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July 14, 2014

Google+ Turns Three: What Does the Future Hold?

From the very start, Google Plus has had an uphill climb. Despite a bundle of stats that seem favorable, the social network has never been totally taken seriously, and has yet to be a significant gathering place. In other words, Google Plus is not particularly social. So why is it still surviving?

The undisputed opinion is that Google hangs on to its floundering platform because of massive integration in key apps like Gmail and Maps, and most pertinently, their search results. Most businesses and enterprising individuals have Google Plus accounts not to connect with others, but for SEO purposes. But is that enough for Google to keep pouring money and attention into this controversial social platform?

Google Plus just turned a very immature three years old, and it’s spawning all kinds debates about the site’s longevity and future. Google, of course, has never said anything definitive, but by examining statistics and reading between the lines, there’s some logical conclusions being made, and some indications spell a potential phase-out.

Google Plus: The First Three Years

While it’s been a slow crawl to adoption, Google Plus has not been a dismal failure, despite many who tout as much. The proof, after all, is in the numbers, and here are some that would indicate it’s been a smashing success.

  • Over 1 billion registered users
  • 800,000 new sign-ups per month
  • 1.2 million page views per month
  • Over 70 percent of businesses and brands have a profile on the network
  • Photo sharing is the #1 activity; more than 1.5 billion photos uploaded each week
  • The +1 button is clicked five billion times a day, and sites with the button generate three times more visits than sites without one

Any website owner would absolutely blow a gasket over those kinds of metrics. So where’s the disconnect?

Whether the UI and features of Google Plus have simply never appealed to the masses, or Google was simply too late to the social party is unclear. What is clear is that Google Plus has never really given Facebook a run for its money. Plus has never succeeded in being a social destination. Most people and brands have a profile in order to ramp up their SEO results, but these profiles are more often than not completely static. The result has been a sad feeling mega-site with very little life.

The Writing on the Wall?

Google had its recent Google I/O conference last month, and for many, it wasn’t what was presented but what wasn’t presented that held the most intrigue. Last year, Google Plus was all the rage in the keynote. This year, there was barely a mention. The recent changes to Google authorship, which are mostly detrimental and a step backwards, also has folks surmising a possible phase-out for the social network.

In addition, there are just as many worrisome stats as there are things to crow about. Here are a few of the most glaring issues:

  • There’s a huge volume of inactive users. In fact, 1 in 3 Google employees don’t update their Plus profiles; if they aren’t motivated to do so. You can imagine that the rest of the world is even less motivated.
  • Many that do use the network feel forced into doing so. Because it’s forcibly integrated into other Google products, like YouTube, the public has not taken well to being coerced into creating a Google Plus profile.
  • The UI has never been heralded as a success. Sure, the design is sleek and minimalist, as with all Google tools, but trying to find your profile edits option, as an example, can feel like a wild goose chase.

Facebook vs. Google Plus: The Real Story

The most telling evidence about Google Plus’s failures lies in the side by side comparison with Facebook, the nemesis they hoped to cripple shortly after launch. Scanning this metrics proves that at least for this goal, Google Plus is a failure.

Google+ active users: 359 million
Facebook active users: 1.28 billion

Average Google+ user: Male, 28 years old, IT or Engineering field
Average Facebook user: Male or Female (50/50 split), 38 years old, all industries covered

Top brands on Google+: Android 748k +1s, Mashable 468k +1s, Chrome 291k +1s
Top brands on Facebook: Coca-Cola 48.1M likes, Disney 35.5M likes, Starbucks 30.1M likes

Is There a Future for Google Plus?

The true fate of the struggling social beast is still uncertain, but there are other troubling signs. Vic Gondotra, the founder of Google Plus, left Google in April, and much of the team has since been dismantled. The lack of any positive press or advancements around the network is also a head scratcher.

Ultimately, however, the extent to which Google has integrated Plus into many of its most critical apps is likely the last word necessary. Google may no longer have visions of taking down Facebook dancing in their dreams, but by any other standards, Plus has been somewhat of a success. Google Plus’s strongest asset is the way it has unified the suite of Google products, and that’s no small feat. That alone is likely to keep the network around for a long, long time.

What’s your opinion – is Google Plus here to stay, or facing a slow extinction?


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile