Google+, just one of Google’s many online properties, is one of the most hotly debated social platforms to date. Referred to by Google as a “social layer,” Google+ has become an ancillary, but also cornerstone, piece to Google’s online search dominance.

It’s more than a pure social network. Google—whether they intended to or not—has created something users need. At this point, Google+ has become mandatory for anyone who uses other Google properties since it’s meant to work in tandem with like Gmail, the +1 button and YouTube comments. Google+ has some enhanced features and certain strengths other networks don’t, including its hangout and photo features. Just take this into account— are uploaded there each week.

Google+’s User Profile

Your Google+ public profile is a visible entity integrated with other Google properties, as mentioned earlier. All of the basic social networking components divulge your background information, work and school history, interests and current residence. One of Google+’s benefits for writers and content marketers is their contributor section, which allows for Google Authorship, an initiative Google began in 2011 to attribute content to original authors. This tool connects authors with their work and displays information about them (along with a headshot) next to search results.

Circles, Hangouts, +1’s and the SEO Advantage of Google+

A circle is the foundation for Google+’s network pool and is completed through a drag-and-drop interface. Unlike other social mediums, Google approached adding people to your network with an open format (like Twitter) but gave the user options to create segmented groups (these circles). This allows users to distribute content to appropriate audiences. Google made sharing content to the masses easy as well with a Public share option.

Hangouts are essentially video conferencing calls with up to 10 individuals. The nice part: it’s free. You are also able to use Hangouts in accordance with many apps. Sharing of documents, for instance, among the group becomes an option.

Google +1 button is the equivalent to Facebook’s Like button. In August 2011, Google added this feature. Once users +1 a piece of content, it can be seen on the +1 tab in their Google+ profile, in Google search results, and on websites with a +1 button.

So what does all this mean for SEO and digital marketing? How Google+’s features affect the SEO landscape. There is one real obvious answer. So much of SEO is dependent on Google’s algorithms and search results. In fact, I’d argue, SEO means trying to tackle Google’s playground. Marketers play in it and try to “conquer” the course. Google+ is the swing set at the playground. It’s fun and a needed component of the playground. That’s a blatant, and albeit, simplistic metaphor.

Let’s dive deeper.

Personalized Search Results

Probably the most direct way Google+ impacts search results is personalization. If someone is following you on Google+, the chances they see your posts increase dramatically. When searching through organic results, your results are improved over an incognito (or logged out) search. A big reason for this change in the results is because you may follow people and have +1’d their content.

People who follow your posts are more likely to see your content and those who follow anyone else who hit +1 are more likely to see it. Building an audience on your own or getting influential people in your market space to share (+1) your content is a direct way Google+ impacts search.

Since a +1ed link has a chance at a higher Click-Through-Rate (CTR), there is a greater potential the link will be shared socially. Perhaps the best visual came from the Marketing Firm, Tasty Placement and their infographic titled, “How Social Media Activity Impacts Organic Search Rankings.” Through the experiment, the marketing firm found that Google+’s system was the best in terms of a link between social activity and search rank. And it stems from Google’s core format. They cut out a crowd-sourcing middleman by making users directly vote on their site.

The Google+ Marketing Necessity in 2014

Today, it’s impossible to ignore Google+ in your online marketing strategy. You would be foolish to leave it out because how the platform integrates with so many other online facets. So why is Google+ a game changer in 2014?

  • When it comes to ranking, Google+ is a mandate for social media engagement. We have already discussed its social impact in the aforementioned section.  And while Google+ doesn’t largely impact non-personalized search now, Eric Enge, a well-known thought leader and co-author of “The Art of SEO,” states that there might be a possibility that it will influence non-personalized results in future.
  • Google+ has arrived as a serious player in the social scene. Facebook and Twitter were the popular kids at school. Google+ took some time for people to warm up to. It was viewed as an alternative or “extra” social media platform. However, the times have changed and Google+ has found its growth spurt. It is designed to create online connections and distinguish online thought leaders at the same time as boosting rankings.
  • Businesses are taking note that Google uses Google+ to collect personal information. Google has slowly revealed how impactful a Google+ account is for business. Companies are forced to expand their use in 2014.
  • Despite Google’s mogul, Matt Cutts, stating there is no direct SEO impact with +1 as a ranking factor, this study by Moz.com shows a great correlation. Also, Moz argues that whether intended or not, Google+ was built for SEO. They lay out 3 reasons why:
  • Posts are crawled and indexed immediately: Google can find new content quickly with Google+, unlike Facebook who have restrictions of data sharing and privacy settings in place.
  • Google+ posts pass link equity: When you share a link on Google+, the anchor text becomes the title page.
  • Google+ is optimized for semantic relevance: Each post made on Google+ includes its own URL and title tag. Opportunities for longer entries and internal linking occur with sharing.
  • The rise in internet use for writers sparked more interest in Google’s Authorship. There was a chance to solidify your stance as an expert and true author in the eyes of Google’s rankings. Authorship is recognized by Google as a reputable content generator. Including Authorship to your Google+ profile differentiates leaders and can become a huge pool of talent in 2014.  Speaking to this, Michael Cottam, a Portland SEO consultant and associate at Moz predicts AuthorRank will start to heavily influence rankings in Google. He states “Google+ authorship will help Google to recognize both the credibility of authors, but also be able to “grade” a website based on the authors who contribute to that site. In essence, AuthorRank will behave like PageRank, but it will discourage spammers and make it tougher for them to manipulate.”

Google+ Won’t Die Because Google Execs Won’t Let It

Google+ is here to stay because Google has recently come out to defend it. Even more so, Google plans to grow the platform, not diminish its role. In a December interview with Indian business newspaper, Mint, Steve Grove, a Google+ exec makes it clear that Google+ is still in its youth. He even goes so far to say that Google+ is “kind of like the next version of Google.” What prompted him to make such a claim?

“There’s a lot of great value here, because Search also shows results from Google+ and this is going to bring more people into Google+; people are going to see that there’s a lot of value in logging into our services, before doing a search, he said.”  In addition, Grove spoke of Google+ expanding to conduct live video, similar to what YouTube did for a recorded video. The centerpiece to Google+’s development moving forward is mobile where they are “seeing lots of activity.”

Google seems to want to convince users their social network is a prerequisite for using Google’s other services even though it appears their strategy is to convince people already on the internet that the internet runs through Google+. In this fashion, Google’s idea is to rope new users from the get-go.

In addition to their commitment to grow the network, Google’s recent news about Gmail users being able to send emails to any Google+ user they have connected with has caused privacy concerns. On paper, the idea is useful if you want to connect with Google+ to have access to Gmail addresses. However for many, those two services are used for different things. Opting out of the feature is possible through Gmail’s settings, but the fact remains Google’s intentions are to integrate Google+ with just about every other facet of its properties.

Final Thought: Social Presence Will Be More Important Than Search

This trend is really the crux of Google+’s importance moving into the future. Having a strong social presence is becoming more and more reliable in driving traffic and building brand awareness. Because people can quickly share content, it is imperative marketers understand the importance of Google+. Many experts predict that while traditional SEO tactics won’t go away, the rise of social sharing and a content life cycle will only gain momentum in 2014 and beyond.