To get to the bottom of the issue, it is important to consider both sides of the proverbial coin.
Google+ originally opened itself up to limited, invite-only, membership in the summer of 2011. They wanted to get initial impressions from their beta users before a full launch. This led to a massive wave of requests from people who wanted to be invited to check out the much-hyped social network -- partly to see the latest in a long line of social attempts by Google.
In September 2011, Google+ was opened, without invitation, to anyone over the age of 18. January 2012 saw the third and final launch, with those under the age of 18 allowed to sign up for the site. By this point you were seeing user numbers rising, but usage dropping.
This trend continued, with many analytics experts claiming that Google+ is now practically bereft of regular users. RJ Metrics conducted a study on 40,000 public profiles. According to their findings, the average post gathered close to zero comments. Additionally, as many as 30% of the users never made a second post on their account.
Google has denied this. A spokesperson for the company said that RJ Metrics could not have gotten an accurate picture through public profiles. Because "circles" are private, Google said that it didn't show users posting private information on the site. But the difference this would make is hard to gauge.
What This Means for Ecommerce Sites
One question that emerges from the preceding discussion is about the utility of Google+ for ecommerce businesses. Luckily, there are some new features that could attract a wider professional base, and compete with other popular social platforms.
This includes Google Local, a service similar to Yelp. But this also has limited use for ecommerce sites that don't also have a local presence in their community. So online sellers are left with the direct marketing potential of the social network itself, and their Google Pages feature.
Good news has come in the form of integration of Google+ posts in search results. While it would have less than stellar use on its own, using SEO practices in Google+ updates could be added to other tactics (such as YouTube videos) to boost visibility on the search engine. This could be a smart move for any business wanting to improve its search presence.
With Google+ posts now appearing alongside search results, promoting specials and offers just got a lot easier. Plus, it gets past the worry about how much time users are spending on the Google+ website itself. Google+ users don't have to find your content on your profile. It is all just a Google-search result away.
It is this search impact where I see the actual potential of Google+. Granted, it does not have the social media impact that we hoped for. You are not necessarily going to reach an audience the same way as you would using Twitter or Facebook. Especially now that it seems obvious that users are not as keen as they were at launch.
Tips for Using Google+ for Ecommerce
- Take Your Cue From the Big Players
Ecommerce is always going to be overshadowed by large companies. But that doesn't mean they can't take advice on how to handle their own business page by looking at what their massive counterparts have been doing. Especially those that are online pure plays. One great example is Amazon. They only post relevant deals, which show prominently in search. By avoiding non-relevant posts, they make their better links stand out all the more.
- Post Links to Specific Pages or Content
Your search visibility can get a little boost by being specific when you do post things. Links to product pages, YouTube videos, or blog posts are a great way of presenting something on Google+. The New York Times utilizes this method well by posting links to specific stories. In the status itself, they provide both a quote from the story, and an extra explanation that includes keywords.
- Give Followers Something to Look At
Photos are an important part of your pages on Google+. Products, events, and special deals can be highlighted, along with new releases. This allows the search engine to present something more visual. This was used well by H&M, who were among the first to really take advantage of the photos section. They have "Picks of the Day," "In Stores Now," "Trend Updates." and specific product lines. Each one linked to the corresponding product pages.
I have to admit that Google+ is not the best social media tool for ecommerce. With a rather small base of regular users, there is a lot that was done wrong here. But that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of the way it integrates search results.