90 million accounts, but is anyone actually using Google+?

Feb. 23, 2012 | by Steph Fabb

Google announced in January that it now has 90 million Google+ users, this was a massive jump from the 40 million reported in September 2011, however it turns out that the 90 million user figure reported in January actually included other Google properties such as Gmail and Google Search. However misleading the 90 million figure is the more important question is “what is the impact of Google+ on my site?”

I took a look at the impact of Google+ on some of our clients’ keyword data. Keeping true to all things Google, I used Google Analytics to report on the number of keywords recorded as “(not provided)” from the 1st October 2011 to the 31st January 2012.

Firstly let me explain what “(not provided)” actually means. In essence once you are logged in to Google any search term you enter is not passed across to the website you select from the organic search results. Google wants to protect your privacy so whereas analysts, like myself, and website owners would have seen what terms you actually searched for, now all we see is (not provided). Pretty useless when you are trying to ensure your site is fully optimised for what customers are looking for, but there are a few ways around it so don’t panic SEO and user experience optimisation hasn’t gone back a decade just yet…

So let’s get back to seeing the impact of (not provided) data. I looked at 15 client accounts across the following verticals; retail, travel and finance. Although SEO traffic levels varied greatly across the three verticals (finance received far less SEO traffic), the consistent result was that only 1-2% of keywords were recorded as (not provided).

Although Google+ was released to the public in September 2011 the majority of the accounts analysed didn’t actually see any recorded data from (not provided) until the 18th October, hence why the (not provided) % for October was much lower.

In June 2011 comScore reported that “more than 17 billion explicit core searches were conducted in May (up 5 percent versus April). Google Sites ranked first with 11.2 billion searches (up 5 percent)…” This report looked at visitors to all Google sites (YouTube, Gmail, Google Docs etc).

So let’s have some fun with this, if Google had 11.2 billion searches in May, we can assume that this has continued to increase over the last 8 months. Even if it has remained static that still equates to 361 million searches per day, 15 million per hour, 250 thousand per minute and 4,000 per second.

Pretty impressive eh? That’s a lot of searching going on, round of applause to Google for dominating the market, but now let’s get back to Google+. As we have only seen 1-2% of keyword data recorded as (not provided) across these verticals over the last 3 months it does suggest that of the 90 million users Google claims to have they’re not actually using it! You wouldn’t log out just to perform a search to find out where your favorite band is next playing or for a review of your next holiday destination, would you? I certainly wouldn’t.

The next question is what will happen if this really does kick off? Well the more we know about our website users the more we can tailor the content, advertising and ultimately the online experience to our customers’ needs – without this knowledge, of which keyword data forms a part, we can’t continue to improve the customer experience and ultimately increase revenue.

Is this another example of Google going against their aim of ensuring the internet is open and accessible to all by potentially monetising their own users? Surely the next obvious step will be an inventory of search terms held exclusively by Google which they will sell within the Paid Search arena at a premium.

Are they yet again saying one thing and doing another?  We have already seen a massive switch from the emphasis of SEO to paid, to the benefit of themselves rather than the user – although I’m sure Google will claim otherwise. The most recent example of which is Google’s page layout algorithm announcement which states that sites which contain a high percentage of adverts above the fold before real and valuable content will be penalised in organic search results, you just need to take a look at Google to see they aren’t adhering to this new “rule” themselves.

So back to Google+ are you one of the supposed millions that have an account? Do you actually use it? I created an account as soon as it came out and haven’t logged back in since. As you can see from the quick research performed here it seems the rest of you are the same.

Don’t know about you, but I will stick with Facebook, that is until my friends start talking about their various “circles” and I’m feeling left out. Maybe if Google found a way to sync and/or transfer all my Facebook data across to Google+ then I might consider it, there is no way I’m going to abandon all my photos, videos, statuses, likes and friends just to start all over again for the sake of it.

I will take a look in another 3 months and let you know if we are starting to see more of our keyword data disappear…

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    Comments (8)

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      This is my first time go to see at here and i am truly happy to
      read everthing at single place.Oct 28, 2012 07:40 pm

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      I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I absolutely loved every little bit of it.
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    • Anton Koekemoer

      I always thought that the 90 million user figure reported in January actually included other Google properties... Thanks for confirming my suspicions. -Great Post.Mar 2, 2012 08:56 am

    • Deviani Wulandari

      Wow, what an interesting statistic!

      After reading this article, I would think twice on how many people are actually using Google+. Are they logging in to be there? or are they being paid to be there? Although Google reported that there are 90 million people are using Google, not necessarily that all of them will be using Google+! You brought up a good point when you mentioned about using Google as a search engine after you are logging out from Google+. It does not make sense at all. Google definitely needs to find a new way to improve its system in calculating its total users on Google+ demographically. Personally, I would not make a Google+ account where I can still see a huge potential on Facebook to keep my friends and I in touch. I have to agree with you, until there is a way to merge Facebook data to Google+ then I would probably create a new account. But, until then, Facebook is still the winner in my opinion. It’s all about the connection and relationship, and I think I can still gain those factor through Facebook unlike Google+.Feb 29, 2012 04:53 pm

    • James Gurd

      Hi Steph,
      Thanks for the article. I've just written my own take on Google+ in light of the Search+ announcement for Econsultancy (should be published Monday). My view is that it will encourage a new wave of link spam. The gold rush of people wanting as many +1 followers and +1s as possible for their webpages to try and persuade Google they should rank highly.
      As you rightly point out, more and more paid-for content is appearing above the fold (especially on laptop resolutions) as Google tries to monetise its estate as much as possible. No alarms and no surprises, regardless of it's 'community ethos' it is there to make money.
      Problem is that the hard graft to get strong SEO presence is being devalued. It's feasible that months of work to get to the top for important organic keywords using intelligent marketing could be spoiled by shed loads of ads and Google+ content above the fold.
      It's too early to tell how Google's algorithm will evolve to make this relevant to customers but I can see a deterioration in the value of some aspects of traditional SEO. I don't mean SEO is dead, far from it, but it's likely we'll all need to evolve our approach.
      As for Google+ and Facebook, I don't see them as direct competitors. I think Google+ Circles is more likely to take people away from Twitter as it enables targeted content discussions, but I also think that is going to apply more in the B2B space than with consumers. Most of my friends don't know what Google+ is and nobody has moved away from Facebook, I can't see what the value proposition for them would be? How many people are really that bothered about seeing their friends posts in search results and would switch to a new network to achieve it?
      jamesFeb 24, 2012 10:54 am

    • Lawrence

      Couldn't agree more, logging in is like attending a sold out party and realising the only people with something to say are being paid to be there.Feb 24, 2012 01:07 am

    • Gillian Hamilton Rogers

      An interesting read. There have also been stats circulating recently that demographic of these users are nearly all male and under 30. This in turn will have an impact on a) the way Google + is used (sharing images mainly) and b) which websites they search. It would be interesting to look again at your stats with this in mind. Google has to improve this demographic if Google + is going to be a viable alternative to Facebook.Feb 23, 2012 02:38 pm

    • MARKETING EXPLAINED » Archive » You on Google+?

      [...] Read the full article here [...]Feb 23, 2012 12:39 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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