MGR Google Plus ScreenIt’s been less than three years since Google launched Google+ and the jury is still out as to who actually uses it and for what reason.  Just last week, the New York Times published and interesting article highlighting how companies like Starbucks and publications like The Economist are using Google+ primarily to boost their search engine ranking efforts.  Really? Is that what Google+ is for?

“When we think about posting on Google+, we think about how does it relate to our search efforts,” said Alex Wheeler, vice president of global digital marketing at Starbucks in The New York Times story.  Starbucks currently has three million followers on Google+, a drop in the bucket compared to the 36 million Facebook LIKES as of this writing.  However, based on Alex Wheeler’s premise, “Starbucks keeps adding posts to their Google + page to improve their search placement while it also takes advice from Google representatives on how to optimize Plus content for the search engine.”

The New York Times also describes how “The Economist has more fans on Google Plus than on Facebook — six million versus three million — and its journalists use Plus features like Hangouts. Yet Chandra Magee, The Economist’s senior director of audience development, emphasized the value of Plus as a search engine optimization tool.”

“There is potential there to help us get in front of new audiences,” she said to The New York Times. “But it also helps with our S.E.O. strategy because our posts on Google Plus actually show up in our search engine results.”

The New York Times reports Google offers brands incentives to sign up on its social media network, giving companies with Google+ profiles, “Prime placement on the right-hand side of the search results, with photos and promotional posts.”

Ok, so companies find it beneficial to create pages on Google+ to impact their search performance with the search engine.  But what about consumers?  Do we have any benefits?  Isn’t it just double work to continue updating your Facebook and Google+ pages, especially if nobody seems to be following you on Google+?

Again, citing the The New York Times article, “nearly half of 540 million monthly active users on Google+ do not visit the social network.”  So much for being “active users.”  I guess I should ask The New York Times what being an “active user” means to them, but that will be for another day.

But Google seems to have a clear agenda regarding Google+ even if they are not clearly sharing it with their users.  They already know that Facebook is the leading social network, however, Google goes beyond social networking trying to make Google+ just one more channel to stay in tune with every user’s online life and in that sense, they are able to reach into people’s lives well beyond what Facebook does.

There’s a reason why Google is now “forcing” you to sign up with Google+ even if you don’t want to.  Your Google+ account becomes the key to access all other Google products, including Gmail, YouTube, Maps and all other services that are not even remotely related to the social network.  So even if you think that you’re not “posting” your information on Google+, Google still “knows” what you’re doing, what you’re browsing, what videos you’re watching, commenting on and much more.  And that’s what they really value.

According to Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management for Google+ “Google Plus gives you the opportunity to be yourself, and gives Google that common understanding of who you are,”

As The New York Times reports, “thanks to Google+, Google knows about people’s friendships on Gmail, the places they go on maps and how they spend their time on the more than two million websites in Google’s ad network.” 

Google is still collecting this information despite the fact that relatively few people use Google+ as their social network.  According to Nielsen, Google+ has 29 million unique monthly users on its website and 41 million on smartphones, compared with Facebook’s 128 million users on its website and 108 million on phones.

And here comes the revelation!  All of this information gathering process is only helping Google fine tune its own advertising networks.  Companies and advertisers always attempt to target their ad campaigns based on assumptions about general categories, like business people that travel. Now, the ads can be much more laser focused and targeted when internet marketers learn more details about their users, such as a male business traveler who’s about to get married and planning on buying a house.

“The database of affinity could be the holy grail for more effective brand advertising,” said Nate Elliott, an analyst at Forrester studying social media and marketing responding to The New York Times.  He also adds: “It is literally promotion that money can’t buy, it is something that Google could make billions off of if they sell that space tomorrow, and they’re giving it away to try to get people onto the social platform.”

While you digest all of this, I’m going to buy more shares of Google (GOOG) since it seems like the 400% growth over the past five years is not going to stop anytime soon.  Of course, this is just my own opinion and you don’t have to agree with it.

Let me know your thoughts below.  Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)