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INTERNATIONAL: Google Innovates to Compete on the Social Web

by Sara Borghi, July 20, 2012

Audience: Web marketers

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


  • In Google's push to provide a competitive social product, three new features stand out.
  • Google +1 recommendations introduce site visitors to content of interest to them on your site.
  • The Google+ iPad app may attract activity on the social network thanks to new functionalities like Hangouts with AirPlay integration.

The social media landscape is not only more complex than ever before, but now it has also reached a very high level of competitiveness and is also constantly expanding.

The different social media platforms are striving for consumer attention and the nimble brands are incorporating new platforms into their strategies when the fit is good.

Recent stats have shown that Pinterest traffic is now beating out Twitter, StumbleUpon, Bing and Google (non-organic traffic) and is also exceeding Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Even the social platforms that used to have few users are not so small anymore. Instagram now counts 50 million users, Pinterest counts 12 million and Tumblr has 55 million.

Facebook has recently reached over 900 million active users per month (50% of them are active daily) while it becomes the top ad-selling company. The percentage of adults who go online or check emails from their phones has gone from 31% in 2009 to 55% in 2012, while more users are currently accessing Google+ on mobile than desktop.

All this is illustrated nicely within a presentation created by SocialNerdia that offers a great overview of the latest trends in the worldwide social media landscape.

In this complex scenario, Google doesn’t want to be left behind, especially now that large brands are actively engaged on Google+ and almost 200 million users have signed up to the platform. In order to get momentum and have users — and therefore brands — invest in Google+, Google needs to further improve their product and provide functionalities and solutions that the competitors cannot meet.

A PageLever study shows that three days before Google started emphasizing “Plus” in search results, search engine traffic to Facebook Fan Pages dropped by 51%.


Before Google released Plus, Facebook received an average of 9.25 external referrals per day. On January 7, this decreased to an average of 4.52 external referrals per day, which equals a drop of 51%. In addition, Google released Search Plus Your World on January 10, accompanied by complaints about Google promoting Plus pages higher than Facebook and Twitter. There are doubts on whether Facebook modified something in the structure of their Fan pages that made them rank lower, or if Google pushed them down.

And it doesn't seem to be stopping there. During the past few days we have seen some very interesting updates coming from the Mountain View Giant regarding Google+.

1. Content Recommendations

Google recently introduced new functionality for the +1 button which provides users with other recommended pages on a site or subdomain. This is how it appears on the Bruce Clay, Inc. website:


In its blog post, Google said the feature had been requested by users for a long time and by brands and content creators who wanted a way to show the most relevant (and potentially most interesting) content to visitors.

To take advantage of this feature, users simply need to hover their mouse over the Google+ icon located on the article and a special window will open up to give them access to additional content on the domain or subdomain recommended by Google+ users. The update is supposed to happen automatically, but maybe there are different kinds of buttons, or perhaps the roll out is still happening because It seems that not every site with a Google+ button has the option.

Also, the criteria by which Google chooses the articles to display is unclear. Recommendations don’t seem to be related by topic. It’s a combination of older articles and newer ones, and they aren’t related by author.

The functionality only works for logged in users and recommendations are displayed by members of a user's Google+ network.

The major benefits of +1 recommendations include:

  • They provide value to website visitors (by referring them to additional content on the site that they might find useful) and website owners (if they are producing good content, then the button should help raise their page hits and time on site as well as their social sharing numbers).
  • They contribute to driving traffic to the social media platform.
  • They incentivise users to sign up to Google+ to get full advantage of the functionality.

This feature will be usable to those with websites integrating the +1 button. For example, if a user is browsing on the Chrome Web Store, by clicking on an app like Gmail and placing the mouse cursor on the little "g +1" icon, he will see additional applications recommended by members of their network.

2. Post Translations

The second innovation is the ability to translate the language of posts without leaving the site.

In social network environments, language barriers could be a considerable problem for both users and brands, especially in the attempt to reach out to people from different countries.

Google has thought about this and has recently developed the Translate for Google+ extension (for Chrome) that allows users/brands to integrate an icon dedicated to the translation inside their own pages.

Once installed, the extension will be implemented under each post and will allow a fast translation of all the content posted on Google+ that is written in a foreign language.

Multiple languages are available, in effect removing a potential barrier to becoming an active participant on Google+.

This functionality provides a great opportunity for brands to reach out to a broader audience and get their content seen, appreciated and shared.

3. Google+ iPad App

On the mobile front, Google has recently designed the Google+ app for the iPad, which looks quite different than the Web version of Google+ and is visually appealing.

In designing the app, Google emphasized photos and images in the real estate of the app. Posts without images are displayed as blue text on a white background. If a brand is trying to get noticed without images or thumbnails it’s going to be tough. This represents an important sign that shows Google’s interest in making Google+ a visual app, with a strong emphasis on media content, possibly in the attempt to compete with the increasing visual environment where apps like Instagram and Pinterest flourish.

Among the other functionalities, users can interact with the app in some unique ways:

  • They can pinch and expand posts right in their stream to add their comments.
  • By using two fingers, they can drag a post from their stream to easily re-share it. Once the post is dropped into the share box, the user can choose which circles to share with. While the act to share may be a bit over-architected, it sure is fun to do.
  • They can start a Hangout (with up to 9 friends) from their iPad and stream it to their TV using AirPlay. This improvement adds another differentiator for Google+ compared to the other social media platforms. Hangouts, despite being a virtual space, feel like a real place with real people in it whom you can easily meet face-to-face. Also, by switching to the Hangout into On Air mode, anyone who is online can watch live via YouTube, even without being on camera. This represents a fantastic opportunity for both users and brands. Hangouts On Air are also saved as YouTube videos to watch later. Anyone on Google+ can start a Hangout. Hangouts can be posted publicly, so anyone with the link can take part in it, and anyone following a specific person/brand on Google+ can see an invitation in his/her stream. Hangouts have a huge potential for brands and can be leveraged to build relationships with the user base, get feedback from them and also earn links.

These are some major improvements that are likely to have an impact on the way users utilise the app, as well as on the brands that are already on (or considering to join) the platform.

Google+ will become more and more compelling for companies and organisations that are looking to:

  • Get more content exposed (and to a broader audience)
  • Increase traffic to their Google+ page
  • Improve engagement with their audience
  • Improve their social influence

Despite all these developments, at the moment there are no signs of ads inside Google+, although Google has recently increased its advertising spending all around, especially online ($123.3 million) and on television (approx $69.3 million) and it’s clearly putting all its efforts into attracting even more users and brands.

For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright © 2012 Bruce Clay, Inc.