People tend to write-off Google Plus as a social network. I know I certainly did, but I kept an open mind. And I’m glad I did, because in four short months I grew In2itive Search’s, the digital marketing agency I work at, Google Plus follower count from 27 to 163, increased +1s from 106 to 1,190, and view count from 27,287 to 611,321 by implementing one simple daily tactic. What’s the secret you ask? It isn’t shared circles, which is the quickest way to grow your follower count. It’s the power of Google Plus Communities.

What are Google+ Communities?

Communities are groups of active users who share a common interest, such as marketing, photography, and even memes. There are Communities on just about anything and if you can’t find one, then you can start one!

Community members tend to be very engaged with shared posts in the Community. They often will +1, comment, and share posts. Why wouldn’t they be? After all, they actively sought out the Community and joined it. Therefore, Communities are gold mines for engagement.

Case Study Results

Onto to the climax of this case study. I discovered the power of Google+ Communities on September 16th. I published a Community post and instantly got more views, followers, and engagement in the form of +1s and comments. These results stayed consistent as I continued to share posts to other Communities. Therefore, I decided to set a goal to organically generate over 100 followers, 1,000 plus ones, and 500,000 million Google+ business views in four months.

Following is a breakdown of our starting data versus our ending data, as well as the total change and total percent change.

Followers +1s Views
September 16, 2014 27 106 27,287
January 16, 2015 163 1,190 611,321
Total Change 136 1,084 584,034
Percent Change 503.7% 922.64% 2,192.96%

As you can see from the table, we surpassed our four-month goal and saw incredible results. We achieved this by simply joining relevant Communities (in our case, digital marketing-related Communities), published three to five posts a week, and regularly interacted with fellow Community members and commenters.

Google+ Followers

We began our long journey to achieving our goal with 27 Google+ followers. Our number of followers steadily grew over time as we posted valuable content and regularly interacted with Community members. We would often comment and +1 posts we liked, as well as respond to comments made on our posts. Interacting with users helped us establish a Google+ following of engaged followers. At the end of the four-month period, we reached 163 followers.

This is how Intuitive Digital's Google Plus following looked like before using Communities for outreach.

This is how Intuitive Digital's Google Plus following looked like after using Communities for outreach.

Google+ Engagement

The great part of Communities is that the Community members are passionate and hungry to learn more about the Community topic, which means they are eager to +1 content they like and have rich conversations. For example, take a look at the engagement we received on posts over a 90-day period. A total 843 actions were taken by posting to Google+.

Intuitive Google+ Engagement Tab

By posting valuable content, we were able to increase In2itive Search’s Google+ business page’s +1s from 106 to 1,190. You can see our +1 progression in the following charts.

A look at Intuitive Digital's Google+ profile before using Communities.

How Google+ Communities have helped Intuitive Digital after .

Google+ Views

The huge leap in In2itive Search’s view count is the result from posting to Google+ Communities. As a result of posting three to five times a week, we generated an additional 583,034 business page views. That’s right, over a half a million views in a four-month period!

That’s a towering 2,192.96% increase!

This is how Intuitive Digital's Google Plus view count looked like before using Communities for outreach.

This is how Intuitive Digital's Google Plus view count looked like after using Communities for outreach.

Google breaks down views into four types: search views, post views, profile views, and photo views. The accumulation of these four types of views is your total view count listed on your profile page. In your Google+ Insights, you can view this breakdown of views in the visibility tab. Following is a screenshot of our Google+ views for a 90-day period.

Google Plus Visibility Tab

Confused by the view types? So was I at first, so here is a breakdown of the four types of Google+ views:

  • Search Views: Number of times people saw your business information show up in Google Search, Google Maps, and other Google products.
  • Post Views: The total number of times people saw your Google+ posts anywhere on Google+. This includes your profile page, Communities, shared posts, and posts open to the public or circles or individual you targeted the post at.
  • Profile Views: This is the total number of times people viewed your Google+ business page. When your Google+ knowledge graph shows up alongside a search result for your business this isn’t considered a profile view.
  • Photo Views: This is the total number of times your photos that you have posted to Google+ have shown up across all Google products (e.g., Google Plus, Google Web Search, Google Image Search, Google Maps). Photos are counted as those you include in posts, your Google+ albums, and X.

Website Traffic

Not only do Communities have the power to improve your Google Plus page, but they also can drive traffic to your website. If you have a blog like we do, then sharing your blog posts to relevant Communities is an excellent way to increase web traffic. We increased our sessions by 176.83% by sharing our company blog posts in Google+ Communities. You can see the difference in In2itive Search’s weekly web traffic in the image below.

Intuitive Digital's website sessions viewed through Analytics as a result of using Google Plus Communities.

While we did post to Google+ Communities three to five times a week, not every post linked back to our website. I would say about one in every five posts linked to another site that authored the post. While we don’t gain web traffic from these posts, our In2itive Google+ business page benefits in other ways. For example, we still benefit from increased followers, engagement, views, and brand awareness. The accumulation of these social signals will affect your search ranking as well, but we will discuss this later in the blog post. So if your website doesn’t have shareable content, publishing quality content to Communities can still benefit you.

