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Google Plus and Google Circles – Impact on Search Engine Optimisation, your business and private life

Google Circles hit 10 million members after just 2 weeks of informal invitations and will have a big impact on Facebook as well as how websites are ranked in Google Search.

Google Circles is not a simple replacement for Facebook.

Google Circles is rightly called a Project by Google.  It is part of a grand re-alignment of our digital futures.

Part of the new Google Project is Google+.

Every web page now has a new popularity rating, based not only on how many people have clicked +1 boxes, but also on who those people are, and how well you know them personally. But that means Google has to know who you are, who other people are, and how all the world's relationships mesh together.

Relational Relevance is what it's all about - not just relevance of Search keywords to particular ideas or pages.

We can be certain that Google+ scores for each website will have a soon have a significant impact on search listings.  What does it all mean for you and your business?

Here is the background to Google Circles:

For many years, Search Engine teams have tried to use personal recommendations and things like click through’s on search results, as part of the scoring process to decide which websites appear highest.

As soon as any new method is used by Search Engines, you can be sure that tens of thousands of people will try to trick it – and that is what happened, with companies selling clicks, recommendations and so on.

Just look at the number of companies who are selling video views and video recommendations to try and subvert YouTube’s search engine.

At the same time, social networks have taken off in a way hard to imagine five years ago – particularly Facebook and Twitter.

To some extent they have both been victims of their own success:  many people have more contacts than they can really relate to, all muddled together – work, home, family, close friends, club members and so on.  Neither Facebook or Twitter offer any solution other than creating multiple identities which is tedious.

Google responded first to the Search issue over the last year or so by focusing on Facebook LIKE scores and Twitter links.  Detailed research suggests that Facebook links are a much more potent driver of Google Search results than Twitter, which is what we would expect.

After all, what would you trust more: 1000 recommendations from your extended Facebook connections, or 1000 Tweets (which could easily be generated by a simple spam machine).

Google has also been worried that many people spend more time on Facebook than they do using Google services.

What would you do next if you were running Google?

So what would you do if you were Google?  The company has responded in a very logical way:

1)    Launch a new social platform which every self-respecting website owner needs to harness, linked to Search results on Google – relying on website owners to drive use of +1 buttons.

2)    Use a simple +1 button in all Search listings to allow people to say what they think is great.

3)    Discourage spamming of the +1 button, by linking much of its power to influencing groups of friends.

4)    Oil the social machinery by analyzing all Google Mail connections and a host of other information which Google Search is able to link to each individual – for example, their website address linked to their Twitter account linked to a phone number linked to an email address – information from maybe four different websites, matched by Google.

5)    Outdo Facebook by encouraging wide and informal circles of relationships, each managed separately in a very easy way.

Mapping all the world’s relationships

The slightly scary thing about it all is that Google is, it appears, in the process of mapping every human relationship and digital activity in the world, looking for patterns, associations, and above all, for belonging.

Google intelligence is all about predicting what you like, what you really mean, what you really want, from tiny bits of information.  Google can do this by looking at your past history – for example previous searches.

But the most sophisticated predictions will come from matching you with a few thousand people who are almost identical in age, gender, background, social preferences, lifestyle choices, religious beliefs, location, language, culture and so on.

Using Google Circles to influence Search Engine listings

I have been using Google Circles for a couple of weeks now, experimenting with a group of around 3,500 people in various Circles, to see what works, and how easily the systems get overwhelmed.  Why bother to have large numbers in your Circles?

Well for a start, the more people you are in mutual relationship with, the more people are likely to see your own +1 recommendations and profile photo appearing beside pages you think are great or want to promote.

I looked at the list Google provides of how people are linked to me.  Loads are linked only through Twitter, yet appear on Google Circles.

So Google took the my Twitter page (which I gladly listed on my public profile) and started scanning all 41,500 of my Twitter Followers, looking for people who were already potentially linked to me in other ways – maybe a mutual friend on Linkedin (yes I put Linkedin on the Google Profile too).

Facebook has created a relational prison

Of course Google is locked out for now from the biggest prize of all which is Facebook.

But there are (still) ways to export ALL your Faceboook contact emails into Yahoo, and then across into Google.

That means Google can then start to link up Facebook relationships too.  In addition to that, if you register your Facebook profile as a link on Google Profile, you will find a Facebook button inside Google Circles, so you can see Facebook within a Google Circles frame.

So it is all happening very quickly.

Mapping of the world’s relationship will take a while but is not so complex when you think of the challenge of indexing over 50 billion webpages, or the feat of recognizing faces from photos.

Yes that is part of the grand intellectual challenge:  to recognize relationships between people by analyzing online group photos (even without the benefit of people who add captions).

What does Google Circles and Google+ mean for you and your business?

1)    If you want to stay private, stay clear of social networks, and if you use them, be very careful about how much information you put in your profiles, who you accept and the privacy settings.

2)    The more private you want to be, the worse your experience will become online – especially when searching for things that matter. Expect a two tier world:  those who are happy to be known, who will be served in a personal way, and those who want to stay invisible, who will be treated as strangers.

