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June 26, 2013

The Continued Mediocrity of Google+

Google may be the mother of all search engines, but when it comes to social skills, the company is still sorely lacking. If success in the social network stratosphere is measured by page views, time spent, and overall activity, Google+ can’t hold a candle to Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

But while traditional metrics may not currently be kind to Google’s two-year-old social offering, there just might be a silver lining. With over 500 million profiles, there’s no shortage of sign-ups and data; just frequency and overall time spent. Smart businesses, however, see Google+ not as a social mecca, but a SEO must-have. Since data on the social network is directly tied into Google’s uber-popular search engine, there’s plenty of big reasons every business should have at least a modest presence. But what will the future bring for Google+? Will it turn Facebook into the next MySpace, or will the SEO boon be its only true touted success?

The Cracks in the Armor

While it’s fair to say the Google+ rollout has been slow and steady, two years is a long time to operate a massive social network without seeing any substantial successes. Signs that things are not as rosy as they could be lie in the staleness of content across the network. A look through the Google+ pages for major US brands shows a veritable graveyard of content. As an example, this last Cinco de Mayo, pizza giant Dominos launched a full scale marketing event on its Facebook page, complete with guacamole-themed pizza. A quick peek at their Google+ page showed content that hadn’t been updated since October of 2012. You could almost hear the crickets chirping.

Without the support of major brands, it’s difficult to see how Google+ can survive the long haul. 40 percent of brands on the site have posted little to no content, and 17 of the top brands have updated their pages just once in 7 days (examples include Nike and Pepsi). The McDonalds Google+ page has never been updated. That’s right, no McContent on Google+. That alone says volumes.

To complicate matters, competition is fierce, and it comes from plenty of not-so-obvious sources. Rivals like Amazon are becoming even more adept at luring corporate marketing budgets, even as Facebook continues to gobble the lion’s share. Google+ just isn’t seeing a big piece of the pie. That has to change if they expect to be a major player long term.

Looking for Silver Linings

Ever the optimists, various spokespeople for Google+ have spun a more positive tale. Gretchen Howard, director of global social solutions for the company, accurately points out that the network has been used by millions of brands and businesses, and emphasizes the social offerings that enhance the effectiveness of other Google products.

There are plenty of success stories. Howard showcases examples like automobile maker Fiat’s public launch of the new Panda model, brought to the world through a “Hangout” video. Then there’s the 40,000+ member baking community page created by Cadbury that keeps seeing nice increases in activity. Google states that the top 100 brands have amassed over 1 million followers. While that can’t begin to touch Facebook’s numbers, it still tells a pretty impressive tale.

The big draw to Google+ is, of course, their behemoth search engine. Businesses who register on Google’s social network often receive added visibility in search results, with a section of the results page showcasing Google+ profile information from the company.

Furthermore, search ads that incorporate Google+ details, like the number of users who follow a given brand, often see 5 to 10 percent increases in click-through rates. The news is clearly not all bad, but is it good enough to propel continued forward movement?

Give the People What They Want

Google+ would stand a far better chance at giving Facebook a good run for their money if they actually had a feature-rich site. One of the major complaints about Google+, besides lack of traffic, lies in the myriad technical failures. They have had no shortage of issues with the site, and many simply prefer the more flexible experiences available on Facebook.

Users feel Google+ is just too restrictive. Profile pages, as an example, are far more limited than on other social networks, because they do not support iFrame, which is a standard web tool that allows multiple pages to be embedded with a main page. Google+ is more controlling. Earlier this year, they finally rolled out a sign-in feature like Facebook Connect, with the hope that major brands would implement and encourage more traffic and connectivity to the site. Those needles have yet to move significantly, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Google does promise that issues are being addressed, and slowly but surely, that does seem to be true. Howard states that the company is tackling a “wish list” from businesses, with plans to roll out many new features in the coming months.

Is the Future Bright for Google+?

About a year ago, Mashable ranked the ‘10 Brands Making the Most of Google+. The good news for Google is that every last one of those brands still has a strong presence, with content updated daily. It stands to reason that these companies have seen ROIs, or why would they continue to maintain their efforts? So what do they know that others don’t? That remains to be seen, but it is at least a sign that all is not lost.

That said, Nielsen Media Research reports that the average US visitor on Google+ spent 6 minutes and 47 seconds on the site during the month of March. Facebook’s stats? Over 6 hours.

Greg Finn, director of marketing at Cypress North, an SEO firm, has an excellent grip on the current value of Google+. “Right now,” states Finn, “the value isn’t in the network itself, it’s in what it can do for the search results.” And that’s the moral of the story for today’s businesses. Yes, you need to have a presence on Google+, for the sole reason of increasing your SEO stock. But do you need to launch full scale campaigns that match your Facebook efforts? Likely not, unless you’re a visionary who can see beyond the current fog. If that’s the case, please enlighten the rest of us, because the view right now just doesn’t look bright.

Tell us about your experience with, and views on, Google+ in the Comments section.

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.