Today content is at the center of the digital experience. As marketers, you rely on it to drive awareness, build communities, and increase sales. Without content, there’d be no tweets, status updates, blogs, videos, or pins — all of which can help achieve one or more of those goals. So you can see why it’s very important to understand how your content affects engagement on social networks.

This week, Google made a small but noteworthy update to Google+ with your content in mind. Now every Google+ Profile and Page includes the total number of times that the account’s content has been seen by others. The number, which is displayed near the follower count, is the sum of your page, post, and photo views since October 2012. While this number doesn’t go into detail about your content’s performance, it’s an important metric nonetheless.

The update couldn’t have come at a better time. Google+ recently changed the way link posts are displayed in the stream, putting them front and center which will undoubtedly capture more attention. This was a major upgrade for content sites, which make up 29 percent of the top pages on the network. Additionally, a new study found that the site drives more engaged traffic than other social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.

According to the study’s data, Google+ has an average 50.63 percent bounce rate, 2.45 pages per visit, and 188.54 second visit duration, coming in second behind YouTube. Although many sites see “minimal traffic” from Google+, the study’s author Danny Wong believes that now is the time to invest in building communities on the network if engagement really matters to your business.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you begin working Google+ into your content strategy.

Set Up Google Authorship

Google Authorship is a way to link content you create with your Google+ Profile by adding your photo and byline to search results. This can certainly help get you noticed since photos tend to attract more attention than plain text. A study by search marketing firm Catalyst found that clicks improved 150% with Google Authorship in place.

Although Google was testing support for brand pages, it appears Google Authorship is still limited to Google+ Profiles. This doesn’t render the feature useless for businesses though. If you have at least one contributor to your company blog you can still benefit from Authorship. Take our blog for example. Although Sprout Social has a Google+ Page, we’ve added Authorship tags to our writers’ Google+ Profiles, which appear on result pages. Putting a face alongside our content not only helps to improve our clickthrough rate, but it also helps in humanizing our brand.

You can learn more about setting up Google Authorship for your business on Google+.

Use Hashtags (in Moderation)

Hashtags are a great way to categorize your content and boost discovery. However, it’s considered bad form to litter your posts with the symbol. In other words, don’t make every other word a hashtag. Instead, focus on tagging the one or two most important keywords within your post. And if you’re posting as part of an event, make sure that the event’s hashtag is included.

In addition to using hashtags within your post, you might also notice hashtags appearing at the top of the posts as well. These are considered related hashtags, which let viewers explore content that’s similar to what’s in your post. Hashtags with gray coloring are those used by the author of the post, while hashtags with blue coloring are added by Google based on the content.

Reciprocate the Engagement

As with any social network, always take time to acknowledge people who are engaging with your content. In particular, pay attention to who’s sharing your posts. +1 notable comments on your shares and respond to people by tagging them (+NAME) so they’re notified of your reply. Not only is this a good way to continue the conversation, but commenters will know that you’re actually listening.

Remember, establishing a social media presence is only half the battle. The other half requires you to always share quality content. To do so, you must first understand how people are consuming it. If your content strategy needs a little nudge in the right direction, check out an earlier infographic which highlights the six insider’s secrets of contagious content.

[Image credit: illum]