While many people think of Google+ as a social network, it’s really a whole lot more than that. Nick at online marketing company Smart Local has the lowdown.

By Nick Rink

Google+ turned three back in June this year and continues to grow in spite of what a few naysayers in the tech press occasionally say about it being a 'ghost town'. As a social destination it’s second only to Facebook in terms of active users, which means that it should be something to take a serious look at if you haven’t already.

While many people think of Google+ as a social network it’s really a whole lot more than that. Sure, there are social aspects to it, but it’s also a layer beneath pretty much everything that Google does. For many business owners it’s an absolute must as their local Pages show up directly in Google’s local search results and on Google Maps. Here are a few other reasons to take a look. 

1. Influence personalised search results

Every public post on Google+ finds its way into Google’s search index and has the ability to show up in organic search results. With the increase in personalisation of these results based on who we’re connected to, there is the potential to influence what content your connections see in their search results. Target the right people on Google+ and you could have you and your brand showing ahead of your competitors. Here’s a great example that shows how it can work.

2. Target your marketing message with Circles

Circles are the Google+ way of following people and are one of the first steps towards building relationships. With Circles you can quite simply segment your target audience and tailor your content specifically. Whether you want to access people in London or Manchester, Apple users or Android, you have complete control over where your posts get sent. They are also a little like Twitter lists in that you can also control what content you see, giving you the ability to filter your home stream.

3. Control your branding

Whether you’re a local business or a major brand, Google+ offers the opportunity to take control of your brand in search results and grab a little additional real estate. Claiming and verifying your Business Page gives you greater influence on what Google shows about you through their Knowledge Graph, which appears in the panel to the right of the regular organic search results. For a much more in-depth look at the opportunities available with this, check out this article on LinkedIn.

4. Hangouts

This part of Google+ encompasses everything from simple text chat to live broadcasts, which are recorded and automatically uploaded to your YouTube channel. As a means of both internal and external communication Hangouts by themselves should be enough to draw more folks into Google+. They can be used for holding webinars, creating content, engaging with a live audience and showcasing areas of expertise. Brands ranging from NASA to GoDaddy are now using Hangouts On Air (HOAs), but they’re accessible to everyone and many small business owners are also making good use of them. Here are a few more good ideas.

5. Integration with the Google Ecosystem

At its core Google+ is still very much an identity platform, and it helps to connect you to the entire Google ecosystem. If you currently use Gmail, Drive, YouTube, AdWords, Android, Chrome or Maps, then chances are you will already have a Google+ profile. Create an event and it automatically pops up in your calendar. Want to initiate a chat with someone? Then you can do it right from within Gmail. While the level of integration hasn’t always been welcome (the YouTube comments episode, for example), broadly it’s seen as a great way to tie all of Google’s products together… “one ring to bind them all” type of thing!

There are plenty of additional reasons to take a look at Google+ and determine whether or not it’s right for you and your business. Current figures estimate that there are over 550 million active users on Google+, but the potential reach – the total number of people with Google+ accounts – is closer to 2 billion. That figure alone should be enough to warrant a closer look.

Nick owns and runs Smart Local, a digital marketing agency that focuses on helping SMEs with their local online marketing. You can find him over on Google+ and Twitter.