Google Plus IconThis is the next post in my Social Networking for Attorneys series. In my last article I discussed how attorneys can build meaningful relationships through social media. It’s now time to add a little meat to this series by discussing particular social networks. I’m going to start with what is easily the most important network for attorneys’ marketing efforts – Google+. The importance of this network, which is discussed in my eBook Modern Marketing for Today’s Attorney, means that I’m going to break the discussion into separate posts so you’re not subjected to War and Peace. This article will address why Google+ is important and the next will discuss how to properly utilize the network.

Google+ was launched on an invitation only basis in June of 2011. And yes, under my old G+ profile I was one of the early invited users who was on the network while it was still closed to the public – I guess I’m just cool like that. While the service’s user base is growing rapidly, it still lags far behind Facebook. It is still often referred to as a “ghost town,” “the social network that none of your friends are on,” or “as the network you now have to join in order to comment on You Tube videos.” The thing that is important to understand about the service is that Google did not launch it to compete against sites like Facebook. Its purpose is to provide Google with information which improves the company’s primary product, its search engine. This post, along with my next one will take a look at why a strong Google+ presence will help attorneys’ websites perform better in search, how to properly use the service so you get a search boost, as well as common mistakes on the network to avoid.

Google+ was launched so Google could have better knowledge of individual identity and real-world relationships

Google did not start G+ to compete with social networks. The service was started to make Google’s core search product better. Right now you may be wondering what Google’s attempt at “social networking” has to do with improving search quality. It matters as it establishes identity on the web. By this I mean that the web is quickly moving from an anonymous source of information, where the identity of a person writing a particular article or piece of content is not much of an issue, to a place where the identity of an author will matter.

Google has been very clear from the get-go that it created Google+ as way of improving its search engine. Early in the summer of 2011, at the D9 conference, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt made the following statements:

“For years, I said that in the internet we missed something, which was identity.”

“[Facebook] is the first general way of disambiguating identity and identity is very important in the online world because you need to know who you’re dealing with.”

“If [an alternative to Facebook existed] we would be able to use that to make our search better…we will use the technology that we’re announcing over the next [few months] to make our search better.” [i]

Google+ launched shortly after these statements were made as it was one of the “technologies being announced.” Since the network was created to help Google with search, it’s important to take a look at how it does so.

Attorneys can improve their website’s search performance through establishing their online identity

The establishment of identity on the web is important as it allows Google to provide searchers with the results they are most interested in. Let’s quickly re-visit the hypothetical from my article on the importance of social media to law firm marketing.  If Attorney “A” and Attorney “B” have websites that are exactly equal in regards to all search ranking factors than Google has no reason to rank one higher than the other. But what if A is a highly qualified lawyer and B has never seen the inside of a courtroom. Someone choosing their attorney through Google is going to be a lot more interested in A’s website than in B’s. By being able to determine the identity and reputation of the website owners, Google can give a searcher the result they are more interested in (which would be Attorney “A” in this hypothetical). The search giant is using data from Google+ to establish this identity and reputation.

In the middle of 2013 it was discussed that Google will be “turning the crank” on the use of identity and reputation as a search ranking factor. This discussion occurred in the following video from the head of Google’s web spam team (FYI – you will hear this video refer to “rel=author,” all you need to know for our purposes is that this is how Google ties your G+ page to your website):

This turning of the crank means that the importance of G+ to a law firm’s web marketing is only going to increase.

Google+ is incredibly important for establishing online identity and reputation as it is the only social network from which Google is currently evaluating such information. The search engine does not have complete and regular access to sites such as Facebook and Twitter and, as a result, does not use social information from those sites to establish reputation and credibility. This was discussed, in this video, in January of 2014:

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google has complete access to the information on Google+ and is able to use that information for establishing identity. In other words, the search engine is considering identity and reputation as part of its search rankings but is currently only using data from Google+ to do so. This makes establishing a presence for your firm, on Google+, important.

In my next post I will be discussing how to use Google+ to build the type of online credibility and identity that will assist your site in search.

8/5/15 – Social media is something which is evolving rapidly. Several developments in 2015 led to my writing as to why attorneys should consider Google+ dead in terms of usefulness to their law practice.

11/30/2014 Update – After this article was written, Google ceased the tracking of authorship and “identity” from Google+. As such, this information currently does not play a role in search rankings. I still strongly believe, however, that Google+ is important to a law firm’s social media strategy and a subsequent article was written on how attorneys can leverage Google+.

[i] Google and the Gang of Four: Eric Schmidt’s Full D9 Intereview. June 29th, 2011; Accessed at http://allthingsd.com/20110621/google-and-the-gang-of-four-eric-schmidts-full-d9-interview-video/