Google+ Brand Pages & Beyond
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  • 1. Google+ Brand Pages andBeyondA preview of Google+ Brand Pages and the opportunitiesthey hold for marketers Tweet this!A 360i ReportNovember 2011© 360i LLC
  • 2. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. Introduction Since launching earlier this year, Google+ and the +1 Button have generated a considerable amount of consumer buzz and industry reaction. That the scale of interest has been so large is no surprise given Google’s dominance in so much of what we do online. Consumers seemingly interact with Google from every corner of the web: Gmail, YouTube, Google.com proper, Blogger, Google Maps and via mobile with the Android phone. For marketers, Google and its properties factor heavily into media plans, as evidenced by the $7.5 billion of revenue reported by the company in just the third quarter of 2011. Google+ recently passed the 40 million registered users mark and has seen over 3.4B photos uploaded to date. In fact, it has grown exponentially faster than either Facebook or Twitter did upon their respective launches. This is undoubtedly a result of Google’s built-in scale, and it means that Google+ will be impossible for businesses and brands to ignore. With today’s launch of Google+ Brand Pages, the stakes are even higher. Google+ Brand Pages will not be just another community to manage (although that will certainly be a consideration), but will, in fact, be the glue that unites all of a brand’s Google activities.© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Introduction 2
  • 3. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. While the jury is still out on whether Google+ will become widely adopted or whether it will become another one of Google’s failed experiments in the vein of Wave or Boutiques, if Google+ does catch on (and Google is investing heavily in its success), the opportunity loss risk is likely higher than most marketers would be willing to bet against. And Google is already tying Google+ into its existing +1 infrastructure, making it even more pivotal to brands’ overall marketing strategies. Although some brands will want to take a “wait and see” approach before diving into creating and managing a Google+ Brand Page, many will want to begin investing immediately in order to test and learn early. This report will take a close look at Google+ Brand Pages, outlining what we know now as well as what we project is yet to come. We will analyze how the Google+ social network will influence search, display and SEO strategies, and provide some recommendations on how marketers can begin to approach marketing through this new platform.© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Introduction 3
  • 4. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. Google+ Brand Pages OVERVIEW Google+ has changed social media by giving individual users more control over how content is consumed, how it is shared, and with whom they are doing the sharing. Segmentation of the content stream is fundamental to how the product is already being used. This will be no different for businesses and brands. The Brand Page (like the Facebook Page) will facilitate the relationship and connection with fans, advocates and potential consumers. However, the Google+ Brand Page will also serve as both the social hub connecting all aspects of a brand’s presence across the Google product network (+1 button, ads, search, maps, etc.) and the back-end control panel connected to AdWords and Google Analytics. Google’s +1 has been spreading across the web for months, but brands will finally be able to connect the dots with these pages (see more about SEO, SEM and display implications below). GOOGLE+ AND FACEBOOK Given the superficial similarities between the two platforms, commentary comparing Google+ to Facebook abounds. With Brand Pages on the eve of launching, many marketers are wondering, do I need a Google+ Brand Page if I already have a Facebook page? How should my Google+ strategy compare to my Facebook strategy? How important will Google+ be in engaging consumers compared to Facebook? The fact is, Google+ is simply not comparable to Facebook, nor are Google+ Brand Pages comparable to Facebook brand pages. While both Google+ and Facebook can both be considered a form of social network, comparing the two would be the same as drawing comparisons between Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare and Pinterest (those are all social networks too, aren’t they?). It’s an easy trap to fall into, given our human tendency to understand things based on our existing understanding of related things. However, the risk with reducing Google+ to “Google’s version of Facebook” is that we miss the true strategic implications of Google+, which are explored in great detail throughout this whitepaper.© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Google+ Brand Pages 4
