What's the fuss about?
Google+, if you haven't already heard, is the social network which is provided by the search engine giant Google.
On the surface it's 'Just another social network' but when you start to look at the deep integration with other Google products which are gradually being rolled out, alongside the way that Google+ 'Circles' (the containers into which you group your contacts) are influencing the content served up through Google search, it is rapidly becoming a social network that you cannot afford to ignore if you take search engine rankings seriously.
Google+ takes on board many of the concepts which were presented by the crowd-funded Diaspora, such as adding people to Circles (collections of people and pages) based on whatever factors you want to group people by – how you know them, what they do, what they talk about and so forth – as well as having the ability to control the 'noise' that certain people throw at you without removing them entirely from your network (by adding them to a 'Circle' and turning down how much it outputs to your stream), and selectively allowing on a granular basis who can access your shared content.
You can therefore choose who you want to listen to – for example, create a Circle for all Joomla! People and you can just view that stream, rather than distracting photos of cute kitties and the latest baby photos from your friends' sister.
Google+ also integrates with Google's other systems – Gmail, Calendar, Docs (now known as Drive), and much more, providing tight integration for people who use those services.
A recent announcement for Google Apps Enterprise customers now allows domain administrators to control posts by their users and restrict to domain-only (thereby resolving issues relating to sharing of sensitive content), view all staff profiles and even allow users to create a hangout (very powerful video conferencing allowing collaborative working) automatically whenever a calendar entry is created, or manually with one click in the calendar entry.
Even more clever is that you can now read your Gmail filtered by your Google+ Circles – so if you add people to the Circle you can then quickly find their emails and screen out other content.
Google is now using your Google+ profile as a centralised means of identifying the author of content across the internet. That's not only for your content on Google+, but for all your content across the web. Blogs, forum posts, articles, reviews, videos, likes, shares, and so forth.
When you create a Google+ profile you are prompted to add all websites that you contribute to – for example, if you are an author on the Joomla! Community Magazine you could add this as a resource to which you contribute. Perhaps you write a personal blog – add that too! Maybe you also contribute to a corporate blog or have written books on Amazon, another source to add.
You also are able to add all your social profiles, which will be hooked up with your author profile – think Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so forth.
Providing you have the correct microdata on your websites (this will be covered in a forthcoming article), you will quickly notice your Google+ profile being linked with your articles.
In search results they will begin to show as 'Written by Ruth Cheesley ' which links to your Google+ profile. In time you'll also see 'More from Ruth Cheesley' which links to a filtered Google search, for all content authored by Ruth Cheesley (this currently displays on google.com but not on regional (e.g. google.co.uk) searches).
Google is building a trust-based network, whereby your social habits and connections inform your search results. If you search for something in Google when you're logged in, results which have been recommended (by '+1' or sharing) by your network (people in your Circles) will begin to be served up above those which haven't – the relevance algorithm won't be ignored completely, but precedence is beginning to be given to resources which people in your network think are useful.
This makes logical sense, in a way. If you were looking for some information about a topic, would you be more likely to trust information which comes from somebody you are already connected with, or a complete stranger (or something a company is paying to put in front of your face)? I know which one I'd choose!
For companies ...
Take a step back and consider this from a corporate perspective – if you have a corporate page on Google+ and your potential clients follow your Google+ page, your results are naturally going to start ranking higher for those people. If you have a lot of people following your page, then a lot more people are going to have your links ranking higher. It's important to note, however, that you can't directly 'Circle' people from a page unless they have already 'Circled' your page – so some strategy is called for in order to gain followers.
Consider the implications from the perspective of an author, technical writer, trainer, speaker, one-man-band or any other position whereby building a reputation is important. If you have lots of people in your Circles, they too will be served over time with content you recommend (by sharing or recommending using +1). They will also be able to see when they search for a term which you have a reputation for, how many Circles you are in (hence your general popularity), and at a click see all the content you have contributed. Everything.
So, the question is, can you (and your clients) afford to ignore Google+ any more?
Link to video of talk on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGQLpLmuQ60
Link to slides on SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/RCheesley/microdata-authorship-google-and-joomla-ruth-cheesley-joomla-world-conference-2012