Tag Archives: Google Plus

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Google Posts: Growing under the radar

Google Plus has risen from the dead! No we’re only joking, that’s highly unlikely.

Google have now rolled out their Posts function for all small businesses with a Google My Business account.

No idea what Posts are? You’d be forgiven for being confused, managing your business information on Google calls for some deciphering of the difference between Google My Business and Google+, which can lead to some serious head scratching.

Hence why we are taking the time to explore what Google Posts are and what they mean for small businesses (and celebrities, big businesses and Twitter).

Google has also refrained from making a big song and dance of Posts – so the amount of information out there is particularly limited on this occasion. To add to the confusion, the term ‘Google Posts’ or ‘Posts on Google’ is not actually the official name given to this feature, as per some of the Google search algorithm updates, Posts has been named as such by the wider community.

The term Google Posts was presumably born out of the language used by Google when describing the feature, e.g ‘post with Google’.

Let’s start from the beginning: What are Google Posts?

Originally tested during the 2016 US elections, Posts offered candidates the ability to submit updates that would appear directly in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and Google Maps.

These posts were also categorized with dropdowns, further helping users to access critical information. In 2016, selected businesses and individuals, including musicians, were used to trial Posts. Apparently these test results were good enough for a wider roll out in 2017.

The posts appear as cards in the SERPs with various calls to action including ‘more’ and social sharing to Facebook, Twitter and Google.

The big G state that:

“Posting on Google is a new way to share relevant, fresh content with the people who are searching for you. Use image, videos and even animated GIFs to engage your audience, and ad inline links to drive traffic to specific content. This enhanced format allows searchers to hear directly from the primary source – you – and complements existing results from across the web.”

How to use Google Posts

First things first, if you’re based in London like us, Google haven’t fully rolled posts out to everyone so you have to join the waiting list. In our opinion it is definitely worth registering.

Once you have been approved, the format appears to be reasonably simple. Simply log on to your GMB account, select ‘Create a Post’ and follow the options.

Google Posts: Growing under the radar
Image credit: Google. (Very telling that Google are using mobile screenshots, reinforcing their mobile first approach)

You can use Google Posts in a variety of formats including events (with dates and times), image based, video, animated GIFs and text based posts.

Google say that each post will be removed after 7 days, after the date for an event has expired “to ensure that posts are timely”

Impact on SEO

Click-Through Rate

In a case study last year on Search Engine Watch, Rebecca Sentance noticed that Google Posts were appearing for search terms such as ‘engagement rings Buffalo’, i.e non branded search terms. This was particularly exciting, however upon investigation it would appear that Google has now backtracked on this decision to have Posts.

Probably a good thing – it would be a safe bet that the underbelly of the SEO world would look to spam Posts should they appear for transactional terms. Regardless, as discussed in a previous blog post, SEO is more than just onsite, content and links.

Great SEO also takes into account the whole user flow, including improving click-through rates from results pages, which Posts should contribute to.

We will have to wait for a wider roll out to see the real effect that Google Posts will have on CTR. However, it does not take a huge leap of faith to bet that, if used properly, Posts will draw the eye and add to credibility and subsequently improve CTR.

The fact that you can incorporate autoplay GIFs into Posts that appear in search adds another dimension to your appearance in the SERPs. We believe that early adopters could gain a critical edge over competition in the SERPs, especially for those in 2nd, 3rd or 4th place who could differentiate their listing from those above them.

Finally, let’s face it, Google has an assumed level of authority with most internet users. That’s what makes them so profitable – people trust Google’s search results. They may not trust them as a brand, but that’s slightly different.

Accompanying your Google Posts is a nice blue tick next to your name, giving your brand a boost in terms of social verification. Google has endorsed you. If that doesn’t have an effect, then we can all forget about the influence of status in all walks of life.

Google Posts: Growing under the radar

Mobile vs desktop

This is where there is a big difference for Posts. The long and short of it is that Posts are almost immediately viewable when scrolling on mobile (just under the maps result) whereas for branded search on desktop they are on the right hand side Knowledge Graph, below all of your other GMB information.

