What started as a social media site may have become the latest way for companies to move up in Google’s search rankings. According to a report by SEO company BrightEdge, 77 of the world’s top 100 brands have Google+ pages, and the numbers are growing rapidly. The reason? Google allows the + pages of popular brands to show up in primary search results.
Google+ is Google’s fourth attempt to create a successful social media site that can compete with massively popular Facebook. So far, it appears to be working. In the six months since Google+’s launch, it has attracted 62 million users, far exceeding the 1 million users who signed up for Facebook in its first half-year in 2004. Although popular brands don’t yet enjoy the staggeringly large fan club on Google+ as they have on Facebook, their Google+ following is expanding quickly—50 percent in the past month alone, in fact. During the same period, Starbucks quadrupled its fan base. With Google+ showing such early promise, a few companies like IBM and Vodafone have foregone creating official Facebook pages in favor of Google+ pages.
Indeed, Google+ seems to have taken the Internet by storm. Google+ icons appear next to every blog post and online news article. Users querying Google’s search engine now see the top Google+ sites matching their queries on the results page. This has created a very strong incentive for retailers to create their own Google+ pages and work to attract fans. BrightEdge reports that, so far, around 77,000 Google+ users—about half of the social site’s brand fans—have added brand pages to Circles, or Google+ groups of friends.
According to BrightEdge CEO Jim Yu, Google is doing no different than its rival Facebook, which “tied sites and search together earlier this year, blurring the lines between social and search engagement” through a platform called Open Graph. However, such action may only exacerbate Google’s ongoing antitrust issues with authorities. Two U.S. senators have already asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google for possible antitrust violations. One of those violations could include giving search ranking priority to companies with popular Google+ pages. BrightEdge Marketing VP Brad Mattick said the situation “parallels Microsoft’s inclusion of the Internet Explorer browser in its Windows OS in the 1990s.” Microsoft was sued by the U.S. in 1998 and the EU in 2009 for bundling its browser with its software, which some said created an unfair competitive advantage for the company.