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Digital Transformation

Google is saving itself from Plus

By Stephen Kenwright | head of search

July 28, 2015 | 5 min read

Google announced last week that it would be is shuttering unclaimed Google+ Local pages – part of a “decoupling” project to salvage the still moving parts of Plus from an engine that has otherwise ground to a standstill.

Links to Plus from within Google products disappeared last month. For those still using Plus the link was still available in the grid menu – the place where Google experiments go to die – but since June it has been impossible to access Plus from Maps and the local search features of Plus have been disabled.

Already rechristened Google My Business, local no longer has a place in Plus.

As Bradley Horowitz, VP of Streams – a potential Google+ replacement product – posted on Google blog yesterday: “while we got certain things right, we made a few choices that, in hindsight, we’ve needed to rethink.”

Local was one of the few things that Google arguably did get right with Google+ and as a consequence it’s being rescued from the toxic Plus brand.

Considering the backlash against Plus when Google forced YouTube and Gmail users to adopt the platform, removing links to a user’s profiles from within those Google products represents a massive step change – one which suggests that acquisition of new users is no longer a concern.

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Horowitz’s announcement means you’ll no longer need a Google+ account to use YouTube or any other products the company provides, showing that Google is no longer even concerned about keeping the users it has. He says: “For people who already created Google+ profiles but don’t plan to use Google+ itself, we’ll offer better options for managing and removing those public profiles.”

Horowitz states “you’ll see these changes roll out in stages over several months”, meaning that the things Google did get right will continue to be repurposed. A new Photos product was announced at I/O in March which effectively raided Plus for parts.

Advertisers go where the eyeballs are and Google is finally admitting that Plus will never reach the critical mass required to monetise the platform, instead choosing to start integrating Twitter into search results instead, as of February this year, as Twitter has monetised itself rather successfully.

Ironically Google+ was never able to offer brands a significant advantage in search. Author photos in search results (removed almost a year ago) could increase click through rate – and as we know click through rate is a ranking factor – but there are a number of more cost effective ways to increase CTR that businesses had adopted less readily than Authorship (annual rewrites of meta data as Google changes its guidelines, Schema.org markup).

It’s telling of the ineffectiveness of Google+ that its apparent demise shouldn’t really affect brands’ strategy too much now. It’s some years since Author Rank was a possibility, so attempting to coax business leaders and press offices onto the authorship programme is now futile; engagement rates are significantly higher on at least five other platforms for the majority of brands; and Plus’ 300 million “active users” is likely to be decimated now being active on YouTube doesn’t mean being active on Plus. Plus is now every bit the black hole that Buzz became.

Ultimately the USP of Plus was its integration into search, which is an advantage it can no longer legitimately claim. Google+ now has to stand on its own merits as a social network, which is a battle it can’t win. Brands investing in Google+ now are, at best, looking to the short term, and, at worst, throwing good money after bad.

Stephen Kenwright is head of search at Branded3

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