January 17, 2011
By Mitch Joel
MONTREAL – Last July, I wrote about Google’s latest foray into online social networking. At the time, the majority of the discourse surrounding Google+ was about whether it would be able to compete in a Facebook world. At the time, Facebook had 750 million registered users and now is on course to hit 1 billion users by August. While it still seems like nothing can stop the Facebook juggernaut when it comes to connecting us, there’s no denying Google+ is making some interesting moves and inroads. It’s the kind of motion that should make businesses stand up and pay serious attention.
The growth of Google+ has been more impressive than most people realize. On Dec. 27, Business Insider reported that Google+ is adding more than 600,000 new users a day and projected that it would have nearly 300 million users by the end of 2012 if growth stays the same. With growth currently accelerating, Google+ could reach more than 400 million users by year’s end, it reported. The mistake would be to simply stack that data against Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to see how it compares in terms of growth, but that’s for the tech nerds to analyze. The bigger business question is this: With nearly 65 million subscribers, can you really afford to ignore it?
Just last week, Google did some tweaking to its personalized search engine by introducing something called Search plus Your World (you can watch a YouTube demo at youtu.be/8Z9TTBxarbs). The idea is simple and elegant. Instead of doing a search and getting results that have been tweaked by companies that figured out how to optimize their website to get ranked higher in searches, Google now pulls information from users’ Google accounts (like Google+, Picasa and potentially others in the future), giving users the ability to toggle between search results that are much more personal and searching the Web as Google has always done.
This takes Googling yourself to a whole new level, doesn’t it? Imagine doing a search for “great cafés in Montreal” and being able to see recommendations from your social network and maybe even more realtime information like who is hanging out where at that moment. This new social integration means a lot for businesses. While it may still be possible to optimize your way to the top of Google’s regular search results, the social layer is where all credibility and interest resides for the consumer. Let’s say you own the Montreal café that earned the prestigious first position in the natural search results from Google, but everyone in that searcher’s social graph is hanging out in another café (or making other recommendations), where do you think that leaves your business?