Desktop:

Google Posts: Growing under the radar

 

Mobile:

Google Posts: Growing under the radar

With Google’s push towards mobile-first indexing and AMP, Posts take a prominent position in the SERPs on mobile. Does this dictate that they will be considered a ranking factor? Not necessarily. However, expect businesses to receive higher levels of engagement and CTR from mobile when compared with desktop, especially for branded searches.

On the other hand, this advantage could be neutralized for non branded searches where the Post carousel is appearing directly beneath the search result, rather than under the business’ GMB profile.

How do Google Posts influence your ranking?

Considering the almost stealthy roll-out of Posts, we do not expect Google to comment on whether Posts will be taken into account as a ranking factor in search. For the moment, therefore, we would recommend concentrating on utilizing them as a feature to improve CTR, and therefore traffic, to content.

Posts are certainly not a social network in the traditional sense, when compared with the major platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Furthermore, we only need look at the ambiguous information out there on how social media may or may not affect ranking ability to guess that Google will not be commenting on the influence of Posts on SERPs for some time – if ever.

Are posts a spin off of Google Authors?

Posts appear to be somewhat of a spin off of the now defunct Google Authorship experiment, but with more functionality, i.e. the ability to advertise events in Posts. Much like Google Authorship, Posts will provide almost instantly indexable content and another dimension to search results.

Businesses will be able to drive traffic through search results to specific pieces of content or key calls to action from Posts, adding further options for users compared with the more standard main search link or associated sitelinks.

Top stories and Twitter carousel

Again, we will need to see this roll out fully to see the impact on search results, but it is an interesting conundrum for Google. Currently big brands will tend to have Google’s ‘Top Stories’ and a Twitter carousel appear in search results. Add Posts to this equation and it raises interesting questions. Which takes priority? Content published directly to their GMB page, or Twitter/news outlets?

One would imagine that Google would look after their own interests, but their recent record €2.4 billion fine by the EU for essentially providing biased Google shopping results may influence their decisions on this matter.

Posts do seem to compete more directly with the Twitter carousel due to their time-sensitive nature, which is not exactly great news for the already presumably very sweaty and sleep deprived team at Twitter. Especially considering the language used on Google’s page explaining Posts: “Your Presence on Google, Fresher than Ever”.

Google Posts: Growing under the radar

Moving forward

We are actually quite excited about the potential of Posts. It adds another dimension to our role as SEOs, and we can see early adopters using it to significantly boost content marketing efforts.

Interestingly – and a topic which has been briefly touched upon by Search Engine Watch – the way in which businesses utilize Posts could be a substantial influencing factor on their effectiveness. Businesses will have to be conscious of whether they use it to promote new products, events, provide key information (e.g guides), or a blend of content.

First impressions count, even before the user has clicked on your search result. Subsequently, early adopters should look to define their strategy for Posts quickly rather than being an early adopter for the sake of it.

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Interview: Why marketers shouldn’t waste their time with Google Posts

The search engine results page recently saw the return of Google Posts, the part-social, part-publishing feature that was launched by Google a little over a year ago during the US Presidential Election.

Billed as “an experimental new podium on Google”, Google Posts has attracted a lot of attention from marketers, search specialists and Google enthusiasts thanks to its prominent place on the SERP – appearing in the form of an eye-catching carousel of cards – and its mysterious deployment.

Over the year since it was first released, it has appeared in and disappeared from search results a number of times with no apparent pattern or explanation. Brands who wanted a shot at being part of Google’s new podium were forced to “Join the waitlist” and cross their fingers.

But last month Google suddenly announced that it would be opening up Posts to “museums, sports teams, sports leagues, and movies” in the United States, and all of the above groups along with musicians in Brazil – prompting a renewed flurry of interest from marketers. At the same time, the relaunched Posts became more visually eye-catching with the addition of embedded GIFs and videos.

