What if you could almost guarantee a first-page search results to a highly targeted audience? With Google+, you can!
I’ve collected hundreds of examples over the past two years of how Google+ content can show up in search, but the most powerful examples are always in personalized search. Since early 2012 Google has had as its default a highly-personalized version of search for users with a Google+ account. Among the many features of personalized search is the possibility for content to get significantly elevated rankings when it is shared or engaged with by people in your Google network (in your Google+ circles or Gmail contacts).
Lately, it seems to me like Google has enhanced the power of direct Google+ content in personalized search. I’d like to share with you a particularly interesting example:
This weekend my wife and I stayed in the lovely town of Marietta, Pennsylvania. I’m an architecture freak, so I couldn’t wait to get out to take some photos of the beautifully-preserved 19th-century homes there.
That night I posted those photos on Google+ with the title “Marietta PA Homes.” I wasn’t intending to do a search test, but it occurred to me the next day that “marietta pa homes” would be a valuable keyword for someone doing local real estate in east-central Pennsylvania.
The Search Test
I did a search logged out of Google, and of course my post was nowhere to be seen. Too much competition.
But…I then logged in with Eric Enge’s Google account (he allows me access because of work I do for him) and did the same search. Because Eric has me circled on Google+, he got the result you see above. I’m #2 for him for this highly competitive keyword.
Notice that not only did my Google+ content get very highly elevated in rankings for his search, but it also stands out with an author photo and byline. Even though Google removed all author photos from regular search in late June 2014, they still show author photos for Google+ posts from people and brands you have in your circles.
I call that a pretty amazing result for a commercially competitive keyword in a market where I have no previous claims and no particular influence!
If you were selling real estate in Marietta PA, wouldn’t you want that kind of influence in search?
How Far of an Effect?
Over the rest of the weekend, I asked people on Google+ to search for “marietta pa homes” while logged in to their Google accounts. Dozens did so and reported their results to me.
In almost every case, if the person had me circled, they saw this same result: my Google+ post on their first page of results. In most of those cases, my result was outranking powerful sites like Zillow.com and Homes.com for that keyword.
Extended Reach. But wait, there’s more! A few users who didn’t have me circled told me that they still got an elevated result for my content because someone they did have circled had reshared my post. In that case, Google was picking up the keyword in my original post (which was embedded in the reshared post) and elevating it because of the social graph of the re-sharer.
Here’s an example of that:
This is a search I did using Eric Enge’s Google+ account this morning. William Rock had shared my post a day after I posted it. Because Eric has William circled, William’s re-share of my post now also shows highly elevated (at #3 position) in Eric’s personalized search results. If Eric did not have me in his circles, it is likely he would still have access to my content via William Rock’s share in his search.
What About Google+ Brand Pages?
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Good news! Since late June 2014, Google has been elevating branded “publishership” results for brands in a searcher’s circles for the brand’s relevant Google+ content. For example, I have Extra Space Storage circled on Google+. When I searched today for “RV storage tips” while logged in to my Google+ account, I got this result at #4:
Notice the Google Authorship-style image with the brand’s logo and its brand name “byline.” Eye-catching! And since I already had some familiarity with Extra Space Storage (enough for me to circle them on Google+), I’m more likely to click on that result.
How Can Businesses Use Google+ Personalized Search Power?
This Google+ personalized search power comes from being active on Google+ and finding ways to entice people in your market to follow you there. Once they’ve circled you, you can have this kind of influence on their search results when they search while logged in to their accounts.
In my testing I’ve noticed a few factors that make these types of results more likely to show up for searchers who have you in their Google networks:
- Keywords in the title. Google treats the first line of a Google+ post like the title tag on a regular web page. You are more likely to get shown as a search result if the searcher’s query is in your first line.
- Relational relevancy. The closer Google sees your relationship with the person who posted or shared the content on Google+, the more likely it is to be elevated in your search. By “relevancy” I mean that the person appears higher in the “relevancy” sort of your Google+ circle members. We don’t know all that goes into Google’s determination of relevancy, but two things that seem to affect it are whether the person is in your Gmail contacts, and how much you engage with that person on Google+. The latter means that it is important that you incentivize engagement with your Google+ followers.
- Type of post. Posts are most likely to show in personalized search if they are not re-shares of other people’s content. As shown above, for some reason reshares can rank for keywords in the shared Google+ content, but are less likely to rank for keywords in the re-sharer’s own post. We’ve also seen that posts that have a featured link share (where the link appears as a thumbnail image and title below the post) are less likely to show up in search. If you want to rank for a share of a link, we recommend creating an image share for the Google+ post and putting the link you want to share in the text of your post rather than in the link share box.
Isn’t This a Pretty Limited Search Effect?
An objection at this point may be that since this only works with personalized search, its effectiveness as a search strategy is limited.
This is true, but you should always keep in mind that the most effective search strategy isn’t always just showing up for as many searchers as possible. It can be vastly more important to show up for targeted searchers; that is, for searchers who are more likely to want to see your content. Those who have at one time or another added you to a Google circle or to their Gmail contacts are certainly more likely to be in that group.
When those people are doing searches relevant to what your brand is about, wouldn’t you want to be pushed up in their results for free?
How to Take Advantage of the Google+ Personalized Search Effect
Here are my top takeaways if you want to use this to your best advantage:
- Have properly set up Google+ personal profiles and brand pages. If you have a local business, make sure to create a local Google My Business Page for each location of your business. If you are an online or trans-local business, set up a non-local Google+ brand page and cross-link it (make your official site the primary URL for the page, and link back from the home page of that site to your Google+ page). If possible, also make use of your personal profile, and those of any employees or associates who are willing.
- Work to gain Google+ followers. How to do that is beyond the scope of this post, but a primary tactic should be to create great content directly on Google+, then share those posts elsewhere to get people to see the value of your G+ page and make them want to follow it. Include a call to action in your shares asking them to circle you on Google+. Be sure to feature a link to your Google+ page prominently on your site and in communications such as your brand newsletters. In my recent MozCon presentation I outlined a strategy for bringing in new followers from outside Google+ using expert Hangouts.
- Incentivize engagement. Work hard to get engagement with others on Google+. Regularly post really useful content, and optimize those posts to make them more likely to be shared on Google+ (use great images, bolded headlines, extended content). Ask for engagement: ask an open-ended question or encourage resharing.
Bonus: Hangout Show Alerts for Brands in Search!
Updating the post because my friend Ben Fisher just spotted another great Google+ feature for brands: Alerts for Live Hangout Shows in search. Read his post and analysis at that link.
If your brand is hosting a live Hangout On Air event Google may now show this type of alert in search when people search for your brand:
The alert appears up to three hours before the scheduled event time and remains until the end of the live event. Clicking anywhere on it takes you to the event page.