With the abundance of social networks that spring up regularly, you would be forgiven for emitting a dramatic sigh to hear that you need to start paying attention to another social network. But this time, really, you do!
What's the fuss about? Google+, if you haven't already heard, is the social network which is provided by the search engine giant Google. On the surface it's "Just another social network" but when you start to look at the deep integration with other Google products which are gradually being rolled out, alongside the way that Google+ "Circles" (the containers into which you group your contacts) are influencing the content served up through Google search, it is rapidly becoming a social network that you cannot afford to ignore if you take search engine rankings seriously.
Google is building a trust-based network, whereby your social habits and connections inform your search results. If you search for something in Google when you're logged in, results which have been recommended (by "+1" or sharing) by your network (people in your Circles) will begin to be served up above those which haven't – the relevance algorithm won't be ignored completely, but precedence is beginning to be given to resources which people in your network think are useful.
This makes logical sense, in a way. If you were looking for some information about a topic, would you be more likely to trust information which comes from somebody you are already connected with, or a complete stranger (or something a company is paying to put in front of your face)?
Take a step back and consider this from a corporate perspective – if you have a corporate page on Google+ and your potential clients follow your Google+ page, your results are naturally going to start ranking higher for those people. If you have a lot of people following your page, then a lot more people are going to have your links ranking higher. It's important to note, however, that you can't directly "Circle" people from a page unless they have already 'Circled' your page – so some strategy is called for in order to gain followers.
Consider the implications from the perspective of an author, technical writer, trainer, speaker, one-man-band or any other position whereby building a reputation is important. If you have lots of people in your Circles, they too will be served over time with content you recommend (by sharing or recommending using +1). They will also be able to see when they search for a term which you have a reputation for, how many Circles you are in (hence your general popularity), and at a click see all the content you have contributed. Everything.
So, the question is, can you (and your clients) afford to ignore Google+ any more?
Ruth Cheesley is the Director of Virya Technologies Ltd, a business specialising in open source technologies – specifically Joomla! CMS and Linux-based server support. Ruth is a Website Designer and IT Support specialist, providing ethical technology solutions to large and small businesses, charities and not for profit organisations.