 

One person, however, doesn’t believe that Google Posts is worth the hype. Michael Bertini, Online Marketing Consultant and Search Strategist at iQuanti, told Search Engine Watch why he thinks that Google has gone off half-cocked with Posts, and why marketers would be better off expending their energies elsewhere.

Google Posts: where is the value?

“I don’t think Google will admit that they made a mistake with this whole Posts thing,” says Bertini.

“Google already has a lot of great products and search results features on the page; to add Google Posts to that clutters up the results page unnecessarily. And I don’t think it offers much value to the end user.”

It’s true that while there has been a lot of excitement from brands and marketers around the prospect of publishing directly to the SERP, few of us have considered its usefulness to users. Google is still first and foremost a search engine; when users enter a search query, they are presumably looking for information.

While people Googling candidates in the run-up to the US Presidential Election would undoubtedly have been interested in what those candidates had to say about certain issues, subsequent versions of Google Posts have moved further and further away from a feature that is useful to the end user.

Interview: Why marketers shouldn’t waste their time with Google Posts

Few people searching for “Boston Red Sox” are looking for pseudo-social updates from their favorite sports team; they’re more likely to be looking for match scores, game tickets, or perhaps a link to the team’s website.

A lot of the interest around Google Posts thus far has been driven by sheer novelty, with people Googling ‘Andrews Jewelers’ or ‘Escape Pod Comics’ simply to see how the businesses had been using Posts – rather than because they featured useful information. In and of itself, how much value does Posts provide to the searcher?

“I don’t think anybody should put a strict focus on getting into Posts – or any one Google feature,” says Bertini. “What I’ve noticed throughout my career is that people who make it a specific focus to get into an area of Google – let’s use Google’s Answer Box as an example – ultimately, they’re left with content that doesn’t fit the end user’s needs. And then it dies.”

“If someone did want to get involved with Google Posts, they should write content that really answers the search query, and then of course request access on posts.withgoogle.com. But that’s all.”

Everything is a test

Based on the fact that Posts has already come and gone from the SERP several times before this most recent, wider launch, does Bertini think that Posts is finally here to stay?

“Everything Google is about testing,” Bertini replies. “Even after they launch it to market, what they would consider ‘permanent’ is not really what we would consider permanent. Personally, I think it’ll last up until the third quarter of 2017, and then they’ll mix it up with something else.

“If Posts get a really high CTR, then Google might invest more in it and add more features. But at the moment, it’s still very much in testing. It still lacks features – there’s no real social interaction, for example.”

Interview: Why marketers shouldn’t waste their time with Google Posts

Google Posts currently allows for limited social sharing, but doesn’t provide a way for users to truly interact with or respond to Posts.

If Posts, ultimately, is still in testing, it explains why it has disappeared and reappeared with so little fanfare – Google doesn’t want to attract a lot of attention to a feature that may not even be launched on a wider scale.

Bertini agrees that the lack of promotion speaks volumes about Google’s intentions – or lack thereof – for the feature. “If Google had complete confidence in this feature, they would be promoting it more.”

He goes on: “If I ran my own business, and I wanted to get more searchers to my site, there are better ways to do that than to focus on GIFs and videos to get into Google Posts.

“For example, if I were making videos already, I would create pages for my videos, transcribe that content, and optimize it for search – that would be a better use of resources than focusing on getting into Posts.

“Ultimately, people are going to invest time and effort into Posts, when Google itself has not yet perfected this feature.”

Google Plus revisited?

Given the pseudo-social nature of Google Posts, a lot of comparisons have understandably been drawn between Google Posts and Google Plus, Google’s last ill-fated venture into social networking. And it could be that Google Plus provides a blueprint for what to expect from the future of Google Posts.

“If we look back at Google Plus – when it first launched, Google’s idea of what Plus would be is not what it is today. And like everything Google, Google will never admit that they made a mistake, or that the product didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to be.

“But I think the search marketers who used Google Plus as a social platform are very disappointed today – if they invested a lot of time and money into building up their profiles and optimizing their Google Plus. It’s not used the way it used to be used, any more. I think it’s going to be the same with Google Posts.”

