I have no idea what social network Google Plus (Google+) is going to kill. I have no idea if it is going to be huge or not. But I do have an idea of what it’s going to do to Local Search, or at least I have a vision. Whether my vision is right or not will likely be borne out over the next few months. But I am part pundit and therefore accountable to no one but my ego, so here goes…
How Google+ Could Become A Killer Local Marketing Channel
The Places Stream
One day, we are all going to wake up and find “Places” as a default stream in our Google+ experience and a business’ “Plus” stream as part of the default Place Page experience. When this happens, it will be like local search chocolate meeting social media peanut butter.
Circle Your Customers
In some ways, Google+ Circles are no big thing. Numerous social nets, including Facebook, have allowed members to categorize their contacts, but most have failed at convincing people that it’s worth doing (see Exhibit A). But Google+ has made Circles, its metaphor for categorization of social contacts, a core part of the experience and in my view, has made it more compelling for people to categorize.
So what does this mean for SMBs?
When you start communicating with potential/existing customers via Google+, it’s extremely simple, not to mention satisfying, to group these people into different categories (e.g. Current Customers, Ready To Buy, In Research Mode, Asking Questions, Used a Coupon, Daddy Warbucks, Repeat Customer, Annoying, Complainers, etc.).
You can start segmenting your audience and targeting specific communications to them. I know, you’re already doing this with your email service right? Well, we doubt it’s this easy. And by the way, you don’t need to get someone to give you their email to put them in a Google+ Circle.
So, suddenly a business can have a very simple way to manage who they are talking to if they choose to “go social.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if over time we see a much more comprehensive business communications suite that involves Google+, Gmail, Google Analytics, Place Page data, Google Mobile, Talkbin, etc.
Customers Circle Your Business
When businesses are permitted to join Google+ it will be simple for people to put your business in a Circle. When this happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google offers pre-made Circles for your favorite local businesses. We could easily see them suggesting businesses that you have already reviewed on Google Places, businesses that you have +1′d, businesses your friends have reviewed, etc.
But even if they don’t, it will be simple for Google+ users to categorize their favorite local businesses into a Circle. For example, you could easily create a “Fave Restaurants” Circle and start adding businesses to it. Your mom might not do this, but I might, and in the future I’ll be able to share my Fave Restaurants Circle with mom.
Local Interest Circles Right now, the Google+ Sparks section is pretty lame, but it could become the key to local service provider discovery. Sparks are basically search/news results for any given topic. So an “SEO” Spark would show whatever Google+ thinks are the most relevant SEO articles from its index.
Right now, it is very challenging for local businesses to rank in Google Web results for “national” terms like “how much does a face lift cost?” But over time, I would expect the Sparks algo to get much more sophisticated,so if I were interested in getting rid of that damn turkey neck and searched for it via Sparks, the UI would know to show me content from local plastic surgeons who specialized in turkey neck removal highlighted in the stream.
While I doubt that Google will be showing ads in Google+ any time soon (keeping the experience “pure” and all that) at some point, they are going to turn on the monetization and that’s where things will get really interesting.
If Google is able to aggregate enough users and activity, it could yield a demographically targeted ad network that is as powerful as Facebook’s. SEM experts like to say that Adwords is “intent driven” media while Facebook Ads are “interest driven”. Combining these two notions into Adwords would be powerful for marketers.
Now, from a single dashboard, a local plastic surgeon could simultaneously target a campaign at people searching for “tummy tuck in Atlanta” Google Search, Atlanta women 35-50 with household incomes over $100,000 who are talking about plastic surgery on Google+, and anyone who has hit an Atlanta plastic surgeon place page in the last 30 days. Oh yeah, and they can do this on an a la carte basis or just turn it into a flat rate automatic package for SMBs with limited budgets.
Place Pages Become Truly Social
The real win here is complete integration of a business’ Place Page with Google+. Here’s what we would expect to see:
- When a Google+ member hits a Place Page, there’s a message to add them to a Circle and/or to join the business’ Circle. We wouldn’t be surprised if there were some kind of default “local biz” Circle that shows up on the Place Page that you can easily drag the business’ Google+ badge into.
- Google Offers becomes a default Circle so you can see local offers in a stream on Google+ whenever you want, filtered by interest and your social graph.
- When you hit a Place Page that is either a member of a Google+ friend’s Circle or has been reviewed by a Google+ friend, you see your friend’s social history with the business.
- Businesses with claimed Place Pages are able to incentivize you to add them to your Circle.
Here’s one Google+ user’s rendition of what a Google+ Places integration might look like:
If Google+ is seen as an enhancement of Google’s Place Search, then this could be a real point of differentiation for Google from Facebook Places, which has virtually no local search experience (at the moment). Marrying the “intent”-driven nature of search with the “interest”-driven nature of social media at a local level seems like the holy grail.
Put all of this together, and Google+ may be the last step in closing the full local commerce loop. Social signals baked into Places, Offers and mobile (not to mention Google Checkout and Wallet for payments) could put the company squarely at the nexus of the merchant/customer relationship. And if Google+ can attract wide adoption, it will get its hands on more granular user data to target ads both within the social network and across its suite.
Oh, and lest we forget, the search ramifications. If (and when) Google bakes + and +1 into organic search to influence page rank, businesses will feel a more urgent need to participate. So they got that going for them, which is nice. Goonga galunga.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.