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You may have noticed that Google has started using data from Google+ in search results. For a user this is intriguing and potentially useful - it personalises your search experience.
For brands it begins to explain the benefit you can get from Google+, as well as showing how you should make the most of the opportunities that it offers.
If you are logged in to your Google account, your search results are now enhanced by things that your contacts have shared in Google+.
If somebody in your Circles has shared a page publicly then this gives that page a boost in your search results. These 'Google+ enhanced' results are designed to give you a more personalised search experience by showing you things that are likely to be more relevant to you.
The real impact of this change, however, is for brands. It gives a clear reason for brands to engage in Google+ and impacts both the search and the social strategies that brands should adopt.
Imagine Tesco had a brand page on Google+ and that I had them in one of my Circles. It would no doubt be sharing its pages in updates and doing so publicly. This would give a boost to the Tesco homepage whenever I search for something on Google.
So if I search for 'supermarket in Chesterfield', Tesco is going to come nearer the top (maybe at the top); if I search for one of its other products (eg 'pet insurance') it would also appear nearer the top of the search results.
What does this mean? Well this would be a real benefit to brands having a good presence on Google+. By having a clear and well used presence on Google+, sharing content with those who have you in their Circles, you are actually benefiting your search engine optimisation and, almost certainly, increasing clicks through to your site.
The priority, it would then appear, would be for brands to grow the number of people who have you in their Circles. The more peoples' Circles you are in, the more people will get your page in their enhanced search results.
However, this race for Circles hides a more complicated approach to Google+ that is needed. If every supermarket was in your Circles, then the net impact on search results for any single supermarket would net out to zero.
All supermarkets would be equally enhanced and so none would change position relatively in search results. The aim with Google+, therefore, would be for brands to beat the competition to being in peoples' Circles.
You want them to follow you and none of your competitors and so you need to be fast to market and have a real, definitive reason for people to engage with you and not with your competitors. You need to offer them something useful and unique.
There is a clear danger of Google+ being used as part of an SEO strategy alone, forgetting and foregoing the social benefits you can get.
The truth is that Google+, whilst delivering significant SEO benefit, is a social experience and needs to be managed as such. You need to have a clear reason for people to engage with you and put you in their Circles. And you need to create and experience that is significantly more engaging than your competition.
The winners will be those who have a clear social strategy and have Google+ as part of it. In the meantime the best things brands can and should do is to experiment and understand how it works, and then build brand presences as and when Google allows them.