Over the last few weeks the web has witnessed Google making a stream of announcements regarding changes to its services. Although the announcements cover a range of the Google products, they all have one thing in common - they all tie back to Google+. Google launched + last year, representing their biggest step into social networking to date. Google+, described by Mark Zuckerberg last year as “their little version of Facebook”, was initially met with much enthusiasm from the tech world, however people quickly came to notice that the service wasn’t all that different from Facebook - except all their friends, photos, and favourite brands weren’t on there.
Since then Google have announced a series of changes to their normal services all aimed at making Google+ as easy and beneficial to use as possible;
A YouTube redesign in December put greater emphasis on social sharing, with Google+ always coming top of the suggested network list as a place to share the videos. If Google’s interest was purely in making it as easy as possible for people to share the videos with their friends, they would first present them with the networks where they have the most connections - Facebook and Twitter.
Last week Google introduced ‘Search plus Your World’ which merges normal Google search results with posts from your friends on Google+ deemed to be relevant to your search terms. This resulted in cries of anti-competitive behaviour from Twitter, and minor user backlash. However, these changes, apart from giving Google+ another wave of press coverage, mean that for SEO purposes, it is in a brand’s interest to join Google+, advertise their presence their, and encourage their fans to follow them, as the more followers they have on Google+, the greater the chance that they will appear in the search results on Google.
Today Google have announced that anyone who wants to create an account for any of Google’s products, whether it is for an email account, a Google profile or YouTube profile, that user will automatically be signed up as a Google+ user, like it or not.
It is clear from the number of changes to their much loved and established products coming in just a few weeks, Google are willing to risk it all on making Google+ a success, but are these changes having any effect?
Yesterday at an earnings conference, where it was reported that Google came up short on Wall Street’s Q4 earnings expectations (although many have said this is due to the failings of the analysts and not Google), CEO Larry Page announced that Google+ now has 90 million users worldwide, and that “+users are very engaged with our [Google’s] products — over 60% of them engage daily, and over 80% weekly”.
These stats make Google+’s growth seem very healthy indeed. However, those 90 million registered users include the reported millions of people who signed up to try Google+, and never came back - but the 60% daily and 80% weekly engagement would seem to suggest that they do. Some were quick to point out however that out that in the quote Page mentions that those engagement statistics represent interaction with Google products not specifically Google+, which means that those users could just be using YouTube, Google search and Gmail, and never using Google+. When asked to clarify this statement Google refused to comment.
Google is currently valued at $190bn, and is the largest internet company to have ever floated on the stock market. They are clearly feeling the heat from Facebook (reported to be floating in May at a valuation of $100bn), and their new advert serving platform, which has been reported to outperform Google’s on a number of metrics. Google are taking a great risks in changing the products that people already use and love to support a new one that users don’t seem to think we need. Whether that risk pays off remains to be seen.