After much waiting, Google+, Google’s foray into the social networking space, is finally open to businesses.
When the social media platform was unveiled this summer, it was initially available only to individuals - meaning you could set up a personal profile, but couldn't set up a page for your business. At the time, there was quite a bit of anticipation about when Google would allow business pages, and what it would mean for businesses. Now that business pages are available, we're about to find out.
40 million users and growing
So what's so unique about Google+, compared to other social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter? Although there are some functional differences - Google+ allows you to videochat with contacts through their "hangout" feature, for example - it's pretty similar to Facebook. The key differentiator is that it's directly intertwined with Google, the most popular search engine on the internet. It's safe to assume that Google+ business pages will have a strong impact on Google search results. (Meaning, if you have a Google+ business page, you'll be in much better shape than your competition for people in your area searching for energy audits, insulation contractors, etc.)
It's also significantly smaller, at least for the time being. Currently there are about 40 million people on Google+, compared to about 800 million on Facebook, 120 million on LinkedIn, and about 200 million on Twitter. But we can expect that number to grow, considering that a) Google+ is still relatively new, and b) with the integration of Google+ business pages, we can expect more people to start using the service to find businesses in their area, meaning that overall participation will most likely increase. Set up a page now, and you'll be one step ahead of the competition down the road.
Setting up your page
So how do you set up a business page for your Home Performance or energy auditing business? First, you'll need a Google account. Although you may already have one, this is a tricky spot on Google+ for now, because Google isn't allowing multiple administrators of pages. That means that if you set up the page using your personal Google account, only you will be able to make changes to the page. Although this shouldn't be a huge deal - they've suggested that they'll be allowing multiple administrators further down the road - you may want to consider linking the Google+ page to a Google account that's accessible to a number of people, so the burden of maintaining the page doesn't fall entirely on one person.
Once you decide to add a page, you'll be prompted to pick which type of business it will represent. "Local business or place" is probably the best option for Home Performance businesses, since that will allow you to tie the page to your geographic location (meaning that people who search for your services within that region will be more likely to find your business).
Once your page is set up, you'll be given the option to share the link to your Home Performance business page through your blog, email, Twitter, Facebook, Home Energy Pros, or anywhere else you communicate with people online. We think it's a good idea to add content first, so your page will be a more robust, engaging place when people first arrive there (so they'll be more likely to follow your page). Videos, links and photos are all good ways to get started adding content. See our post on content ideas for Home Performance pros for more ideas.
"The Wild West," Search Integration, and Next Steps
Right now, everybody's still waiting to see how Google+ pages will pan out -- both as a means to drive traffic to Google+ and help Google grow their social networking platform, and as a means to help businesses. The popular blog Mashable has called Google+ business pages the "Wild West," because it's currently so open that a lot of people are setting up fake pages. The platform is still in sort of an anarchical, experimental phase.
But one this is for certain: Google+ pages will have a strong impact on Google's search results, particularly for local businesses. Home Performance businesses are both inherently local, and inherently positioned to benefit from search queries (most people don't know they need an energy audit or a Home Performance assessment, they just know they have a mold problem or a drafty room -- when they search for an answer to their problem, you want to be the first business they find). Consequently, we highly recommend going ahead and setting up your Google+ page now. As further developments roll out, and we see how Google integrates pages into their search results, we'll keep you posted.
Anybody out there tried out Google+ for businesses yet? What do you think?