With the kind of fanfare and reaction that you’d expect, businesses can finally add branded entity pages to Google+. At first glance the pages are pretty limited – there’s little of the customisation that you see on Facebook pages just yet, but that’s only a matter of time. Once app developers have had the chance to play around with the API code, we’ll see the usual raft of additions like shops, and plug-ins springing up and an ecosystem falling into place to help us make more use of the platform.
There is a very big difference between Google+ pages and Facebook pages, and it all comes down to a little badge:
The big story about Google+ Pages isn’t the pages themselves, it’s Google Direct Connect, the service that you use to authenticate your page and link it inextricably to your brand. A big goal for Google+ has been to create real accounts for real people. The service is not about anonymity because it has a much bigger purpose. Google+ is about the collection and storage of demographic information about users which can be used to personalise a search experience. By understanding relationships between individuals, Google will be able to better serve content (and adverts) to users that will be relevant to them. By aggregating the information about what your connections like and extrapolating that into information about what you will like, your search results will be better targeted and more appropriate to your interests.
So far so good.
Data is great. More data is better.
If you consider the volume of personal information that Google already collect about you as an individual, it’s a bit scary. Every search you make in Google is logged, every click you make from the results is stored. According to a study by Metric Mail, close to 50% of the top 1 million websites by traffic use Google Analytics. Usage data about those websites is all aggregated by Google, along with the millions of other websites also using the platform. If you use Chrome (or any other browser with the Google Toolbar installed) huge amounts of information about your usage is also captured by Google. If you have connected your Twitter, facebook, Linkedin, or Youtube account to Google via your profile, then there is also information about your friends, connections, business type, age and entertainment interests. If you’re one of the 48% of smartphone users who chose Android as your mobile OS, Google have data about where you go, what games you play, and what kind of data you access via your apps. From your IP address Google know where you are, and by seeing where else you access your Google data via a shared connection (work), Google are able to associate huge amounts of information about the other people you work and live with with the data they capture from your own browsing habits.
By enforcing a policy of real identities on Google+, Google become able to tie all of your other data to a real person.
This should be pretty scary.
Google also have a lot of information about companies. From a lot of the same sources that they get information about individuals. Businesses that run Google AdWords accounts provide billing information and are subject to credit scoring, Whois data provides insight into domain ownership. Google Enterprise Apps accounts give Google insight into the members of an organisation, while business email processed via GMail gives information about client connections.
With authenticated pages on Google+, businesses will also be providing Google with massive amounts of data about their organisational structure, but more importantly, they will be getting access to people within the wider community who have affinity with a particular brand.
What’s in it for me?
Nothing is free. You just don’t always see what you’re paying, and a lot of Google’s services fall into that category. Sure you get a free productivity suite, free email, free photo and video storage, and free analytics, but you reciprocate by providing data.
Businesses get customers from Google. The more you give in terms of data, the more you get in terms of revenue. Signing up for a Google+ Page for your business is not about getting an additional social property that you need to maintain, it’s about providing Google with information about the social graph of your customers. In return Google will be able to better optimise their search results for individuals to ensure that they get the results that are most relevant to them.
I’ve already said that we’re entering a period in SEO where instead of talking about what we rank for, we need to start talking about who we rank for, and that is going to become the norm. With Google+ Pages and Google Direct Connect, I believe that a lot of businesses are going to see their traffic levels fall dramatically without any impact on their sales.
With services like Siri, you no longer need a set of ten results to choose from, you need the one best result. You need the website that is most relevant to “you+keyword” rather than just “keyword”. With individually personalised results, you will get that. Businesses that know who their customers are will benefit because they will become more efficient, and customers will benefit from saving time and effort.