Conversions Due to Google+

Increased web traffic means more opportunities for conversions. As a result, we received 19 conversions over the course of the four months. These conversions came from our contact us forms and digital marketing audit request forms on the In2itive Search website. The majority of these conversions were authentic ones as well.

Before posting to Google+ Communities, we rarely received form completions on our website. The screenshot of our weekly conversion data below shows our steady stream of conversions. Unfortunately, when we launched our new website in late October, we lost our previous conversion data in Google Analytics. Therefore, the graph below only displays our conversions from the start of November 2014.

Using Google Plus Communities, Intuitive Digital saw an increase in conversions.

Joining Google+ Communities

No matter what you’re interested in, there are people on Google+ who share your interests. So discovering a Community on a topic you’re passionate about should be easy. Let’s begin, shall we?

  1. From your Google+ page (if you’re a business, make sure you’re doing this from your business page), open your drop-down menu on the left side of the screen and select Communities.
  2. Now you can either stumble through Google’s suggested and popular Communities or directly search for your topic in the search field.
  3. Joining a Community is as simple as selecting the Join button. Viola! You have officially joined a Community.

Quick tip! I always view the number of members, the frequency of posts, and types of posts before joining a Community. If you want your Community posts to get significant views and engagement, then you definitely want there to be a relatively good amount of followers. Secondly, observe how often posts are published. If the Community hasn’t been posted to in a while, then this Community isn’t chock-full of active users, which means you should pass on it. Lastly, check out the types of posts that are published to the Community. I’ve stumbled across quite a few Communities where the posts are not related to the Community topic at all, which means the Community moderator(s) are not moderating the Community. A lack of moderating gives the green light for spammers to post junk posts.

Posting to Communities

Posting to Communities is exactly like posting to your profile page. You can either go to the Community to post or post to it from your Google+ page. However, you can only share to one Community at a time or your choice of circles from your Google+ page. You cannot share a post to Communities and Circles at the same time.

One more thing, make sure to check the Community’s guidelines to see what kind of sharing is okay! I have encountered a number of Communities that ask that you limit the number of times you post, to not use short links or require you not to self-promote your business. 

The SEO Power of Google+

We already know having an optimized Google+ profile and reviews play a large part in Google’s ranking algorithm, but Google+ social signals play a role in SEO too. In a nutshell, social signals are social media engagement metrics (e.g., likes, tweets, and +1s) that point back to a website and affects the website’s search engine rankings. Following is a breakdown of how Google+ social signals affect SEO.

  • Follower Count
    • A study conducted by QuickSprout found the simple addition of 100 Google+ followers to a Google business page shot up the website’s search rankings by 14.63%.
  • Engagement
    • In addition, the QuickSprout study discovered a site that received 300 Google +1 votes found their ranking went up by 9.44%.
  • Number of Views
    • Unfortunately, I could not find a case study or statistics that demonstrates how the number of views affects search ranking. However, the number of views does demonstrate the reach of your content.
  • Web traffic
    • Google+ can drive a significant amount of traffic to your site, especially if you use Google+ Communities. The increase in traffic can help your website because Google also takes into account user metrics (e.g., the number of visitors, bounce rate, and dwell time) to rank web pages. Therefore, the better your website user metrics are, the more likely you are to rank higher in search results.

In addition, Search Metrics completed a study where they analyzed the top 30 search result rankings for 10,000 keywords, which is 300,000 URLs, to determine the most influential SEO ranking factors. Search Metrics discovered +1s is the third highest SEO ranking factor. Google +1s are correlated higher than Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Therefore, this study further demonstrates the SEO power of Google+.

A look at the 2014 SEO ranking factors, presented by Moz.

For a full list of other benefits Google+ provides, then check out this blog post from Moz.

Do other social networks have Communities?

Yes, other social networks have places similar to Google Plus Communities. Facebook and LinkedIn have Groups, and Twitter has Lists. Experimenting with Twitter Lists is still on my to-do list. However, you can’t post to Facebook and LinkedIn Groups as a business. You can only post from a personal account. So if you are thinking about using Facebook and LinkedIn Groups to increase your business profile engagement, then think again. But by all means, try Twitter Lists using your business profile and let me know what you find.

Final Thoughts

By now, I hope you understand that Google Plus can be a powerful component to your digital marketing strategy. I used to dismiss the social media channel as a way to drive engagement, but the power of Communities has caused me to do a complete 180. Now Google Plus is In2itive Search’s most valuable social media channel due to the social, SEO, and conversion value we are getting from it.

One final thought. I want to stress the importance of keeping an open mind, innovation, and testing when looking at digital marketing. Opportunities are out there. You just have to keep an open mind and test your ideas that exploit those opportunities. I would have never discovered the power of Google Plus Communities if I didn’t keep an open mind and test my hypotheses. Don’t just accept everything you read about digital marketing. Go out there and challenge it! Be a strategist, a thought leader, a bold innovator who is going to change the digital world. And if that means challenging this post, go for it! I want the digital marketing world to ignite with the discussion.

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Twitter: @erikapdx

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/schmidterika