  • 5. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. CORE FEATURES The first iteration of Google+ Brand Pages will be relatively basic - they will look and feel very similar to an individual’s current page. The main page image can feature a logo or product shot. Sharing content will be simple, easily allowing individuals and brands to share content with intended targets (even making certain content "unsharable" by others if desired). Brands will have the ability to post text, photos, video and links. Brands can also initiate live video Hangouts (live, on-the-fly video chats), but will be limited to 10 participants to start, just as consumers are. However, unlike individual pages, a brand’s Page connectivity is more limited. Brands cannot initiate a connection with a potential fan or consumer. An individual user must first add the brand page to a Circle before the brand can reciprocate, meaning that the user is in control of the relationship it has with the business. There is no limit to the total number of individuals that a brand can add to its master Circle, but segmented circles will be capped at 5,000 users (the same limit imposed on individuals that create Circles). Customized settings permit page admins to control whether users can initiate a conversation, post content to the page and comment back to others. Companies and brands can also identify “affiliated people” on the page, specifically page admins or key stakeholders with whom users can connect separately. Location-based businesses will have the ability to add a map to their Page as well. Subsequent product enhancements will include greater customization of the brand page experience, including the addition of HTML5, an open API, +1 analytics, and multiple-admin functionality. PAGE MANAGEMENT Upon initial launch, there will not be multiple-admin functionality for managing a Brand Page. Google expects this feature to be added early next year. Google has also indicated that they will not be supporting the merging of multiple pages, meaning if two employees at the same company – or at their affiliated agency – create a page for the same brand, only one will be supported and the rest will be shut down. With only one sign-in, brands must coordinate who creates, and therefore “owns,” the page and who else has access. And with no immediate plans to support tiered or connected pages, brands that have multiple stores or multiple international markets will have to decide whether to create one page for the company, or separate ones for each individual market or store. Currently, while there will be no easy geo-targeting capability for© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Google+ Brand Pages 5
  • 6. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. Google+ Brand Page content, Google is positing that brands will be able to segment their followers into circles in order to target messaging. So a brand could create circles made up of users who live in various cities, states, or countries, or who fall within a certain demographic bucket. In fact, a brand could maintain circles as specific as “Women 25-54 who live in London.” This could clearly become very unwieldy very quickly, and it remains to be seen how Google will or will not adjust its targeting capabilities accordingly. For now, due to the “one owner” issue, the recommended solution is to create one joint Google+ individual user page and share log-in credentials using this one page. While certainly less than ideal, this is only a short-term challenge. Once established, official Brand Pages will feature a Google-verified seal to distinguish them from imposter pages, though the authentication process is still under development. Customized “vanity” domains will also be available, but introduced in a phased rollout to prevent a potential land-grab situation. Initial page ownership should be determined by who will actually be posting updates and managing the page. Google has expressed a preference that a brand representative should “own” the page, and then invite agencies to share access. SEARCHABILITY Considering Google’s foundation in search, it should come as no surprise that one of the key features that Google+ has introduced to the community is searchability. Entering a keyword into the Google+ search bar will bring up any conversation on G+ relevant to the keyword. This includes People, actual Google+ posts and even Google+ Sparks posts related to the search. The keyword search will default to the “Everything” tab, where all content surrounding the topic can be seen, though users and brands will be able to sort their search according to “Best of” — which shows the most popular and engaged content related to these keywords — or “Most Recent,” to display all related news by time and date. This presents another opportunity for brands to raise their visibility and “own” relevant topics within search. The key is to create content that engages the audience and maximizes interactions. How will Google+ Brand Pages impact a brand’s SEO or SEM? It’s possible, though not confirmed, that a brand’s Page on Google+ will be weighted by the search giant to appear as one of the first search results in Google. Whether© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Google+ Brand Pages 6
