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Death Knell Sounds (Wrongly) Once More For G+

Once again the internet is abuzz with speculation that Google+ is dead or dying, thanks to a decision taken by Google to split the service into two: Photos and Streams. This has led to the usual headlines ‘officially’ declaring the search giants’ network to be dead, but according to G+ head engineer Yonatan Zunger, this isn’t the case.

A lot of misunderstanding and speculation. :) The internal org was renamed “Photos and Streams,” because Sundar likes org names that match what the teams do. And since our org includes Photos, Google+, Blogger, and News, there you have photos, plus several streams of content.

No big user-facing changes tied to this at all.

So once again, the internet has got the wrong end of the stick and gleefully imagined it to be the end of Google’s foray into social networking. At a Mobile World Congress event held on Monday, Google SVP of Product Sundar Pichai said that G+ was always about building a stream and a social layer.

Bigger Focus on Communications

Speaking to Forbes, Pichai said:

I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ Stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area.

This suggests a shift in focus for the products, but doesn’t signal that the social network is to be scrapped. This would be a mistake for Google, as whilst G+ isn’t competing on the same level as Twitter and Facebook, many people do enjoy the site and features such as that which automatically creates GIFs from uploaded images.

Wired writer David Pierce points out, “it would be a mistake to call this a retreat, or an admission of failure” and goes on to say that Google is only doing what it does best, which is gather feedback on its products and optimising them to suit. So what we can take from all of this is that much rests on speculation, but it is clear that Google intend to make Stream, Photos and Hangouts standalone products. This would allow those users who don’t want or intend to use G+ products as social networks to still use the products that they love.

Photos and Streams

The reorganisation includes a new head of the Photo and Streams products, Google VP and one the firm’s key architects, Bradley Horowitz. It’s thought that there are no plans to ditch the G+ names and that Photos and Streams will become two distinct, separate products from here on in. Streams are at the core of the G+ experience alongside News and Blogger but it’s unlikely that users will notice any differences in the G+ Stream and whilst there are plenty of reports online that predict this to be the demise of the network, it seems to be more the case that the company is attempting to separate the products out in order not to force users to use G+.

This will allow Google to place further, separate, emphasis on each product and lead to better product development.

Search and SEO

Anyone that posts on G+ will know that the content shared on the platform regularly appears in search results, unlike the other social networks. For me, this is where G+ offers value as well as in +1s, which influence search results. These work by essentially telling Google that the content is useful and that people are finding it valuable and this in turn pushes the post up the rankings.

Studies carried out by both Moz and Searchmetrics have found a direct correlation between placement in the SERPs and G+ +1s.

Moz correlation study Moz study determines correlation between G+ and search results

According to Moz, search professionals discovered that links shared on G+ are crawled and indexed very quickly, whilst often Facebook posts containing links are often not crawled at all, thanks to privacy settings and restrictions on how data is shared. This means that Facebook and Twitter directs Google not to follow the majority of links posted on the networks whereas G+ data is immediately and fully accessible to Google, since it built the platform.

Further to this, G+ posts pass on link equity too as when a link is shared on the network, “the anchor text becomes the title of the page you are sharing.” However, only shared links that you post are followed, not the links contained within the post body, which are nofollowed. Further to this, each post made on G+ has many of the same characteristics as a full-blown blog post, Moz continue.

This is because:

  • Every post has a unique URL
  • The first 40-50 characters appear in the title tag
  • Posts are not limited by word count
  • Reshared posts can accumulate internal links from G+ all of which have relevant anchor text

This means that posts made on G+ has the potential to send strong semantic signals to the search algorithm which in turn helps to rank the post in search results.

searchmetrics correlation study Searchmetrics study showing G+ as a ranking factor

With all of this in mind, it’s clear that G+ does have its uses and these are probably what attract many of its users, especially those that work in the digital marketing and SEO space. This won’t change with the reorganisation either, which is more internal than most people appear to realise. It’s likely that the majority of its users won’t really notice any changes initially and will continue to use G+ as they always have.

Of course, those users who don’t want to use the social network will now be able to use Photos and Hangouts as standalone products, which can only strengthen these in the long term, which is most likely to be the reason that Google are doing it.

So no, once again, G+ is not dead, it’s just changing and despite what many reports suggest, it does have its uses for business users and marketers as well as those consumers who actively enjoy using it.

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