Lee Odden

Google+ Optimization vs. Community Building: Pros & Cons of Google SPYW

Google+ Optimization

Google+ Optimization or Community Building?

Initially I looked at Google+ the same as other Google social projects like Wave and Orkut. But the more I use Google+ the more I like it. Maybe it’s the network effect because others are using it more too. I often find content and insights shared on G+ that I don’t find elsewhere.

While the addition of Google Search Plus Your World (SPYW) has made a big splash in the digital community, I actually think G+ is far more useful (from a personal perspective) as a social network than it is as an augmentation of search on Google.com. When I put my Marketer’s hat on, of course it doesn’t matter what I think of G+ – the task is to figure out how to optimize opportunities to gain an advantage.

There’s been no shortage of commentary about G+ and SPYW but I think there are a few pros and cons that are worth exploring.

Google+ Pros:

As a social network, there are inherent social engagement benefits of Google+.  The Google+ shares, pluses, comments and overall interaction behaviors necessary to improve Google+ inspired search visibility also benefit social network development and community engagement. Starting with SEO and Google+ seems a little backwards to me compared to leveraging it first as a social network.

Along the lines of optimizing for customers before keywords, what about starting on Google+ with engagement and building a network for the sake of growing a community first? As you grow content and community, then bring in the SEO component – or at least simultaneously.

Google+ can definitely serve as another spoke in a hub and spoke content distribution and social engagement model. While Google+ has been reported to have 90 million users, it’s a far cry from the 800 million on Facebook. That said, Google is doing everything it can to “encourage” mass adoption. As that happens, it can become a very productive channel in an overall content and social media marketing mix.

As for SEO and G+, there’s no reason Google+ optimization best practices and social networking efforts cannot happen simultaneously. G+ has rich social networking opportunities that have value on their own vs. viewing G+ solely for it’s SEO value. Together, they represent true social media optimization opportunity.

Google+ Cons:

Is Google+ participation mandatory? The clear advantages of Google+ presence and activity in search make it impossible for companies that value online visibility not to join in. But that incentive is not the same thing as joining a social network because you know that’s where customers and influentials are. As companies mature in their social media participation, those choices are increasingly based on customers vs. chasing shiny objects, the competition or because everyone is doing it. Joining Google+ for the wrong reasons is a bit of a con to me.

A boost in Google+ is a boost for “Unknown” keywords. The more people that are logged in to Google+ and other Google services, the more that search keywords will be reported as “Unknown” to website owners. I think this is the biggest potential con for Google+ success. Search encryption enables privacy with organic search results but not for PPC search clicks. Is that double standard?

The “unknown” segment of referring keywords for our most popular site is now over 25%. That’s a lot of traffic that we know comes from Google but we don’t know which specific keyword phrase it was. As a result, optimization refinement for better search visibility is a much bigger challenge for those phrases. Additionally, optimizing content for better user experience also suffers.

Of course, we’re an adaptable bunch and we’ll simply find another way to make connections between how customers discover our content and what inspires engagement and conversions.

Can Google create their own weather by incentivizing participation? Will it be enough to create momentum and the network effect that will create “true” value for membership? Yes or no, the incentive is too strong not to join. Now it’s a matter of what can brands do to actually make it meaningful vs. mechanical.

When I posted this question on my Google+ account, here are a few of the replies:

Mike Grinberg  –  Google is using a push strategy with G+. They are pretty much “forcing” people to join by integrating as much as possible with all their other services. As more people join, this will become more than just a “power user’s/geeks/nerds paradise” It is slowly happening already.

Benjamin Wright  –  I like G+ because I can post comments like this, including comments with links, immediately, without CAPTCHAs and without waiting for the blog/post owner’s approval. G+ is able to allow this, I believe, because it bans spammers.

Rohn Jay Miller – Lee, I’ve joined and I check and participate–at least some times. But I’m still using blogs and Twitter far more to keep in touch with communities I’m a part of. What’s the incentive to pay the switching costs? This seems like Google-think again: it’s a technology driven idea that’s cool in the overview, even compelling.

