Small-business owners turn to Google Plus to build brand, search rankings

By Virginia Bridges
Courtesy of the Associated Press

January 16, 2014

Dr. Isaac Porter is using his Google Plus profile page to build his brand, one post at a time.

“The whole key of it is just building my personal brand, our reputation, putting it out there when people are looking, if they see some of these signals, profiles online, it can help them trust us more,” said Porter, 35, owner and practicing physician at Lowry Porter Ophthalmology in Raleigh, N.C.

A Google Plus user since early 2012, Porter also has Facebook and Twitter pages, but Google Plus is his business and brand development headquarters.

Porter uses Google Plus Communities to discuss challenges and new procedures with other eye doctors and to learn about health care marketing. He turns to Authorship to link his face and blue shirt and tie with his business results on a Google Search. And he uses Hangouts to make videos, interview a patient in England, and talk to other experts across the U.S.

“One of the things that is good about Google Plus is every time you make a new post, that creates a new Web page just for that post,” he said. “And there’s a possibility that that page itself will show up in Google Search results.”

Google Plus is a social layer of Google that the company is weaving into all of its services, said Jesse Wojdylo, a copywriter, Google Plus expert and owner of Wojdylo Social Media and Content Writing in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“In essence, it is a way for people to share their thoughts, feeling and content across all Google products,” Wojdylo said, which range from YouTube and analytics to Gmail and paid advertising options.

Launched in 2011, Google Plus has more than 300 million active monthly users, compared to 540 million active monthly users of Google services, according to statistics released last fall. Over the years, Google Plus users have evolved from tech geeks and social media marketers, to brands building their own Google Plus empires, according to Mark Traphagen, senior director of online marketing at Internet marketing firm Stone Temple Consulting.

“While networks like Facebook work better for keeping in touch with your existing customers, Google Plus provides unique opportunities to reach out to prospects who never would find you there,” Traphagen wrote in an email. “And businesses should not ignore the power of Google Plus to influence Google Search, where their potential customers are looking for what they have to offer.”

Google Plus is particularly beneficial for businesses, such as dentists, doctors and landscapers, who are on a constant quest to elevate their brand and search ranking in a competitive environment, Wojdylo said.

While most small businesses can benefit from using Google products, Traphagen wrote, they should not put all their hopes into one Google basket. Unexpected changes to a service or algorithm could devastate companies that are too dependent.

“They should always be developing other ways of reaching new customers, such as paid advertising, email campaigns,” Traphagen wrote.

Many small-business owners are using Google’s products. Here’s a breakdown.

—Communities: Wojdylo likened Google Communities to a message board in which various parties contribute to a conversation on one specific topic.

Researching, connecting and commenting in meaningful Communities will help brands and owners increase their presence in other peoples’ circles, Google’s version of following someone, Wojdylo said.

Communities can be an extension of a businesses’ page, Wojdylo said.

For example, a lawn care business could create a community on lawn care in its region and invite people to participate and comment.

“So it’s not just you blasting out, ‘Hey, I offer this service,’ ” he said. “It’s your customers and potential clients, or anybody, coming in there saying, ‘Hey, I have an issue with my grass dying in April. What do I do?’ ”

Every Google Plus post has its own URL, which means useful question and answer sessions can be posted elsewhere online.

—Hangouts: Hangouts enable conversations via text and video.

Hangouts allow users to schedule “Hangouts on Air” and have video conversations over the Internet with up to nine people.

The live video can be promoted on a dedicated page and will become a sharable YouTube video.

“Think of it as a Skype within Facebook,” Wojdylo said.

Small businesses can use Hangouts to answer questions, spread the word about a new product or procedure or create commercials.

Best Buy created a Hangout for a Black Friday buy-a-thon, where the company announced a new sale item every five minutes.

—Helpouts: In November, Google rolled out Helpouts, which allows users to get and give help over live video.

Owners can use Helpouts for a quick answer to a question on topics like fixing a garage or removing a computer virus.

Users can choose services based on the provider’s qualifications, prices and reviews, and can connect instantly or set up an appointment.

Some small businesses use Helpouts as a marketing opportunity to connect with future clients by offering free classes.

A Figure of Speech Language Immersion, a Durham, N.C.-based company, offers Spanish classes on Helpouts. Owner Fabiola Estrada initially offers a free class, then makes an appointment for a paid one. So far, she has held sessions for customers from North Carolina to Amsterdam. Google takes a 20 percent transaction fee and pays the company on the 15th of each month.

—Authorship: Authorship allows users to link their Google Plus profile, and a photograph, with content that they produce.

The main benefit, Porter said, is that the user’s face shows up next to their content in a Google search, which helps you stand out.

“It lends the authority, and I think for some people … a trust, because they know where it is coming from,” Porter said.

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