The Google+ revamp: Was design the problem anyway?

In the relatively short time since its launch last year, Google+ has built up a staggering following, which now stands at 170 million. This is an incredibly impressive growth rate and one which wholly reflects Google’s intentions for its flagship social media platform; to rival the giant in the field – Facebook. Despite its increasing popularity however, Google+ has been largely criticised since its launch, with user experience experts claiming that the network is clunky, poorly designed and difficult to navigate.

Perhaps it was such criticism that led Google to unveil an updated design of Google+ last week. The aim of the new design was to create “a simpler, more beautiful Google”, in keeping with the design of Google’s other services, creating a seamless Google experience. The main change brought about by the new design is increased potential for customisation. So what exactly did they change?

Design

Well the new Google+ follows another social media redesign fairly closely; that is of course Facebook’s timeline, which was introduced late last year. Although timeline has also received its share of criticism, some elements are immensely popular. Namely, the cover photo and larger photos on profiles. The $1 billion sale of Instagram to Facebook last week shows just how highly photos are valued these days by Facebook and its users (more on that later). It is a smart move therefore that Google have echoed the cover photo and pictures in their new design. Increased white spaces and greater focus on images make Google+ both modern and personal. Another feature is hidden icons, which show up when the cursor hovers over them, de-cluttering the layout.

Customisation

Another new addition is the navigation ribbon on the left hand side of the page. Icons such as “Home”, “Profile”, “Photos”, Hangouts” and “Games” can be rearranged by dragging and dropping according to the user’s preferences. The new design aims to increase its appeal in this way, by facilitating greater variation on the site. Further customization is also available in apps, which users can tailor to suit their needs.

Interaction

A small part of the increased white space on Google+ is allocated to an “explore” section. Not unlike Twitter, Google now shows users current trends. This section also includes a list of people “You may know” and things “You might like”, increasing scope for links and connections throughout the site.

Feedback on Google’s new layout sprung up all over the web in a matter of days. Many people feel that it makes good use of real estate and even say that it’s better looking than Facebook. However there are as ever those who disagree. Some think that good as Google’s efforts may be, it’s simply too late in the day for it to catch up with Facebook. The new design also most definitely misses a trick. Mobile is no longer the future, but is sharing a very substantial part of the present as far as internet time – and social media in particular – are concerned. The fact that Google haven’t even updated the mobile version of the service therefore is nothing less than short-sighted.

The increased white space on Google+ has also come under fire.  What Google intended to be refreshing and in keeping with the design of their other features has been widely criticized as a waste of space and a poorly thought out design. Social media critics have even gone as far as to mock the white space, with “#whitespace” trending on Twitter and a meme suggesting uses for this space becoming increasingly popular.

Such criticism of a seemingly well thought out re-design begs the question; was Google+’s problem really design in the first place?

Well opinions on Google+ have been split since the very beginning, but never to the extent that people don’t try it. We can tell just by looking at its insane growth rate that the problem for Google+ was never one of attracting new members. Some say that it’s less to do with Google+ itself and more to do with the social media market. Do we really need a new social network? Well the recent market value of Instagram alone shows that some new networks are starting up just fine! Content isn’t a problem either – thanks to the clear link to a pretty successful search engine, the Google “+1” button is popping up all over the place and is getting used, more in fact than any other social network promotion device.

So that leaves design. Just analysing the visual appearance of course misses out a vital aspect of design, one that Google engineers are very conscious of; their attention to coding is impeccable. We all know that Google have huge control of the internet and they know exactly how to code a site. Google+ is no exception and its speed is impressive. This, however is not the sort of design that appeals to the masses, who are unlikely to notice that they can post a fraction of a second faster on Google+ than they could on Facebook. In this day and age, it is appearance (online, at least!) that is vital. With smart phones, tablets, Instagram and so on, we take photos of anything and everything, making even the mundane look beautiful. So perhaps Google has just gone too far with the simplified design of its flagship.

It seems that there are simply too many factors at play to attribute problems for Google+ to design alone. Criticism is rife every time Facebook adapts its design, but that doesn’t deter users. Perhaps we are just expecting too much too fast from the huge name that is Google. After all, it really is only a matter of months since the launch, which isn’t at all long for a network aiming for such a broad appeal. Facebook was not built in a day, after all. Keep at it, Google, you’ve a way to go yet!

