https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/3800/gplus_screen_ft-blog-thumb.pngIf you’re a regular user of Google+ (and if you aren’t, here’s some good reasons you should be), then you may have seen a few unusual posts popping up on your feed today.

This will lead to speculation that despite its previous ‘No ads’ stance, Google may be willing to include a few Facebook style promoted posts to add spice to the G+ mix…

Google recently updated the look of G+ to a somewhat mixed reception.

Personally I like it. We’ve been experimenting with different approaches to Google+ recently at Econsultancy and the new features have opened up a lot of possibilities. As such I’ve been spending more time than usual on the platform, but it wasn’t until earlier today that I sported a few unusually formatted posts hogging my screenspace.

Posts like this one: 

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/3799/gplus_screen_circlecount-blog-full.png

I’ve checked with a few others and it seems I’m not the only one getting these.

These images (approx 650px wide) straddle the regular feed, stretching across the regular three-column view.

Some people mentioned that they’ve seen a few posts like this that didn’t seem commercial in intent, but so far I’ve only seen posts that specifically offer services, or that have been posted on behalf of brands. While uploading your own large format content can affect how your content is seen by others in G+, this appears to be a new development.

In addition, these posts are appearing across different devices:

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/3800/gplus_screen_ft-blog-full.png

Should marketers embrace this?

I’m in two minds about this currently.

On the one hand I like the idea of being able to highlight and reformat posts to break up the otherwise monotonous three column view.

We’ve recently launched our Yearbook for The Digitals, and the mix of image sizes and functionality makes for a far more engaging experience (and it’s a lot kinder on the eyeballs too):  

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/3807/digitals---main-feed_v02-blog-half.jpg

On the other hand, while Google is extremely good at targeting content (certainly more so than Facebook), It seems odd that it would offer a service like this after specifically denying ads a place on G+. 

So far I’m not seeing options to alter post formats so it may be that these are arbitrarily chosen by Google.

It’s tempting to assume that these choices would be linked to businesses with larger AdWords accounts, or to companies using Google+ as a primary social channel, but the ads being picked don’t quite match this – why would Google be promoting a third-party analytics platform, as in the image above? 

Overall, the ability to mix and match content formats makes for a far more dynamic and engaging experience, but with Google+ having fought so hard for a foothold in the popular consciousness, it seems like an odd decision to introduce posts linked to ads. 

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been experimenting with our our own Google+ page. Originally we stuck to our own content, but more recently we’ve opened the page up to become more of a curated magazine, with articles from around the web.

While this has resulted in a dip in traffic from Google+, we have seen a boost in follower aquisition and engagement, and we’ve actually had a boost to attributable revenue as well.

Unfortunately we haven’t been running this for long enough to dive into the data properly (I’ll be sure to share as soon as we can), but overall taking a more genuinely social and useful approach seems to be paying dividends, so I’d be disinclined to move towards ads and promotions, or anything that disrupts the user experience. 

Search implications?

It’s long seemed that Google have some vague/ominous plan to factor G+ into search as well (I mean, it’s Google…).

We’ve commented in depth about the importance of Authorrank, and Penguin has placed more emphasis on genuine content creation. While Google obviously have enourmous ad revenues, the entire idea of allowing promotions within G+ seems at odds with this approach. If Google+ does influence natural search, how exactly would paid or promoted content impact this?

I’d love to get your feedback on this. Do you think that Google needs to carve out an ad-based revenue line on G+, or is the more sensible option to take the long view and rely on real engagement? And do feel free to shout if there is official information on this that I’ve missed, currently the Google blog and help documentation seem to be drawing a blank. 

Thanks to Carlton Jefferis and Michelle Goodall for input on this (and sending me extra screenshots!).