Interview: Why marketers shouldn’t waste their time with Google Posts

Remember when Google Plus was a big deal?

Bertini believes the aim of introducing Google Posts to the SERP is to encourage more user interaction with the search engine results page. This would tie in with the recent addition of rich results for podcasts to the SERP, allowing searchers on smartphones and Google Home to play podcasts directly from the search page.

“Google is trying to make a different version of social [with Posts], which is social interaction with the search engine results page, where a user can interact with the search page itself. It’s just very early on at the moment.”

If Google can succeed in expanding the function of the search results page in this way, it would definitely be a means of keeping users inside its own walled garden for longer.

But without value to the end user, Google Posts could be a Plus-style flop, and Bertini thinks that Google would be better off focusing its attention on perfecting existing features of the SERP that have more value to searchers.

Interview: Why marketers shouldn’t waste their time with Google Posts

“Google is constantly trying to mix things up, when – once again, personal belief – I think that they should focus on good products that they’ve launched like Answer Box, which is already effective. Or ‘People Also Ask’ – they launched this section, and it’s still not perfect, but it’s good.

“I think this is what Google should devote its energy to, rather than – I don’t want to say get rid of Facebook or Twitter, because I don’t think that will happen – but rather than trying to make the search results page a social platform.”

The future of Google Posts

Google Posts, as it stands, still lacks a lot of functionality. So an ideal world, what would a fully-featured Google Posts look like?

“One, people search for something; two, a Post feature comes up; three, there would be a rating system for whether or not the Post matches the search query.

“Then there would be a sharing function where the user can share the Post via social media. You could also have a Hangouts-style feature integrating chat into Posts, allowing people to chat about what they’ve just read.”

It remains to be seen whether Google will try to keep integrating more functionality into Posts or whether it will once again disappear quietly from the SERP.

But one way or the other, marketers should keep sight of the importance of catering to the end user – not just to the newest Google feature.

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Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

To relatively little fanfare, Google launched its “Posts” initiative during the US presidential election campaign last year.

The launch was accompanied by a landing page that labeled this “an experimental new podium”. That same landing page remains live, unchanged, and with the same call to action at its conclusion to “Join the Waitlist”.

Google Posts seemed to be a stripped-back version of Google+, devised with the intention of at least maintaining some of the functionality of a social network after sunsetting Google+.

The main premise of Posts had ostensibly been to work as a one-way social platform, where brands or individuals could publish (and be indexed instantly), but without the requisite mechanisms to allow the audience to engage in conversation with the poster or ‘like’ the update.

Since that tentative launch, Posts has perennially appeared in and disappeared from the SERPs in various guises, each time with very little fanfare. It initially appeared to be being trialed by a select few small businesses, then was spotted during Google I/O the following May, being used to publish live conference updates directly to the SERP.

A few months after that, Google Posts reappeared in search results for a charter school in New York, KIPP NYC, and then disappeared again. Each time, users have remained in the dark about whether a fully-fledged roll-out of Google Posts might be on the horizon, and nothing much has happened in this space to justify the tag ‘experimental new podium’. However, that may be set to change.

I noticed during a routine search for [red sox] that gifs were autoplaying within the knowledge graph sidebar, both on desktop (as in the screenshot below) and also on mobile.

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

 

This is particularly eye-catching and is in line with numerous other Google initiatives to bring a sense of vitality and immediacy to its results, most notably in the shape of Accelerated Mobile Pages and the decision to allow emoji in select organic results.

Although the Posts initiative itself is not new and nor is its inclusion within search results, there is a clearly-labeled ‘New’ box in the top right of this section to alert users of a change.

The same was observed for [yankees], so at least Google shows no clear bias in that sense:

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

 

This has been spotted by others in the last few weeks, although it does seem that is being rolled out in a piecemeal fashion.

The two entities that appear to be taking part in this partnership with Google are Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, as seen in the screenshot below in a search for the ice hockey team [new york rangers]:

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

If it’s new, what has changed?