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Will Facebook and Google make LinkedIn obsolete?

At the time of this blog being written, LinkedIn is the number one professional network. It is home to around 116 million users, a number which continues to climb. Its profits have risen and its stock remains buoyant. It operates within its own niche, tactically deciding to avoid competing against the social network powerhouse that is Facebook. It seems to be doing everything right, so why is there the feeling that this may change in the future?

Well, there has been a lot of debate recently surrounding the battle for social dominance. Facebook, the current King of the social networks, is now not looking so comfortable on its throne. As I have discussed in previous posts, Google+ is on the rise and poised to take that crown. But what’s this got to do with LinkedIn?

It is clear that Facebook itself has purposefully avoided targeting the professional crowd and Google+ has only just begun its exploits in the world of “social business,” and it certainly hasn’t outlined plans  to target professionals from the get go. But as the struggle for dominance grows it is becoming clear that the only way to win/succeed will be to offer new, and better, features for users.

Unfortunately for LinkedIn, the job market and the professional crowd seem the perfect area for Facebook and/or Google to expand into. With these two internet giants entering into this niche, and therefore directly competing with LinkedIn, it spells trouble for the current, almost unchallenged, professional network. Now, I’m not suggesting that this is going to happen right away, but what must be underlined is that it really is a question of “when” rather than “if”. It is a natural progression for both Google and Facebook and it’s one of the key strategies to keep the competition alive. But can we just write off LinkedIn?

Well, a lot of people are. LinkedIn has experienced a barrage of criticism recently and there have been a number of hints at its potential downfall. The “problem” associated with LinkedIn is that it’s boring. There’s no sex appeal and a clear lack of imagination in its creative team. Although it does have an impressive user-base, the number of unique visitors is much lower and many current users have admitted to ignoring the site. So does this mean that LinkedIn is heading for a fall?

Well, not necessarily.

Yes, LinkedIn isn’t the sexiest social site and it’s not one that constantly updates and adds new features to enthrall its user-base, but it never wanted to or said it was going to.

LinkedIn is the professional network.

I would happily bet that an overwhelming majority of LinkedIn users also have a Facebook profile. This is simply because they want to separate their personal and professional lives, and this seems the general consensus amongst my colleagues and my friends. LinkedIn has been described as social media with no buzz and no sex appeal. For example: Facebook can get you friends, Twitter and YouTube can make you famous but LinkedIn is unexciting and unstylish.

Whilst I do agree that it could use a “sprucing up” I also feel it’s important to stress that it isn’t a site with no buzz. The buzz, or appeal, of LinkedIn is that it can get you a job or get you more business. So do I think it’s just going to disappear whilst Facebook and Google take the reins?

In a word, no. LinkedIn isn’t going to just disappear any time soon. It has a loyal (and growing) user base and remains the preferred professional network. LinkedIn’s critics say its downfall will be a result of its lack of sex appeal, but what they don’t seem to have recognized is that the LinkedIn user-base don’t want sexy, they want professional. The young users want jobs and the older executives want to generate business. That said, Facebook and/or Google are sure to start targeting the professional crowd in the coming months and they will be prepared to fight for market share. What is certain is that it promises to be an interesting future for social business. But if you remember one thing, let it be that LinkedIn will not go down without a fight.

How To Improve Your SEO (and why you need to)

 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important things to consider when building an online marketing strategy. The challenge lies in maintaining relevance in the eyes of search engines, and as Google is by far the largest and most influential search engine (with over 1 billion hits per month) one of the most important aims of your online marketing strategy has to be to dominate Google’s Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). Without implementing solid SEO strategies you’re website will be about as useful as a shop with no windows and no sign. You want, or should I say need, people to find you online and with a few simple strategies you can.

So here are some ways to improve your website’s SEO strength.

Firstly, you need to think about your URL with regard to two things: Format and Content. Now I’m going to assume you know not to use spaces in your URL but what is quite a common mistake is putting in an underscore to separate words.  Due to the algorithms embedded in a search engine like Google, this will cause it to identify the URL as one big word and therefore will reduce your chance of people finding you in a keyword search. However, what you can do is use dashes – problem solved. The content of your URL is also crucial. If you include what are known as “stop words” such as “the”, “what” or “it” the chances are most search engines will actually ignore them and therefore weaken you’re SEO. So take a look at your URL(s), make sure they are formatted correctly and remove stop words.

