Is Google Plus Still ViableMuch ado has been made over Google+ since its launch. Just like Google’s earlier social endeavors it was quickly heralded as a game changer by tech writers and social media analysts everywhere. There were also those who were quick to call it a failure. Unlike Wave and Buzz, however, Google+ has made meaningful progress in the market. It has deeply integrated Google+ within its other products, demonstrating the priority it places on this new platform.

Six months after Google+ fully opened its doors, though, things don’t look perfect at first glance. While the company has lauded its 90 million members, research giant ComScore recently reported extremely low engagement on the site, and The Wall Street Journal  described Google+ as a “virtual ghost town.”

It’s hard to argue with the Google +1 buttons scattered throughout the web that show embarrassingly low numbers compared to the Facebook and Twitter social shares placed beside them. So which is it — is Google+ a failure or a success? Or is the situation more complex than that?

Facebook Competitor or Wolf in Disguise?

Big Bad Wolf

On the surface, Google+ appears to be the company’s answer to Facebook — but it may be too simple to dismiss it as such. What most overlook is that Google+ is not just a product. Google+ is one part of a much larger, more integrated strategy from Google.

While Google is best known for search, the company takes in the majority of its revenue from advertising sales. A large portion of this advertising is spread throughout the various Google properties, not just search. The company now faces new enemies to its advertising dominance in the form of social networks and apps. A rapidly increasing number of people on the Internet are getting their news from Facebook and Twitter. The need for web search, while not about to disappear entirely, has waned as new apps and services like Siri fetch data for people directly.

This poses a threat to Google’s business model. The more time people spend on Facebook and other properties, the less they need Google. The goal of Google+ is to reverse this, to make these conversations happen on its terms, and to collect more data about people in order to deliver more targeted ads.

Recognizing its late start in the field of social search, Google has begun to focus its efforts in this space. For example, Google Labs and countless other beta projects have been jettisoned or shelved in favor of all things social. Products that didn’t face the chopping block have been redesigned with consistent branding and interfaces to tightly integrate with one another and with Google+.

Privacy policies have been rewritten and streamlined to break down the walls between products. It seems that Google is very interested in offering people a comprehensive, pervasive Google experience whenever they go to the web, whether it’s for search, social networking, or both.

Google+ Bares Its Teeth

Google Plus Bares Its Teeth

The master stroke, and where Google’s integrated marketing strategy really comes into play is with Google+’s “Search, plus Your World” search feature.

When you log in to Google, “Search, plus Your World” is enabled by default. Your search experience is then tailored to what Google knows about you and your (primarily Google+) networks.

For example, a general Google search for someone’s name will result in a number of matches, many of which are irrelevant or unknown to the searcher. If that same searcher logs in to Google+ and uses the “Search, plus Your World” feature, results will include social networking connections the searcher has with the person being searched, such as Google+ Pages or Circles that they share.

For a savvy business owner, Google+ can be a new way to generate website traffic based on his or her social connections. The key is to connect with as many people as possible and share your content frequently by way of Google+. When your Google+ connections interact with you and share your content, you have the potential to influence their search results when they’re looking for keywords related to your business. The more people you can get talking about you, the more often you’re likely to show up — particularly in “Search, plus your world” results. This gives you the opportunity for competitive advantage by leveraging your social activities with the power of Google search.

The Bottom Line: The Better to Search You With My Dear

Google’s strategy is to deeply insinuate itself into all your online activities so that it’s unavoidable. For example, Google’s “Ice Cream Sandwich” software update completely integrates Google+ into the address book and camera of Android based smartphones by default. For consumers, this eases many issues with syncing of contacts and photos. But this also tells Google a lot about who the phone users are, who they contact, where they go and what their interests are.

So after six months, is Google+ still viable? Let’s put it this way: Google+ is central to everything the company is doing right now and it’s not likely to go away any time soon. Having and exercising a presence on Google+ gives you another medium to target your ideal customers, based on their cumulative activities online. If you don’t already have a Google+ account, it’s probably a good idea to get one. If nothing else, you’ll benefit indirectly by having another place where your business can ping on Google’s ubiquitous radar.

Is your business on Google+? What do you think of this platform? Share your experiences in the comments below.

[Sources: Google, Wall Street Journal; Image credits: John Morrison, Yael P, Falcon1961, Metassus]