Google+ has been operating under the social media radar for years. Even though Facebook and Twitter are the two largest networks, Google+ has been quietly driving sales and maintaining high levels of satisfaction. In the past few months, Google+ has been making strides to more directly compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, thanks to the recent redesign and the fuller integration with other Google properties, such as YouTube and Hangouts.

We spoke with some experts about why they are still excited about the potential of Google+ and are continuing to invest in the network. Director of Audience Development Elisabeth Osmeloski and Founding Editor Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand.com and MarketingLand.com weighed in with the importance of using Google+ to improve the SEO of your social profiles. Rae Hoffman is the CEO and cofounder of PushFire, a marketing agency based in Houston. She discussed why she uses Google+ as a business leader and the logistics of how to become a strong player on that network.

Elisabeth Osmeloski and Danny Sullivan

Search Engine Land

As leaders at two websites focused on search and search engine optimization (SEO), Elisabeth Osmeloski and Danny Sullivan are well-versed in how the behind-the-scenes side of search can impact the success of a social media profile. Osmeloski shared her insights as to how companies could use social media in general, and Google+ in particular, to get better exposure.

“While we’re certainly in a golden age of social media marketing — where companies of all sizes are truly embracing social media as a channel that lends itself well to branding, customer service, and community engagement — it’s still often operated separately from SEO and SEM efforts,” she said. “Now we’re seeing social platforms enhance their search capabilities and Google+ is having a rapidly increasing impact on search results. For this reason alone, it’s more important than ever that search is considered alongside social to gain additional visibility for target queries.”

While that seems more technical than most social media marketers are comfortable with, companies could see significant benefits from hiring occasional outside assistance. For small and medium-sized businesses, having strong design and SEO from the beginning is key, she said. It will help those brands to appear in the appropriate searches. “While most SMBs are short on time to truly learn technical SEO, it’s most critical for these businesses to stay on top of the general trends and ensure they’re adhering to best practices, and hiring outside consultants they can trust with the overall health of their business,” Osmeloski said. “It should be considered a serious investment if search and social is part of the overall marketing plan.”

Osmeloski recommended being considerate of search for any social media platform, she noted the particular strengths of Google+. “Given Google’s push to integrate the social platform’s data into many aspects of search, it’s going to be unavoidable to be present there for many businesses; being an early adopter is going to help in your competitive space,” Osmeloski said. “The reality is, Google+ is one of the fastest-growing social networks right now and marketers need to be aware of the search opportunities they are missing out on by not participating there.”

She offered advice for companies to cover the basics of creating a presence on the network. “At a minimum, all businesses need to claim their Google+ brand profiles and utilize every area within the profile for maximum branding opportunity and visibility in related searches,” she said. “You’ll want to at least share updates and news on your brand Pages a couple times a week, which can lead to immediate inclusion in Google’s main search results.” Keeping the technical considerations in mind can clearly help your company to reach your desired audience and build community by being easy to find.

Danny Sullivan, the founding editor for both web properties, also weighed in on why businesses of any size should be aware of how integral search can be to building a strong social profile. “Search engines are making more and more use of social data to improve their search results,” Sullivan said. “Social data is used for everything from improving the appearance of listings, such as showing how often a page has been shared or by whom, to influencing the rankings of those pages. In short, social is an essential part of any search campaign.”

Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman

As the face of an agency and a personal company, Hoffman has spent significant time building up her own personal presence on Google+. “I believe the ‘how’ is the same for both personal or publisher accounts — interaction, engagement, activity, quality, and above all, not being 100 percent about self-promotion.” She said that most businesses should “keep more focus on pushing, promoting, and engaging via their business Page on Google+, and engage your audience as a publisher rather than an individual.”

One of the key elements she noticed that distinguishes Google+ from the other social networks was the type of content being shared by members. “Google+ seems to have a lot less noise for now,” she said. “You find a little less in regards to funny cat pictures and a little more in regards to more serious information sharing.” Knowing the type of material that is common on the network is important to developing an organic presence on Google+.

She explained how she would recommend businesses tackle the Google network. “I do believe it can be a great platform for certain brands, providing they’re willing to commit to doing it right,” she said. “If you’re not going to do it avidly — and with a plan based on achieving a desired outcome — then you might as well not be doing it at all.”

Hoffman recommended investigating the demographics of each network and determining how much overlap it has with your desired audience. “Understanding what results you’re looking for via any social media channel is key to deciding whether or not you should be entering it and dedicating resources to it,” she said. “If your market is 28- to 38-year-old technology enthusiasts, then Google+ makes way more sense for you to put focus towards than Tumblr ever will.”

When getting started on reinvigorating a Google+ account, Hoffman suggested that companies be sure to connect with other members. “Circle people that make sense for your brand to be connected to,” she said. “If you’re a clothing company, you should be circling the influencers in your target market, the fashion bloggers, the retailers that would make sense for your product, and so on.”

Hoffman said businesses should take full advantage of the unique Google features integrated into the social channels. “Hangouts are an extremely powerful tool,” she said. “Once you understand how it works, you realize that the ability to host live shows, live panels, live Q&A sessions, video tutorials, etc. is not only a powerful promotional tool, but it’s also something that either doesn’t exist or exists in a much more inferior fashion on other social networks.

Her other advice was to follow good practices for creative interactions with other members of Google+. “Be creative. No one wants to see you doing nothing but posting how awesome your brand is each day,” Hoffman said. “Look at your audience and figure out what gets them interacting.” She recommended using good analytics to see what works, both with your existing fans and with your competitors’ readers. Hoffman also emphasized the need to communicate and engage with others by taking advantage of the network’s +1, commenting, and sharing features.

[Image credit: Brionv]