Another classic (and essential) trick to improve your SEO ranking is by identifying and utilizing keywords. By using keyword rich title tags on each page of your website you can give yourself the best chance of dominating SERPs and therefore maximize potential income. It’s important to take <title> tags (found in the title bar of the browser) into consideration as search engines use them to ascertain what type of content appears on the page. If you enter keywords into your <title> tag instead of your company name it will prove advantageous for your SEO ranking. Be careful not to exceed the 60 character limit though, as it would be cut-off.

To track the progress of your site rankings you can use an analytics program, the largest being Google Analytics. Using the different tools involved you will be able to track which keywords, search engines and traffic sources are proving most beneficial in terms of bringing in business. This information is invaluable when it comes to identifying how to improve your SEO ranking.

It can also be very beneficial to add a blog to your site. If you regularly update your blogs with new posts and fresh content you can drive traffic to your site through an improved SEO ranking. This is because search engines love fresh content. So, updating regularly can give your site’s SEO a massive advantage. Blogs can also be a great way of interacting with customers, and potential customers, which not only helps you in a marketing context but also increases the value in an SEO context. Now more than ever “the fresher the better” applies to your website and its SEO ranking, as Google have recently announced a change to its search algorithm. So keep it fresh!

So there are some simple SEO tips to get started with.  And if that wasn’t enough, it’s now becoming more and more apparent that you need to stay up to date with potential future trends so you can adapt, and maintain and improve,your SEO ranking. With the buzz around Google+ being “the next big thing” for business the result is sure to affect SEO in a big way. I won’t go into too much detail or attempt to predict the future but it seems that the “+1” feature is likely to become particularly important when developing an SEO strategy. Companies will have to adapt their strategy to optimize for recommendations to stay ahead of competitors.

Searching is becoming social, make sure you stay ahead of the curve.

Google+ vs. Facebook: Google’s Battle Plan… (Part 2)

In Part 1 I focused on the explosion of Google+ onto the social business scene. I talked about the ever-increasing rivalry between the two tech giants, briefly mentioning some benefits and ultimately recognized Google+ as a force to be reckoned with. What I didn’t do was go into too much detail or discuss the future implications. Now unfortunately I cannot predict the future, but what I can do is explain what is happening right now and offer some suggestions on what I think is likely to happen in the next few months and the New Year.

Already, since Part 1, things have changed. Google+ was getting a lot of negative attention, and had been since its launch. Many people had written it off before even giving it a chance. But, in the last week or so, opinions and attitudes seem to have gradually changed. People are recognizing that Google+ is not a fad and it will not just disappear; it is something that has to be taken seriously. I mentioned a few of its benefits in Part 1 but the key to Google+ is its potential, and its potential is huge.

Everyone wants to know who will win the battle for social dominance. Marketers are dying to find out so they can plan their strategy and know how they will need to think. So, will Google+ overtake Facebook? And ultimately can Google beat Facebook?

As you are probably aware by now, this is not a question with a simple, or definitive, answer. The reason it isn’t as simple a question as: who will win the battle? is because the competitors are fighting for different things. Google and Facebook work in completely different ways and they have very different ideas when it comes to what makes the best social site. However, despite these differences, the rivalry between the two will continue to escalate and will without doubt impact you as a business.

So, in this part I am going to focus on what Google are doing (and planning to do) to “beat” Facebook.

Firstly, we have the +1 button. This is the fastest growing social recommendation widget in history, with over 5 billion impressions a day. Not bad. These +1’s are going to be connected to your Google+ brand page. This will allow Google to extend your brand on a global scale; and by analyzing who is recommending you and where you are being recommended from, Google can put your brand where relevant people are.

The +1 button is revolutionizing the world of recommendation. You should never forget the fact that people trust people. A recommendation could become more important than your advertising strategy, a reality that becomes a lot more real with the growth in influence of +1’s.

Now, I mentioned Google Direct Search in Part 1 but what does this mean for the future?

“Typing in ‘+YouTube’ goes straight to the Google+ YouTube Page and automatically adds YouTube to your circles on Google+ for easy following. An on-going relationship gets established through one Google Search. This isn’t about Google — it’s about Plus and your brand, putting you at the center of everything on Google.”