GIFs were also spotted in SERPs on a few occasions when Google+ was up and running, but again this was isolated to a few brands, and it was clear that this was being pulled from their own Google+ account.

What is most noteworthy in this instance is that these results may not be showing up as a result of direct action from each individual sports team.

It is therefore worth assessing the source of the posts to ascertain whether brands will be expected to update their feed on an ongoing basis.

This is quite vital if we want to know where this platform could go in future, as it helps us define whether this is a streamlined social media network (more in line with Twitter than Facebook) or more of an automated content syndication platform.

Back to the Red Sox example for further investigation.

First of all, clicking on an individual post, as it appears within the SERP, opens up a larger window containing the image or GIF. As you can see from the screenshot below, this is all contained within the same results page:

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

Clicking on the ‘More’ link leads to the original post which, intriguingly, is hosted on MLB.com rather than the Red Sox Google Posts page.

As such, this could be a welcome boon for brands like Major League Baseball, who will undoubtedly receive increased traffic. This will be of great interest to publishers, as there is the tantalising possibility of a new avenue to get their content in search results, should the initiative go mainstream.

The Red Sox ‘profile page’ is really just a feed of images and external links to more in-depth content – all of which are hosted on MLB.com.

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

 

This arouses the suspicion that the functioning of Google Posts is changing, especially as this seems to be the case across all MLB teams. The same is also true of many ice hockey teams, which link out to NHL.com from all of their posts.

As a result, it is plausible that the partnership here is between the sites hosting the content (MLB.com, NHL.com) and Google, with the individual sports teams acceptant beneficiaries of the increased engagement.

In the initial announcement about Posts, the selling point was said to be that individuals or brands could publish directly to Google. That requires a certain complicity; one would have to take action to set this process in motion by posting content via Posts, whether fully-formed or just a link to an external site.

In our coverage from March 2016, we noted that a few small businesses had been given access to Google Posts. There didn’t appear to be much in the way of consistent rationale for choosing these particular businesses over others, although their feeds are all still live.

The fact that the links from the Red Sox are invariably from one website suggests that Google is automatically pulling these links through to its search results when they go live on MLB.com. This differs from the small business accounts, which are composed of unique updates written for Google Posts.

This demonstrates an important and telling distinction from the original functioning of Posts, and could be one with far-reaching implications.

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

What is Google seeking to accomplish through Posts?

The reasons for doing this are self-evident.

Eric Schmidt was very public in admitting that the company “missed the boat” on social media, their only real foray into the market being their overdue and (in hindsight) always-doomed Google+.

That is a substantial missing piece in the jigsaw for a company that is competing with Facebook to maintain its digital advertising dominance.

Speed is of the essence, as indicated by the growing presence of AMP pages in search results.

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

Of course, it stands to reason that having brands publish directly on a Google platform is of great benefit to the search giant, as it has a significant task on its hands to crawl, index, cache, and serve everything that is published on the web instantaneously.

Moreover, one reason for using Google+ as a content distribution platform in the past was simply that it led to faster indexing. If Posts can offer the same benefit, especially if updates about a brand are pulled automatically from relevant websites, there will be a clear use case for most companies.

What could this mean for businesses and marketers?

The results pages are crowded as it is, so the addition of GIFs could only serve to intensify the battle for consumers’ attention spans. However, as always, we can expect Google to test this in detail before taking the plunge and releasing the functionality to the masses.

One concern is that Google may give prominence to these results over other social networks, notably Twitter, in order to ensure its own success. Perhaps the reason for such a tentative entry into this space is the hope of avoiding another newsworthy social media misstep, should the initiative fail to take hold.

The waitlist for Google Posts has been open for quite some time now, after all, but very few companies are active on the platform. Either demand is suspiciously low or (more likely) Google is taking its time on this one.

Google Posts: GIFs and videos published directly to SERPs

That said, any opportunities to increase organic traffic are very welcome nowadays, and that could be what Posts comes to offer us.

For now, we can only join the waitlist and patiently look forward to an invitation to start Posting.

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