Why your union cannot afford to ignore Google+ any more

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I’ve long been scornful of Google+, but no longer. And your union cannot afford to ignore this much maligned social network either.

Only a few unions are on Google+. Unions like the SEIU or peak bodies like the AFL-CIO are there, but even these are just empty shells that have not been updated in over a year. In Australia, the ACTU is absent from Google+, although United Voice is there — with recent updates as well.

It’s easy to see why unions have given Google+ a wide berth since its launch a few years ago. Very people use it regularly, and the growth numbers that Google touts are really just the people who are forced to use it, such as Gmail users like myself.

However, this year, Google has introduced a major change to Google+ that means that unions can no longer ignore the network. In fact, unions should quickly get on top of this aspect of G+. Quite simply, Google+ is now intimately tied to Google’s search results, thus impacting on your SEO.

This is an incredibly important change that could benefit unions enormously. If they use it.

Google+ and search engines (OK, just Google Search)

The power of +1

That +1 button you see everywhere is more important than you think. Sharing things on Google+ and encouraging others to +1 your links or updates works essentially the same way as Facebook “likes”, but the impact is far greater. This is because Google favours sites that have received more social credibility from others. Those +1s are social credibility markers for Google. Even though Facebook and Twitter also contribute to the Google Search algorithm, there are limits to what Google can access, which reduces their effectiveness for SEO.

According to a study by search engine analytics firm Searchmetrics, social signals — recommendations through Likes, tweets and Google+ — account for 7 of the 8 most highly correlated ranking factors in Google search results. Social networks are used by real people who reveal what they like and think is important via sharing, liking, retweeting, and +1’ing, so it’s not surprising that search engines track these indicators. Google +1s have the highest correlation, followed by number of back links, Facebook shares, and Facebook total (summary of shares, likes and comments).

USA ranking factors for social media 2013

Google+ is linked to Google search results

This year, Google linked G+ with its “Knowledge Graph“, the enhancement that they created to supercharge search results. G+ is linked to this feature, helping Google provide more relevant results to natural-language searches. It’s this connection that helps Google know the difference between searches for something like “Panthers” — does this mean the NRL team, the big cat or the Black Panthers?

Having a Google+ page for you union helps embed your union and its communication into the Knowledge Graph. This is even more important when you think about having your union’s web page found when someone makes a natural-language searches for terms related to your union.

However, the most important aspect of Google+ is…

Google+ Authorship

Have you noticed all those little head shots that are appearing next to search results in Google?

SEO Google Plus Authorship

This is due to a new feature called Google Authorship. Google+ is a significant part of Google Authorship. Authorship allows the user to link content, indicating that the content originates from you. Google is keen to give a higher profile to authoritative content in search results.

For unions, this means ensuring that your regular content creators, such as elected officials, policy officers and others have a Google+ profile. If you publish a significant amount of unique content, and that is regularly shared online, than your rank in a Google search will improve.

By adding a bit of code to your union websites and blogs, as well as your commenting system, you can link directly to Google+ and tell Google that you’re the author of various articles. This uses those social signals and +1s to boost your position in a Google search.

You can also link your union’s Google+ page to your web page, which has a similar effect. Depending on what content management system you are using, adding this code should be trivially easy. All the major CMSs like WordPress, Drupal or similar will have a plugin or simple way to do this.

Search engine optimisation is incredibly important for unions. If you can’t be found easily using Google or other search engines, you are effectively invisible from your members and supporters (and potential supporters).

By ignoring Google+, your union is missing out on very easy boosts to your SEO. For no other reason than this, your union should set up its Google+ page and ensure that important officials have a G+ profile.

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