So, Google is giving you the ability to connect with customers in the easiest possible way. You will be able to develop much deeper relationships and this will prove invaluable because relationships are the most important thing in business. Google+ aims to transform your relationship with Google; they want to give you the power.

Another benefit I underlined in Part 1 was the importance of Google+ for SEO, but how will that become influential in the future? This is quite simple. Google+ will become more and more important for businesses because it is your Google+ page that will appear when customers search for you. Google’s updated search engine will ensure that all features of Google+ are inter-connected with all things Google, something which is quite simply going to become crucial to your company’s SEO. You need Google+ so people find you.

If your business isn’t on Google+, it quite simply should be. But will it beat Facebook? Well, Google+ is going to win, but that doesn’t mean that Facebook is going to lose. As I mentioned, they are fighting for different things. Google+ will transform marketing and search branding. They are going to have an influence on you; that much is certain.

For now Facebook remains in the lead, and in Part 3 I’ll look at what Facebook are doing, and what they have to do in the future, to make sure that there remains more than one social superpower.

Google+ vs. Facebook: And the winner is… (Part 1)

Last week, Google+ opened for business.

You can now create a brand page for your company and, over the last few days, many have rushed to do so. The buzz surrounding the event is nothing short of astonishing. It is being considered by some as a revolution in social business, and the battle of the tech titans has now become a war.

Google now directly rivals Facebook in the territory of social networking, and although neither Mark Zuckerberg nor Larry Page will admit it out loud, the two heads are involved in what looks to become the tech version of the cold war. The sneaky rivalry remains in its early stages, but recently manifested itself with Zuckerberg’s jab labeling Google+ as a “little Facebook”. And, to be fair, at the moment Facebook is winning the “tech race” when it comes to social media, with its 800 million user powerhouse. However, writing off Google+ would be foolish as its potential, simply put, is infinite.

This conflict is likely to develop greatly over the coming months and the buzz surrounding it will inevitably grow. But I’m not going to discuss Google+ and Facebook on a personal level. I want to try to ascertain which one is (or will become) better for business. Should you have a Facebook business page, a Google+ one or both? How are they different from each other? And is Google+ just going to fizzle out like Google Buzz?

So that’s a few questions to get started with.

Google+ has been hit by a wave of criticism since its launch. Many have suggested that it has forgotten a number of key features and is simply not a worthy advisory to Facebook. I however disagree, and I am not alone in that opinion. Yes, there are some drawbacks or weaknesses at the moment but Google has promised improvements in the immediate future and my personal opinion has been shaped so because of the value I place on potential in a business perspective. So, to answer whether or not Google+ will fizzle out, I would have to say no.

Understandably doubts have arisen because, as a company, you probably have a Facebook business page now. You already have a social media presence and managing it already requires a substantial time investment. You don’t want to spend even more time on another site when you’re not certain it will be beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, I can completely understand this point of view. Google+ brand pages are brand new, they are not perfect and they have a way to go in terms of competing with Facebook. But what Google has planned is certain to rival the social media giant.

Google is the largest search engine online. YouTube is the second largest, and Google owns it. Armed with this power, imagine the potential that Google+ has as a social business network. During the internet boom, companies set up a website so people could find them. Google+ makes you easier to find. It is not unlikely that social media will become more important than a company’s website in the next few years. If someone requires your services they most likely search for you on Google. So why wouldn’t you want a brand page on Google’s own social network?

Google+ Direct Connect allows people to find your brand page easily. By adding a “+” in front of the company’s name you will be taken straight to that company’s Google+ page. It’s simple to set up and the returns can be great.

Another plus for Google+ is the +1 button. This drives traffic through word of mouth, which is widely recognized as one of the most important things when it comes to your company’s promotion and your customer’s opinion of you. It has been reported that some websites that currently use the +1 button indicate that they have experienced a 350 percent increase in visits; a figure that cannot be ignored.

As well as driving traffic, the +1 can hugely improve click-through rates. The influence of the internet and technology in today’s world allows people access to a wealth of information about the product they want to purchase. People trust people, and ultimately the +1 button lets consumers know if your company and your product are good.

These are just a few benefits of using Google+ in a business context. If nothing else, having a brand page will increase your visibility online and can simply act as another source of information about your company. What is important to remember though is that this is just the beginning.

What will Facebook do to respond?

How will the rivalry progress in the coming months?

What is the future of social business?

It won’t be long before we find out…