3)    The more services and activities you do using Google, the richer the rest of your Google experience is likely to be.  So using Gmail for example, which generates Google Contacts, drives Social Circles and informs Search, is likely to make sense.

4)    Highest rankings on Google Search will depend increasingly on getting recommendations from many tens of thousands of people who like your pages or videos. People with whom you have a genuine relationship – maybe regular emails, chats, video links, visiting their websites and so on.

5)    Some Search Engine Optimisation companies will try to create whole cities of artificial people: false identities for crowds that do not exist, simply to try to trick these new Search Engine weighting factors.  Google will hit back by looking in real depth at the quality and genuineness of relationships in order to kill off phantom people, and prevent abuse.

What does Google Circles mean for Facebook?

Facebook needs to watch out.  The team has been complacent, lacking radical innovation, watching tens of millions of new Facebook accounts being opened every week.

Facebook can see off the Googles Circles challenge but it will not be easy without a much closer fusion with Web Search, mail, chat, video, documents - and their partner currently is Microsoft / Bling, who will also be under huge pressure to respond.  Microsoft will be launching it's own social networking platform soon (leaked by accident on a test webpage that went public in early July), which may complicate the relationship with Facebook, and leave Facebook more isolated than they would like.

I think that Facebook as at most 6 months to respond.  Remember how far and fast MySpace fell.

The layout of Facebook personal pages is looking tired and will need to radically change to compete with Google Circles.

Number 1 priority for Facebook must be to sort out how people can create multiple groups and groups within groups in a simpler way than at present.

Google's use of Flash to allow people to sweep groups of contacts around the screen is clever, intuitive and will be a hard act to beat.

Facebook has yet to work out other simple things such as making it easy for people to Twit from one account to their main Facebook profile, and from another Twitter account to a Fan page related to their business that may be linked to the same sign in.

Younger users may find Google Circles vital to managing parents

Facebook was the playground of young people – then their parents and grandparents stampeded in, often as relatively low-profile stalkers.

Expect younger people to leave Facebook en-mass for Google Circles, unless Facebook changes.  It is too easy to damage reputation in family or business by the wrong postings appearing in front of the wrong people.

Facebook cannot keep people in relational prisons

People must be allowed to own their own data.  LInkedin, Google Circles and many other networks allow export of contacts. Facebook tries to keep people in a relational prison.  It won’t last long.

Of course, locking people into Facebook is a major sign of fear in the Facebook team, and shows us just how much Facebook fears that someone else is developing what may turn out to be a more useful and powerful platform.

But the answer is not to lock information up, but to get their own product right.

Big risks for Google

This is a dangerous time for Google. Their last two attempts to do social networking failed.  Their risks are twofold and are related:

1) People may react strongly against the all-knowing Google super-brain - sign up for every possible Google App you can, activate them fully and start to use them heavily, add every website you use and then go to Google Dashboard to see the breaktaking knowledge Google has about you - and that is only the bit they show - without all your surfing history analysis and other things.

2) The larger and more successful Google becomes, the more the risk being seen like Microsoft.  When Google started, the image was simple, information that people want, freely available, relatively non-commercial.  That could all be lost as Google rolls out mobile platforms, and offers ways to live without Microsoft or Apple.

Watch out for media stories alleging breach of confidentiality, theft of data, breach of trust by allowing easy access by security services (especially in countries where such people are greatly feared).

Impact on Google Search results – what to do now

As always, if you want to win in Search Engine rankings, remember that the ultimate aim of Google Search engineers is to mimick human intelligence.

Design pages for people, not robots. Seduce your readers with astounding facts, smart insight, attractive photos, insightful and entertaining videos.  Excite them with fresh and relevant content which is really valuable to them, solving practical problems, making life easier, lightening their day.

As you do this, have the confidence to believe that the community will reward you with gossip and personal loyalty which will soon be picked up by Google itself, bringing more people to join in the party.

Yes of course, pay attention to obvious things:  make sure words that matter to people are in the title of your pages, or in the first sentence or two.  Make sure links on the page are clear, makes sense and are relevant.

Join in the conversations – with friends and customers.

Engage with every kind of social network.

Focus on being an early and full user of Google + and Google Circles.

Link your social networks together for efficiency using tools like Google Circles – so that when you post to one forum, others automatically get alerted too.

And enjoy the new phase of the digital age.  It will soon in turn be overtaken….

Want a Personal Invite to Google Circles ? - send me a message now.

•    Patrick Dixon is author of 16 books on the Future including Futurewise and Building a Better Business, advises many multinationals on the impact of social networking and social marketing – and is a major user of social networks.


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Thanks for promoting with Facebook LIKE or Tweet. Really interested to read your views. Post below.

Patrick Dixon
July 20, 2011 - 19:36
So what do YOU think of Google Circles / Facebook???

Really looking forward to the debate here and on Twitter. Patrick Dixon

Join the Debate! What are your own views?



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