Monday, 9 January 2012

How Google+ Uses SEO to Steal Search from Facebook and Twitter


  Google's Superior SEO Strategy

Notice anything odd about your Google+ profile? Does it rank incredibly well in Google’s search results for your own name?
Colleagues note that their G+ profile now outranks other online identities that they’ve worked for years on. My own Google+ profile, just 5 months old, ranks #2 for my name. It now ranks higher than both my Twitter and Facebook profiles, even though I use those services far more often.
Profiles aren’t the only thing ranking. Individual Google+ posts frequently appear in search results as well.
Google+ Domination
Ranking for people’s names is one of the Holy Grails of search, like Amazon ranking for every book in print. With 7 billion people in the world, ranking on the first page for even a small portion of these is lucrative territory.
As search and social focus more on the individual, the war over names has begun.
How has Google won so much real estate on their own search pages in such a short period of time? Do they cheat? No, not really - more on this later. Google wins by employing really smart Search Engine Optimization techniques – the same SEO practices available to any online business.
For Facebook especially, this is a sensitive issue. Facebook actively prevents Google from crawling most of its content, allowing big G to access “Fan” pages, but limiting information from regular profiles. Now that Google+ has entered the social game, this policy puts Facebook results at risk of dropping in rankings and losing search real estate.
I often work with websites and startups wanting to build SEO features into their platform. If I were to build a social media service for SEO domination from scratch, I would build it exactly like Google+.
Here's the takeaway: Use SEO to your competitive advantage, no matter your niche.

1. Incentivize Inbound Links

Not long ago, Google started displaying author photos in its search results. In order to display a photo, Google asks authors to add links from their webpages to their Google+ profile. This creates potentially millions of high quality links from the world’s most influential online publishers, all pointing to multiple Google+ profiles.
Google+ Linking
Twitter and Facebook both benefit from similar links, but never before has a social media service offered such an incentive.
Google's SEO Tactic: Require Authors to Link to their Google+ Profile

2. Internal Linking

One thing noted about Google+ when it was released was just how easy it was to be in lots of circles, or add lots of people to your own. People who struggled on Twitter for years to build up 1000 followers, suddenly found themselves in 2000 or 3000 Google+ circles, seemingly overnight.
Circle Count
Google’s strategy to connect everyone on the planet also makes for good internal linking. Following more than 1000 people may not create a practical social experience, but it creates a great SEO opportunity. The more your content is shared in other people’s streams and profiles, then the more your content is crawled, indexed, and deemed important by search engines.
Google's SEO Tactic: Encourage Large Circles Counts

3. Lots of Indexable Content

My public Google+ profile contains a wealth of information, all visible to search engines, including:
  • Biographical Information
  • Full Text of Public Posts
  • Photos
  • Links to people who have added me to their circles
  • Everything I have ever +1’d
Compare that to my Twitter account – limited to 160 characters of biographical information, or my Facebook profile, which reads like an auto-generated pamphlet.
Consider how a search engine sees these pages. Take a look at the source code of any Google+ profile or use a tool SEO-browser (a search robot simulator) to see how many words appear on each profile.
  • Facebook – 275 Words

  • Twitter – 491 Words

  • Google+ – 2621 Words

Google structures content to provide a wealth of information for search engines, to index and serve in search results.
Google's SEO Tactic: Search Engine Friendly Profiles

4. On-Page Optimization

Google+ makes it easy to share posts from others – a feature much like retweeting on Twitter or reblogging on Tumblr. These Google+ posts frequently show up in search results as their own entries.
As the title tag is one of the most important aspects of on-page optimization, Google wisely choose longer, more descriptive title tags. Compare these to the shorter title tags offered by Facebook and Twitter, which often run no longer than three unique words.
Here’s the title tag to 3 different posts, all by Rand Fishkin. Each of these posts is indexed by Google.
  • Facebook – Yesterday, I…
  • Twitter – Twitter / @randfish: Running test of Google+’s …
  • Google+ – Rand Fishkin – Google+ – Shocking how many of the folks featured in this post form…
Which do you think ranks better for a query with “Rand Fishkin” in the search?
Rand Fishkin
Google's SEO Tactic: Descriptive Title Tags

5. User Generated Content

Every post I’ve ever written on Google+ has been public. As a result, every post has been crawled and indexed by Google search. The privacy settings on the profiles are simple, intuitive and encourage openness.
The big green button screams, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Share Google+
Most Twitter posts are public by default, although unless a tweet becomes famous the 140 character limit prevents most tweets from reaching the definition of “rich” content. Facebook, in contrast, only shares posts from fan pages with Google, and not posts from regular profiles.
Google's SEO Tactic: Encourage Public Sharing

6. Show Google+ Author Profiles in Search Results

The first 5 items on this list represent SEO tactics that anyone can use, but in a way #6 belongs to Google alone. By linking to Google+ profiles in search results, they create an advantage that no other social media service can duplicate.
Is Google “cheating” by favoring it’s own property? Some say yes, but on the other hand, is there a more relevant result? To me, it makes more sense to connect my author profile with the website that actually hosts the content, such as my profile on SEOmoz.
Rich Google Snippets
This demonstrates the power of rich snippets. Since Google introduced author photos in search results, webmasters have scrambled to get their mug included – the idea being that rich snippets of all kinds increase click-through rates. The question is, are we increasing the CTR of our own website, or Google+?
Google's SEO Tactic: Creative Rich Snippets

What Can You Do?

Except for #6 above, most of these techniques are available to any online business. Google has found a way to create large amounts of search engine friendly content, and do it at scale.
The lack of diversity this creates in Google's search results is troubling to some. Google risks turning into McGoogle, where every result and every page looks the same. With any luck, more companies will adopt strong SEO strategies to raise themselves in search.
Now that the adoption of Google+ has hit 62 million users and growing, expect to see far more Google+ in your search results soon.

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