  • 7. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. this will pose a cannibalization risk or a boon to a brand’s existing webpages is yet to be seen, and we will explore this more as we dive into SEO implications. Implications for SEO OVERVIEW For some time now, 360i has predicted the inevitable convergence of social media and search. Natural search algorithms have evolved over nearly ten years to incorporate more than 400 relevant signals that provide searchers with the most appropriate results available on the public web. Since Google’s inception, the influence of backlinks to a given website (simplified to the PageRank 0-10 scale) has been one of the most fundamental building blocks in establishing a website as a relevant authority for natural search. Before social media became an intrinsic part of our daily lives, linking to content and websites was arguably the most explicit means to popularize and socialize quality content. Therefore, accruing links became one of the most significant levers in search engine optimization. However, the relative ease in manipulating links and the proliferation of unashamedly exploitative methods to do so has kept search engines busy adjusting and experimenting on ways to improve the quality of the signals that factor into their ranking algorithms. Today, the web has been fundamentally transformed as a result of the growth and popularity of social media. The scale and depth of online social interactions have become ubiquitous within our everyday lives. Through social media we express our interests, opinions, preferences, and ultimately cultivate a highly sophisticated sphere of influence and authority. It is this perfect storm that begs the possibility of a better relevancy factor than Page Rank - in the long run - because it is harder to manipulate the social actions of millions of users than it is the link-graph of a few powerful websites. But as social conduits likes Google+ present ingenious new opportunities to marketers, it is critical to not lose sight that: • There are still 400+ relevancy factors that determine your search rankings • Backlinks remain, and are likely to remain, a highly influential signal of authority |© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved Implications for SEO 7
  • 8. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. • Social endorsements are a nascent quality signal in natural search. We expect that they initially will play a minimal role in affecting ranking algorithms until Google can validate their true effectiveness • SEO best practices that aim to ensure optimal crawlability, inter-linking, and content relevancy are pivotal as barriers to entry that need to be satisfied to achieve any relevancy in search As any good quarterly financial earnings report will do, we leave you with forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. We are, however, optimistic, excited, thirsty, and uniquely positioned as an advisor in embracing the road ahead of us. HOW COULD GOOGLE+ BRAND PAGES BENEFIT SEO? Aside from being an additional community of scale where a brand can have a dialogue with consumers, Google+ Brand Pages offer up some promising SEO benefits: Convergence Google+ Brand Pages will allow linking to a brand marketer’s website, Google SEM and Display accounts. This linking will allow +1’s occurring at any of these end points to also affect the others. Additionally, Google is planning to allow webmasters to verify their websites using a unique HTML code snippet to further allow the network effect of +1’s to reach organic website results. At this stage, it is unclear whether Google will take the logical step of leveraging its Webmaster Tools service to ease this process. Simply put, marketers that properly link their Google+ Brand Pages to Google’s suite of marketing platforms will enable +1 activity to potentially promote and highlight their efforts across all Google+ enabled advertising channels. For natural search results, the opportunity is substantial. Success in managing and engaging a brand’s Google+ community, website visitors, display ads and SEM listings will work together to support visibility in natural search results. |© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved Implications for SEO 8
  • 9. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. Shelf Space Google+ Brand Pages create a new social community for brands. Consequently, a new URL that can be indexed by search engines, and therefore drive natural search traffic, is available for brand use. We anticipate a level of authority to be implicitly conferred to Brand Pages, particularly given Google’s stake in promoting Google+ properties in search results, simply by virtue of their presence on Google’s domain. Google+ Brand Pages will therefore represent an additional opportunity to add to a brand’s search shelf space. Vanity URLs will also allow for improved branding of Google+ search results. Shelf Space Additional shelf space is great. But in organic search you don’t ever have direct control over which content ranks where. Authorship is a thorny subject in search, and one that has yet to be fully worked out - as evidenced by the newspaper industry’s ongoing conflicts with Google News. (An initiative does exist at Google to formalize content authorship; however, it is still in its infancy and does not yet take brands into consideration.) A similar conflict of interest may exist with Google+ Brand Pages. As brands syndicate content that they spend time and money on through their Google+ community, searchers may be led away from the content’s original point of publication (which has been thoughtfully designed to convert the audience) and into the Google+ experience. The recommendation is to treat Google+ Brand Pages as a platform for branding, equity and community building purposes, rather than for direct response focused content. Control Google +1 buttons allow advertisers/webmasters to explicitly define the URL that will be +1’d upon interaction. This allows marketers to direct +1 credit to a destination other than the final click-through landing page. Similarly, web content can be coded to divert the +1 elsewhere than the current URL on which the +1 exists. |© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved Implications for SEO 9