But down here at my user level Google+ is just a “mini-net” that I look at once a day. And that’s me, a full-time social media / content professional. What about my brother in law? This has a long way to go before it’s more compelling than compelled

Ian Lurie  – Google is taking this 1-2 steps further by creating a strong marketing incentive FIRST, and using that to drag us all to their property. But that kinda makes sense given that they already have the audience. Facebook didn’t, so they went about it a different way.

I DO think Google can create their own weather. Their huge advantage is their audience. It’s easy to forget, but they own the two most-used search engines on the planet. If they don’t get plowed under for anti-competitive practices they’ll likely win through brute force.

How have you approached Google+ personally or for your business?

Are you optimizing or building community? Are you doing both at the same time? How are you incorporating Google+ with the rest of your online marketing mix?

Be sure to check out TopRank’s Google+ account here.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I’ve recently created a personal account and an account for the company I work at on G+, but more because I feel I have to to keep up with SEO developments rather than because I want too.

    Being the only person looking after Social engagement (as well as other responsabilities) it’s quite frustrating having to participate with such limited time and resources (not to mention the people we want to engage with aren’t really present atm).

    Obviously though it would be nice to have the time, budget and crowd there to develop a strategy other than ‘general participation’ .. but sadly that’s not the case

    • Alex, I have a feeling the situation you describe with G+ is one that will be shared by many 🙂

      •  Unfortunately so.

        It’s leading me to write a new blog post entitled ‘Google+ Why should we give a sh**!’ Which as you can imagine entails all my frustrations as an online marketer with the platform

  2. Have to vs. Want to – Diddo. With google taking away twitter feed a lot of companies’ “juice” has already disappeared. Several companies reported around 20-30% drop in traffic. This is definitely a forced behavior. I’m not a fan at all. Now google is penalizing websites with advertisements as well… to force more companies to advertise on their platform instead. That’s good and bad … perhaps we’ll read more interesting original content instead of pushed content.

    • If consumers find what Google’s doing valuable to them, it’s a win – regardless of what website owners and marketers (like me) think. With the push towards a mostly advertising or Google content experience, it will be interesting to see where else consumers will go to get answers. 

  3. Interesting info about g+, thanks!

  4. G+ will become a ”
    power user’s/geeks/nerds paradise” 
    I agree with that sentiment strongly… As far as I have seen, that is exactly what it is right now. There are those who use it very frequently, but they are almost all professional people who feel they NEED to be there. Not many are there because they want to be yet.

    • I agree – I think that could change though. I can’t imagine there’s much cross-over between Pinterest and Google+ but for techies and marketing types like myself, it’s been quite useful. 

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  7. Avatar Alec Painter says

    But that incentive is not the same thing as joining a social network because you know that’s where customers and influentials are.” – That’s an excellent point. I think that’s why G+ needs to be part of your greater content syndication strategy, which doesn’t necessarily need to be a brand page as much as getting your content shared on the network. Operate where your consumers are, but make sure that your content is shared through Google so when people turn from social networks to perform a search (as we all know they do), you’ll still have a place on the SERPs.

  8. We are doing both at Chatmeter. I am working on growing our network and optimizing it at the same time. 

    Right now, we are using G+ just like Facebook and Twitter, another avenue for us to get our name out there and to reach our audience.

  9. The most cons. of using G+ is the increasing the inability of viewing the organic search queries.

  10. Great article! The same questions like in good old germany. We’re actually doing both at our company – but think that’s the main problem of G+…the marketing cracks and nerds are integrating it in their social media mix, the great companies have to do it – and the millions of “normal users” are addicted to Facebook and don’t really care about G+. And why should they?

  11. As far as I can tell, this is exactly what it is right now. There are
    those who use it very frequently, but they are almost all professional
    people who feel they need to be there.

  12. Great post. Google+ is not only excellent content sharing tool but by building relationships in it will directly influence SERPs.