September 5, 2014 E3

Google Plus: The Walking Dead? Or The Party Crasher Who Just Won’t Leave?

In case you missed it, Vic Gundotra is resigning from Google. Who is Vic Gundotra and why should you care? Well, he is the (now outgoing) senior vice president of social, and he is (was) the brains behind Google Plus.

His resignation caused TechCrunch to declare Google Plus the new walking dead, a declaration that Google flatly denied. And most search gurus agree that it’s not time for such declarations. But while the network has not quite achieved zombie status, it does appear to be hanging on for dear life.

The Gundotra Exit: What Could it Mean?

What’s making everyone so crazy? The death theorists think that the first bad sign is that Gundotra spent 15 years at Microsoft before joining Google. (Finding out he worked at Microsoft explains a lot about Google Plus, doesn’t it?) He’s now poised to leave after just seven years. Would he be leaving if Google Plus was doing well? The death theorists think not. His successor will be David Besbris, the head of engineering at Google. Besbris is no social media expert. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to poach someone from Facebook? The theorists think so. The conclusion? Google Plus is now engineering’s problem, and they aren’t going to focus on the platform as a social network.

And with Gundotra’s exit comes a reshuffling of staff. TechCrunch reports that as many as 1,200 Google Plus staff are getting shifted around, with most of the Google Hangouts team being sent to the Android department. TechCrunch believes this to be an indication that the focus will be on building Android as a platform.

Of course there are juicy water-cooler-gossip tidbits finding their way into the conversation. According to the gossip on TechCrunch, Google felt that it missed the “biggest acquisition in the social space” when Facebook acquired WhatsApp, and that might have had something to do with Gundotra’s exit.

Another bit of gossip has to do with infighting over Google’s much-reviled policy of requiring Google Plus integrations into just about all of its products. The YouTube/Google Plus debacle was a highly publicized disaster that apparently caused tension inside Google, as well. The forced integrations of Google Plus with Gmail and YouTube were apparently a source of ongoing contention. Some people were not comfortable with counting these forced integrations as active users, and eventually Larry Page had to get involved.

But even with Gundotra’s exit, it doesn’t appear that Google will be backing off all of the forced integrations. It will likely still occur with Gmail signups, but the speculation is that the heavy-handed tactics will be scaled back. That scaling back won’t be met with much resistance from users. Forced integrations were never popular with the general public. It always appeared that they were trying to force us all into the platform, like a mother who forces her children to play with the weird kids down the street. It felt cheap and creepy, especially given Google’s never-ending quest for more and more personal information about its user base.

Google Plus for SEO

Even with all of its issues, there is no denying that a Google Plus account has SEO benefits like Google Authorship markup and integration. When your Google Plus account is linked to your content, the markup shows your headshot and stats in search result, helping to increase click-through rate.

Personalized search results with Google Plus also have a positive effect for content exposure. If someone has you in their Google Plus circles, your relevant content will appear in their search results. And posts that receive a lot of +1’s tends to rank well.

Google Plus also impacts local SEO. The Google Local carousel ranking factors are markedly different form organic ranking factors and those businesses with active Google Plus profiles that include ratings and +1’s typically do well.

All of these factors are algorithmic, which means that Gundotra’s exit won’t have any effect on these SEO benefits – at least not for now. And Google knows that as long as website owners and marketers understand that, they aren’t going to abandon the platform. So it’s not quite time to pack up and leave the Google Plus sandbox, but it’s likely that personal users of the platform may begin to abandon it as soon as it stops functioning as a social network.

Google doesn’t appear to be shutting the Plus down any time soon. But it is a platform that has never really gained much traction or popularity. It was always a bloated, clunky website that has been difficult to use and understand. Users have been forced into it, rather than adopting it on their own because they get something out of the experience. So is Google Plus the walking dead? Or is it just that annoying guy who showed up uninvited to your party and won’t seem to leave?

What do you think the future of Google Plus will be? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.           

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