  • 10. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. The ability to control the location where a +1 is counted necessitates a strategic approach, enforced holistically across all marketing channels that support a common message. This strategy should include a plan for both branding and direct response content. Control The ability for marketers to control which URLs benefit from +1’s creates a burden of consistency at a URL level in order to achieve the maximum benefit. As many SEO practitioners will be aware, consistent URLs are a rare luxury, especially when faced with highly dynamic websites and URL-based tracking parameters on many display and SEM campaigns. Avoiding this opportunity loss in display & SEM campaigns is simply a matter of ensuring that the +1 target specified at the ad creative level points to a consistent “master” (or “canonical”) URL. The most sensible option to choose would be a URL that is currently indexed and ranking in natural search engines. As brands deploy +1 buttons on their websites, a similar challenge appears when SEO best practices are not observed. Duplicate URLs often occur as tracking parameters are incorporated into URLs depending on the navigation path chosen by visitors, or again as products are listed in multiple product categories. (e.g: a button down shirt is found under multiple site categories for formalwear, dress shirts and a special collection page). As Google+ Brand Pages add yet another destination for +1 clicks to count towards, a strategic approach will be even more necessary to ensure all advertising channels mutually converge in support of the best URLs for +1’s to build equity on. Reach A well-managed Google+ community should translate to a qualified audience that endorses a brand’s product or services. With Google+ Brand Pages acting as the central hub for +1 activity, a brand may increase its reach across individuals’ networks of friends through all of Google’s connected marketing channels. Google+ offers a platform to socialize unique, useful content to a receptive audience. The ability to do so opens content marketing opportunities that will gain consideration in search results. It is reasonable to assume that as content accrues +1’s, Google will promote popular posts as natural search results, taking into consideration social metrics, such as influence and/or engagement, as a factor of relevance. Google continues to integrate its other services, such as YouTube and Picasa (RIP Google Buzz), with Google+. As this effort advances, marketers will benefit from the seamless linking of +1 credit across these mediums. Universal Search results like Image, Products and Video could very well be socially influenced via Google +1 in the near future. |© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved Implications for SEO 10
  • 11. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. Implications for SEM and Display OVERVIEW Currently, in addition to the ability to add +1 endorsement to natural search results and website content, consumers can also +1 SEM, Display and Mobile ads. Through +1 endorsements and connections across the +1 platform, consumers are adding to the troves of information that Google is already collecting to continually update their algorithm and targeting capabilities. Utilizing this information, Google is able to better determine what types of advertising content a consumer will find relevant. Google automatically places the +1 button on all paid media (SEM ads and Display Ads on the Google Display Network) as well as natural search listings in search results. At this time, there is no “opt out” option for search related ads or links, but display ads have the option to opt out. Google has said that they would like to ensure that the placement of the button does not interfere with creative execution and messaging for banners. While marketers have the ability to opt out for now, we believe that as +1 buttons become more widely accepted, brands will become more comfortable with this placement and opting out will become less common. What does the +1 button look like in ads? For SEM ads, the button appears to the right of the text ad display URL. If reviews are triggered for the SEM ad, the button appears to the right of the seller reviews. The display-button experience is very different than it is in natural and paid search. On Display ads, the +1 button appears at the bottom left of the banners. Ad formats for this include image, animated GIF, Flash, and Display Ad Builder banners. Unlike natural and paid search, the button fades out until the viewer hovers over the ad. In addition, the consumer has the option to close the overlay by clicking ‘X’ at the bottom right.© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Implications for SEM and Display 11
