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Why Google+ is Important for Small Businesses

GPlus Circle FollowingSM.001A recent Wall Street Journal article states “There’s No Avoiding Google+.”  If you’re starting a business, especially a web-centric or local business, you should pay a bit of attention to Google+, and for some businesses, you should embrace it fully. It has the potential to increase your exposure to customers and improve your search ranking.

First, what is Google+? Simply put, it is a set of tools that is part of Google. Things that are connected to Google+ go right into the search engine and are data for the algorithms Google uses to determine if they should give your business as a result when someone does a search. The data from Google+ can make your shop show up better on Maps, Places, improve your results in Ads and in other Google products as well.

Who’s using Google+? If you want to review a place you’ve found via a Google search result, you need a Google Profile – and hey, you’re using Google+. Are you using an Android phone? You have a Gmail account linked to it, and that has a profile, which is also your personal Google+ profile. Using Gmail? You have a profile - here’s mine, add me to a circle. Your profile is part of the Google+ social network, which has characteristics similar to Facebook and Twitter. On Google Plus, you can follow people by putting them into Circles, which are like groups on Facebook or lists on Twitter. People don’t have to circle you back, but if they don’t you’ll only see their public post.

Get a Leg Up on Google Search

If you’re using search, Google+ can influence search results. Friends from your Google+ Circles who review places will show up in your search results. This is called “Search + Your World” and it is part of the reason your business should be on Google +. If customers review your business, check into your business via Google’s tools, or give your business website “+1″ (similar to a Facebook “Like”) people connected to those customers will see that connection in their search results. Since we know friend recommendations are important, and search is still a huge way people find businesses, you want to do more about Google+.

“It’s truly an even playing field,” says Lynette Young, author of Google+ for Small Business. “Small businesses can get the same connections and advantages that large businesses can, using Google+. We’re talking about things you can’t buy your way into using Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) Your posts, profile, updates can all be searched by Google, and you have the same chances of getting results as the big guys. Having a large community is less important than having the right community on Google+.”

Young suggests businesses create a Page. You will be able to do that from your own Google+ account, so if you don’t have one already, create a Google account, and then once you’ve created your own profile, create your business’ page (More information.) It is important to fill in all the information in your business’ profile, such as store location, hours, and put in some pictures. These all show when someone searches for your business. If you already have a Google Places profile, you can connect it to your Google+ profile.

Once you have a page, you also want to connect your page to your own website. You can make a simple badge that tells customers you’re on Google+ using a tool and pasting a small snippet of code into your own website. By having the badge, people can give +1 to your business (“like it”) and that helps your search ranking.

As a Google Page, you can’t go and follow other people – they have to add you into their circles first. That makes it a bit of a catch 22 – how do you grow audience? Well, one way, says Young, is to use your personal Google+ profile to Circle relevant users, and share content with them. You can create content on your business page, and use your personal profile to share it. Make sure to use the “Public” sharing setting, in addition to sharing with your Circle lists, as things that are public get indexed by Google. Remember, you want as much good content as possible, with words and phrases related to your business, out there and indexed by Google.

It may seem like adding another network will add even more time to your existing marketing activities, but you don’t have to do all this work on your own. “Google+ allows a page to have one owner, but up to 49 other managers,” says Young. You can also use tools like HootSuite to share content to Google+ at the same time you share to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Make the investment in time, and learn what Google+ can do. “It is like an IV into the main line of the Google search engine. Reach out, get similar companies and customers to connect to you on Google+,” says Young. Let us know how it works for you in the comments below.

Howard Greenstein

Howard Greenstein is President and Marketing Technology Strategist at the Harbrooke Group, Inc. He helps companies to communicate better with customers by helping them use technology opportunities more effectively. His clients include large and small businesses and nonprofits. Greenstein writes the Start-up Toolkit Column at Inc.com, and teaches the Wired Nonprofit class at NYU's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.

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