technology will be able to share news about cases and DUIs with clients and colleagues, while sharing pics of their birthday parties with friends and family. The end result in my opinion is a much more streamlined social media environment where pertinent information on a subject is easier to find, not buried in Farmville crap!
The second benefit, and one probably less understood at this point, is the SEO benefits of Google +1. Google has always used your search history and social media trends to tailor its search results to your needs, but once you’re a +1 member you’ll see a “+1” button beside every search result in Google if you’re signed into your +1 account. This button looks like the image above, and when you click it your telling your circles and Google that you believe this site or search engine result has value regarding the terms you were searching.
What does that mean for SEO? Nobody fully knows at this point, but I tested out the idea recently in a legal listserv. I asked all the fellow members to +1 my site when they could. I also added a +1 button to my site. This feature was deactivated by Google due to server overload, and I have yet to replace it. The result? In less than a week my site went from page four to the fourth result on page one for the search terms “Gadsden DUI Lawyer”, and the fifth spot of page one for “Gadsden DUI Attorney”. That’s a huge jump for less than a week’s time. How huge? Prior to optimizing my site correctly for SEO and content-based versus a profile type page I spent a year and some change about 15 pages deep in search results. After properly formatting my site and changing my whole internet marketing focus, I made a move to page four or five in about two months. The plus one button let me jump to page one in about three days!
It’s too early to tell where Google + will take us, but for attorneys serious about social marketing and SEO, I don’t think we can afford not to get involved. I’m not talking about dipping one toe in. I mean diving in and staking your claim to the new space. Now is the time to establish yourself in this new territory. Manifest destiny and all that aside, Google + is gearing up to be the place to reinvent ourselves as the new experts in our fields with meaningful, attentive circles of people, and a new, more effective way to get our knowledge and message out there.