  • 12. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. Display ads not running on the Google Display Network will not have the +1 button automatically included on the banners. If advertisers choose to roll this out to campaigns on other vendors, DoubleClick Rich Media offers the ability to build banners with +1 capability. Advertisers may choose to do this to expand the reach of endorsements and gain more insight into both consumer behavior and success of media efforts, as well as to ensure synergy across all display efforts. HOW COULD GOOGLE+ BRAND PAGES BENEFIT PAID MEDIA? Visibility As participation in Google+ grows, activity within a person’s network will begin to appear more frequently in SEM and Display advertising. This explicit recommendation benefits brands by adding an extra layer of endorsement to their advertising. And when users endorse a brand page, those +1’s automatically appear in ads, making it more likely to see ads endorsed by friends. Marketers need to start planning for this inclusion as they write copy and design creative. Referencing +1 endorsement in SEM copy and leaving the lower portion of display ads open for +1 endorsement needs to be factored into creative decisions. Relevancy and Targeting Google’s algorithm is ever-changing, but advertisers do know a few things about it and Quality Score, which directly impacts where and how often SEM ads appear within relevant searches.© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Implications for SEM and Display 12
  • 13. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. Based on our understanding of what goes into Quality Score, we are confident that Google +1 endorsements play a role. How much of a role is still unclear, but our prediction is that as they become more widely accepted by consumers, their weight in the algorithm will increase. Quality Score elements and impact of +1 Keyword/Ad Relevancy: +1 on paid and natural search listings increases relevancy for keywords. Relevancy is a core component of Quality Score. CTR: +1 endorsement, especially from connections, most likely increases response rates on paid search listings. Historical CTR plays into Quality Score. Landing Page: +1’s improves the Landing Page Score that plays into Quality Score For display ads, a +1 endorsement increases the likelihood of a user’s friends and contacts seeing an endorsed ad. Additionally, as +1 adoption increases, it will open the door for unique, socially-based targeting. Google is also anticipating that the personal endorsements driven by the +1 button will begin to influence consumer purchase decisions. Performance Based on our knowledge of Google’s algorithm, changes in these attributes affect key metrics in campaign performance and monitoring. Expect impact© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Implications for SEM and Display 13
  • 14. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. to be negligible as +1 ramps up, while eventually influencing performance in a positive way. Ad Rank: +1 endorsement improves Quality Score, which increases Ad Rank – a key performance metric. CTR: We expect CTR to rise with +1 adoption. If it does not and searchers begin to +1 in place of clicking, Google will adjust the product or the pricing. Conversion Rate: Since +1 is an implicit endorsement, expect conversion rate to improve because recommendations are coming from a closer or more trusted source. Control Companies can also keep track of all customer goodwill in a single place as any +1’s on advertisements add to the brand page total. This also means that no matter what the ad url changes to, a company will never lose the +1’s earned in the past. REPORTING & SEGMENTATION Segmented performance reports for +1 activity provide insight into behavior for Google paid search and display campaigns and reveal the “incrementality” of endorsements. This may even open up a new KPI to measure success, especially as Google+ Brand Pages gain importance as a way to engage consumers. Segmented reporting also allows marketers to set bids specific to +1 activity and whether or not users are signed into Google+. Smarter bidding options and more control over optimizing for +1 will likely result in better results in the form of click through and conversions. Conclusion With the +1 button, the Google+ social network and now Google+ Brand Pages, Google is making a powerful statement about the convergence of search and social. Unlike Bing’s inclusion of Facebook data in its search results, the Google foray into social search is a much deeper integration that has the potential to radically alter the way we engage with the web. The implications of Google+ Brand Pages extend into SEO, SEM, Display, and Social, leading to potential challenges in coordinating disparate brand stakeholders and agency partners. Because of this, a strategic approach to setting up and managing the Page will be paramount. 360i recommends starting the process as early as possible in order to get ahead of emerging opportunities and enhancements to come.© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Implications for SEM and Display 14
  • 15. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. ABOUT 360i 360i is an award-winning digital marketing agency that drives results for Fortune 500 marketers through insights, ideas and technologies. 360i helps its clients think FIND 360i AT: differently about their online presence and evolve their strategies to take advantage of the new world of Twitter.com/360i marketing communications – one where brands and Facebook.com/360iagency consumers engage in interactive and multi-directional Blog.360i.com conversations. In 2010, Ad Age named 360i to its prestigious Agency A-List. Current clients include Oreo, jcpenney, Coca-Cola, NBC Universal, Capital One and Diageo, among others. For more information, please visit blog.360i.com or follow us on Twitter @360i.© 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved | Implications for SEM and Display 15