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article imageOp-Ed: The murky future of Google+: Doomed, or primed for a comeback?

By Travis McKnight     Oct 2, 2014 in Business
As Ello enters the social media world with enough vigor to challenge Facebook for its users, what might happen to the slumbering social giant, Google+?
The uncanny and sudden rise of Ello, the so-called Facebook killer social media service, is causing some serious discussion in the marketing world. But this isn’t the first time a newcomer has sprouted to try and surpass the big blue giant. Facebook’s all-but-forgotten rival, Google+ was supposed to be the service to wipe Facebook from everybody’s mind, but even with Google’s tremendous influence, the social service succumbed to Facebook’s power. However, unlike Ello, which is currently gaining momentum against Facebook, Google+ is still limping forward, but just barely. What might happen to it now that a third player is entering the game?
Despite lacking a hyper-active user base that most social media websites thrive on, Google’s immense reach throughout every nook and cranny of the Internet has propelled Google+ has become one of the biggest social networks in the world, and transformed it into the platform that connects most — if not all — of Google’s properties. However, despite how much Google+ is integrated into Google’s social system it’s essentially a zombie on its last leg. Although if Ello disappears not much, if anything, will change. But if Google finally snuffs the torch on Google+, some big changes are going to occur.
Digital marketers and brands must keep an eye on Google+ because if it does go through major changes, or collapses entirely, everything that incorporates the service will be affected, including search engine rankings, business listing and the Google+ social media community.
Rumors about the future of Google+ started in April 2014, when TechCrunch called it the walking dead, and the rumors still continue with Google spinning off the network’s picture service. The TechCrunch article, which reported that Google+ will be seen as a platform going forward instead of a product that competes with the likes of Facebook of Twitter, and the departure of Google+ leader Vic Gundotra in May, set off a firestorm in the social media community and beyond. On one side you had headlines like Larry Page Tries His Best To Convince Us That Google+ Isn’t Dead and Google+ Isn't Dead. It's Just In A Coma And On Life Support, while on the other side the passionate denials from Google and social media experts who not only said Google+ was alive, but doing well.
From the most logical standpoint, Google+ is not going the way of Myspace or Friendster anytime soon — if ever. Google has invested billions of dollars and many years into building Google+, and it isn’t going to simply scrap its fans and wide integration in a swift move. Google CEO Larry Page backed up the assumption by saying the company would “continue working hard to build great new experiences for the ever increasing number of Google+ fans.”
Keeping in mind the realities of what can and can’t be done, it makes the most sense that Google+ won’t die, but instead go through a series of changes to improve its effectiveness, branding and usability.
Scenario 1: Rebranding
Currently, almost every Google property is integrated with Google+ is some way. For instance, on YouTube users are able to sign in with Google+. But, according to The Verge, that may not be the standard going forward. According to reports, Google is allowing developers to use an unbranded button that is missing the plus sign. From Google’s end, the search engine giant says it continually tests out options like this, and that the unbranded button is not a signal about the future of Google+.
Going forward, if Google is indeed rethinking its use of Google+, uncoupling it from other Google properties makes sense as the first step in a rebranding effort. Google’s ability to connect all of its properties with a single account is a powerful marketing and business tool, making killing the accounts entirely an unlikely outcome.
Scenario 2: Unbundling
For the prognosticators that have predicting a quick and painful death to the social networking, recent reports about Google separating its photo service from Google+ is being seen as validation. Google+ Photos will still work for Google+ users, but reports say that it may be rebranded into its own product. This unbundling is not unique to Google+. Facebook recently did this with its mobile app, forcing users to download a second app if they wanted to utilize private messaging. According to Marketing Land, Google could continue the unbundling process by creating a series of unique apps like Google WhatsApp, Google Voice, a reincarnation of Google Reader, and Google Hangouts.
The Impact on Search Engine Results
For many social media managers, marketers and brands, the question is how will changes to Google+ affect search results? Google+ was originally created as a way to help improve search results, with the +1 button being used as a way for the search engine to track what searchers liked.
Google authorship, which connected a writer’s Google+ page to search results, is also going through some major changes. While author names are still showing up in search results, which add gravitas to those articles, the pictures of authors have been removed, as has author stats from Google Webmaster Tools. Google says it has no intention of removing authorship completely.
The impact of Google+ on search results has been a point of contention in the SEO community for years, with Google consistently saying that social signals don’t play a role in search rankings. Big changes to Google+ would make social signal integration that much harder for Google in the short term, especially if it goes completely away from being a social network.
Businesses May Need to Adjust
As of today, Google+ is still an effective way for businesses to communicate with consumers. There is also no evidence that putting time and effort into Google business accounts or producing content for Google+ will be in vain. Therefore, businesses should still exert effort cultivating reviews and actively managing existing Google+ accounts.
In a worst case scenario, where Google+ were to vanish in an instant, businesses would have to make adjustments to increase search engine visibility. But, businesses with an effective off-page SEO strategy, which includes directory syndication, should have the SEO resources available to buoy any negative effects from the Google+ changes.
What’s Next?
As Google continues to make changes to both the branding of Google+ and the bundling of its services, businesses should keep one eye on the social network. The changes that we’re seeing so far don’t diminish the power or significance of Google+. In fact, unbundling and rebranding could result in a stronger, larger and more engaged user base, making it even more important to digital marketing and social media efforts going forward.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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