Where SEM Is Concerned, Google+ Appears To Be Alive And Well

Last week saw a flurry of speculation on the future of Google+ after the head of Google+, Vic Gundotra, announced his departure. Google-questionThe question raised most often is whether Google+ is going away.

Although some are reporting that G+ will kill the product side, the platform (in terms of data collection and unique user sign-ins) is sure to stay — but in what capacity?

Several recent changes to Google+ (which don’t indicate a dying or ignored product) either have SEM significance or indicate an effort to make G+ more integral to Google’s advertising products.

Move away from the idea of Google+ as a Facebook challenger and consider the idea of Google+ as an advertising factor, and you can start to see the platform’s future take shape.

The User & Targeting Data

Google used the G+ platform to unify all its logins, so each user has a unique “ID” with Google that spans your devices and all of Google’s products. From this perspective, G+ has 540 million monthly users that interact with G+ content in some way. In terms of sheer user accounts, the number is over 1.5 billion.

This unified login facilitates collecting huge amounts of valuable data on a user level, across multiple screens and multiple products. This collected data ranges from the photos that Android users take on their phones to the contextual signals in your Gmail inbox to the locations you’ve used Google maps to get to.

This data is a huge component of Google’s always-expanding GDN targeting – it drives the ability for savvy marketers to target people that are, say, “shopaholics” or in-market for life insurance.

The unified logins are the technology that tracks the cross-device component of the estimated total conversion column in AdWords. Google is also testing location tracking for the “store visits” component of Estimated Total Conversions, which also relies on this cross-device data capability.

Though the exact direction of estimated total conversions is unclear, Google reiterated plans for continued investment in developing the metric in the April 22nd #StepIntoAdWords announcement. Whatever this further development will be is likely dependent on the unified unique IDs that are a part of Google+.

Social Annotations

As of April 1st, social annotation extensions are no longer on the AdWords extension tab, but they are attached automatically by Google to your AdWords ads. The data can still be extracted via segments in other reporting. I recently analyzed the impact of the Google+ social annotation on a few client accounts and found some surprising results.

Both before and after Google’s switch to automatically including these, for eligible accounts, 50% to 60% of Google search top position impressions appear with the social annotation. That’s a lot of valuable eyeballs!

I also found on some accounts that CTR is negatively impacted by the extension showing. The commonality of those accounts is that they have relatively small numbers of Google+ followers.

Bottom line: growing your G+ followers can positively impact your CTRs and, in turn, your CPCs.

This move to automatically including the social annotations indicates that Google values these social endorsements and their impact in assisting with defining ad quality. Savvy advertisers will make sure that they are encouraging follows to take advantage of this; at the baseline you need 100 followers for these to show, but more follows may correlate with better CTRs.

G+ Pages For Business

AdWords Express campaigns are “AdWords light” for SMBs with a physical location. Google encourages these advertisers to use their Google+ page as a destination URL on their ads.

Sure, it’s a bit self-serving, but the information and format of the Google+ local business page is better than most amateurish or outdated web pages that local SMBs tend to have. The relevant consumer information (phone number, hours, location) is all right at hand, easy to update when needed, and functional for clicking-to-call or clicking to get Google Maps directions. This is all functionality that most consumers desire.

Larger advertisers wouldn’t use Google+ as their destination URL, but their Google+ page still feeds information to their ads – not just with social annotations but also via location extensions and user reviews.

Google +Post Ads

One thing that AdWords has never been good at is marketing short-term promotions and events. The hurdles of getting static banner creative made and approved in time and getting sufficient impressions to be meaningful around a sale or other short promotion were all limits to driving lots of interest. The recent roll-out of Google +Post ads solves that.

The content itself is dynamic and can address time-limited messaging. However, for now there is no “dark post” option for these promoted posts (like Facebook PMDs can facilitate in FB). Taking advantage of the format requires timely and meaningful updates of your Google+ content.

Additionally, this is only available to advertisers with 1,000 or more followers on the platform. It’s another incentive for brands to invest in their Google+ strategy and an indicator from Google that they are still valuing the platform.

Google +Post promotions also come with a host of new reporting metrics: +1s, Shares, Comments, Follows, Earned Impressions and Earned Social actions (check out your new column options). This represents a new way of looking at AdWords; you’ve got your typical CPC metrics mashed-up with social advertising and content advertising metrics.

The new metrics indicate that this isn’t simply a tool for more visual and dynamic creative (like dynamic remarketing) but also Google entering into new kinds of advertising altogether. Again, this is an unlikely move for a dying piece of the company.

We’ve already seen Google+ content appearing in lots of places within the Google ecosystem. Searches for people and brands return Google+ content within widgets:


Click to enlarge.

The Related Pages Widget in Gmail complements emails with the latest Google+ updates from the associated company and encourages follows and +1’s. It’s also the only way (aside from actual email) that marketing messages appear in Google Apps mail boxes since regular AdWords ads were eliminated in late 2011:


Click to enlarge.

YouTube comments and Google local reviews are powered by Google+ — all of these drive the 540 million “users” who don’t actually visit the Google+ pages, but interact with the content.

The addition of the Google +Post ads stretches that content beyond the Google ecosystem into (more or less) the whole internet. Will Google+ go away? Perhaps the Google+ brand will. The news feed pages might too; if this is the case, I’d expect the same content to creep further into personalized SERPs, Google Now cards, the GDN and Gmail.

Recent updates like automatic inclusion of the social annotation, promoted posts advertising and the new visible view counts (the precursor to true analytics?) are not the markers of a dying product. There may be some big changes ahead, but the indication is that those changes will make Google+ more important to advertisers, not less.

If you are a digital marketer, it’s time to start paying more attention to your Google+ strategy. Those who dismiss it will end up behind the curve. 

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