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Is There Value in Google+ Pages?

Here's an early look at what could evolve into another important tool for merchants.

In one of our earlier articles about Google+, Google’s new social networking site, we concluded that, despite a comparatively small number of users, the service is worth investing some time in, as an e-commerce merchant. With Google behind it, ignoring the site entirely would be a mistake.

We also lamented that Google had yet to announce special pages for businesses as a part of Google+. Like Facebook’s Pages, these would allow businesses to have their own presence on the site to help brand themselves, interact with customers, and announce special offers and deals to make the trip to a business page worthwhile.

In early November, Google+ introduced its version of business pages. They’re called Google+ Pages, and in this article we’ll take a look at what they offer you as an e-commerce merchant.

Creating a basic page for your business is simple. From this page you pick your category from among five choices (say, product, brand, or local business). Add basic information including your page name, website address, category (e.g., home and garden, games and toys, tools and equipment), agree to Google’s terms, and your basic page is created.

Familiarize yourself with Google+ Pages. But for now, you may be better off devoting more time to your Facebook Page

Promotion is a problem

The official video announcing Google+ Pages describes Zen Bikes, a bike shop where the owner likes to make buddies of all his customers. “I’ve always had this ability to break down walls. I love my customers. I don’t expect tips. I don’t expect anything monetarily, that will come,” the bike shop owner says.

Well, eBay and other e-merchants are probably a bit less patient than this bike shop manager, and need to creatively and effectively entice, and attract, customers with their new Google+ Pages. One way to get those +1s (the Google+ equivalent of Facebook Likes) is to make the trip worthwhile for your customers. However, as consultant Debbie Levitt points out to us, you’re not yet allowed to run promotions of any kind on your Google+ Page.

Here’s what Google says on the topic:

“You may not run contests, sweepstakes, offers, coupons or other such promotions (‘promotion’) directly on your Google+ Page. You may display a link on your Google+ Page to a separate site, where your promotion is hosted, so long as you (and not Google) are solely responsible for your promotion and for compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations in the jurisdiction(s) where your promotion is offered or promoted.”

Where does that leave you? Pretty much in the same place we left you before. Spend some time with Google+ Pages to familiarize yourself with them. But for now, you may be better off devoting more time to your Facebook Page. Aside from the vast difference in the size of its user bases-800 million users for Facebook versus about 40 million for Google+—Facebook actually encourages you to run promotions on your Facebook Pages. From its guide for small businesses:

“Post special offers for your Facebook fans like discount codes and exclusives on new products. Offer a special code and/or create a Facebook Check-in Deal that can only be redeemed in your store.”

Google’s advice for e-commerce merchants

In our quest to leave no stone unturned, we turned to Google itself for ideas on how e-commerce merchants can use Google+ Pages. Specifically, we spoke with Andrea Faville, from Google’s Global Communications and Public Affairs department. Here’s an account of our conversation:

Schepp: Should time-pressed small e-commerce businesses create a Google+ Page? Why?

Faville: Absolutely! Pages are a great way to build a presence on Google+ and connect and engage with a new and growing audience. Your page will also be the center of your +1 and social activity on Google, and across the Web for websites, search results and ads. We built it on top of Google’s existing products so the experience is simple to use. You will need to invest some time creating your page and growing your circles. But we believe that Pages will create a way for you to connect with your customers and build the same kind of relationships you can in the real world. A few features we think will help you get closer to your customers:

  • Hangouts: Hangouts enable brands and other entities to have real conversations with people, face to face over video chat. Imagine being able to show new products to your customers or answer their questions in real time.
  • Circles: With Circles, page owners can reach the right people with the right message. For example, you could send more regular messages to your most frequent shoppers.
  • +1 button: Pages will bring together all of your +1 activities from across the Web-including websites, search results and ads.

Schepp: Do you have any suggestions for how they can create the most effective page possible from a branding and customer interaction viewpoint?

Circles can help segment your message so you can speak to smaller groups with more targeted messages

Faville: Here are a few tips to make your page engaging for users who add you to their circles:

  • Update regularly. The more great content you post, the more people will want to come back and add you to a circle.
  • Speak with a message targeted to your audience. Circles can help segment your message so you can speak to smaller groups with more targeted messages.
  • Surprise people. Keep your audience on its toes by offering special deals, Hangouts or exclusive content.
  • Engage in the conversation. Don’t just post and forget to respond. Use notifications to see when you’ve been mentioned and feel free to jump in.

Also, be sure to promote your page. We offer a few ways:

  • Spread the word: While on Google+ acting as your page, click “spread the word” on the side of the stream. This will allow you to share your page in a post with people from your personal Google+ profile. The sharing action will come from your personal Google+ profile, not from the Google+ Page.
  • Linking your Google+ Page and your website: This is a great way to drive traffic to your page, and it provides an excellent opportunity to engage with your customers and fans in an intimate fashion.
  • Leverage your existing ad campaigns to promote your Page: encourage consumers to add it to their Circles.

Schepp: Can small businesses run promotions, contests or include special offers to customers through their pages? If not, is this functionality planned?

Faville: Right now, Page owners cannot run promotions, contests or offers directly on their Page, although they can include a link to a separate site where this content is hosted. More details are available in our Terms of Service.

Schepp: How will Google index Google+ Pages?

Faville: Along with pages, we introduced Direct Connect, a way for people to easily find the pages they are looking for. This is currently in testing. If a website connected to a Google+ Page is highly relevant to a search term, performing that search with the “+” operator will take the user to that page. Also, if a user is not sure of the name and types “+” followed by a few letters, they may see predictions in the autocomplete box. For example, a user could type in “+Google” into search, hit enter and be brought directly our Google+ Page.

Otherwise, Pages may appear in all users’ search results if they are relevant to the query. They will be mixed in with other content crawled from the Web.

Set your stakes for future development

Public relations spin aside, Faville pointed out some additional aspects of Google+ Pages that further make the case for getting your feet wet and at least creating a placeholder page for your business. She also explained how other Google+ features such as Circles and Hangouts enhance a Page’s effectiveness.

It only takes a few minutes to create your initial page, and as Google+ Pages develop as a marketing, communication and promotion tool, you can put more effort into your Google+ Page knowing that the effort will be worth your trouble.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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