The Great Google+ Swindle

Do you use Google+? I don’t mean “do you have a Google Plus profile?” I mean, are you a regular user of Google’s social network.

The answer is almost certainly “no”. You’ve probably decided against it. You don’t need another social time sink. Especially not one that just won’t deliver any business your way.

Your decision was “thanks but no thanks” to Google. Plus isn’t for you, but the app is rather nice looking.

Well, tough. You’re going to use Google+ whether you want to or not. You’re going to be bombarded with pro-Plus propaganda, and outright threatened with expulsion from the search engines. Welcome to the great Google+ swindle.

That’s right. We’re all being swindled. By Google, and by supposedly trustworthy bloggers. We’re being coerced and cajoled into wasting our time.

And why? Because while Google know how to build a search product, they have no idea what a social product even is.

Google+ Demonstrates a Complete Misunderstanding of the Social Product

One of my colleagues in web development put it best. “Google+,” he said “has a great website, and the most well-designed social media app I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame nobody uses it.

This sums up the major problem with Google+. That Google have fundamentally misunderstood what the social product is that we’re all signing up for. They’ve created an intuitive, well-laid-out and functional website, supported it with a fantastic mobile application, and added a groundbreaking “hangouts” functionality.

Facebook doesn’t have a good website. Facebook’s Android application is one of the worst things I’ve had the misfortune to use. And Facebook chat is a glorified MSN messenger that’s straight out of the 1990s. Yet Facebook has over a billion users, while Google+ is a comparative ghost town? Why?

Because Facebook understands that the social product isn’t the website. It’s the network.

I’ve just loaded up my Facebook page now. Here’s the last five people to post in my feed:

  • A man who promotes a number of local bands in his hometown
  • A woman who runs a hair salon
  • A hotel manager
  • A self-employed poet
  • My mother

Four of those people, I can sell my services to. And the other has invited me around for Sunday lunch next week. In comparison, the last five people who posted on Google+ are all in online marketing. As were the five before that.

They aren’t potential clients. They’re the competition. And it’s not just me adding the wrong people. My Google+ circles are just as diverse as my Facebook network. But nobody except the ninjas, the gurus and the mavens post regularly. Because their friends, colleagues and potential clients are already invested in Facebook.

So why am I even logged into Google+? Why haven’t I abandoned my account? Simple. Because the egos of Google’s top brass demand that I use it, or else 90-odd percent of UK search traffic will be closed off to me.

Google is Strong-Arming People Into Using Google+

Lets get something straight, right off the bat. Google+ doesn’t exist to make it easier for you to connect with people. It wasn’t designed to provide you with anything you want or need.

Its sole purpose is to make Google the most visited website in the world. Because when Facebook started to challenge for that title, it made Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin hopping mad.

So they set up their own social network to challenge Facebook. And after the initial hype, nobody bothered to use it. Because there’s no point in wasting your time on a social network without a network of people to socialise with.

This, understandably, has stuck in the collective craw of the Google leadership. They don’t want you to use Facebook. They want you on Plus, and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. So along came author rank and publisher rank, and a threat that if you weren’t on Google+, well, you wouldn’t be listed in Google Search either:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance”

Eric Schmidt – Google Grand Moff

That seems like a threat to me. Use Google+, or else our search algorithm will view your content, no matter how useful to our users, as irrelevant.

As you can imagine, the blogosphere has been up in arms over this blatant attempt to railroad people into using a service that offers little to no value.

Only joking. They’ve gone along with the whole thing.

Marketing Bloggers are Complicit in this Tactic

Throughout 2013 so far, and especially since Schmidt’s announcement above, leading bloggers have sung Google+’s praises from the rooftops, explaining that it’s the greatest social network in existence.

(Remember, that this is a social network which your friends, relatives and potential customers do not use.)

I’m sure this poll isn’t skewed by the fact that it pretty much ONLY asked Google+ users…

Blog posts, editorials, and even horrendously biased polls have been trotted out to evangelise a network that offers you no tangible benefit beyond stopping Google penalising your site.

But why?

Because the people that are desperate to get you to use Google+ know that it’s a complete and utter waste of your time. I’ve referred to it as what Reddit users call a “circlejerk” – a festival of backslapping where people who all work in the same niche swap the same hackneyed posts about how blogging about blogging is the future. But other Google+ fans think even that tag is too generous:

Google+ isn’t a circle jerk. It’s not sociable enough. At least LinkedIn, my least favourite social network, is a reach-around — you pull mine and I’ll pull yours. I hate it, but it’s got a purpose.

The only purpose of Google+ is Google+. It provides no value, yet headlong we charge into it, because Google have made it clear our SEO will be devalued if we don’t. Everything Google+ does is done better elsewhere. But we don’t have a choice.

Alastaire Allday – Copywriter and G+ Fanboy

Google have forced these bloggers, who are reliant on Google search traffic, to use Plus. And now, in an attempt to justify the horrendous time sink they’ve been lured into, they’re asking you to abandon your carefully cultivated and productive networks on Twitter and Facebook, in order to join Larry Page’s “Ego Massager 5,000.”

So, it’s clear. There’s a social network out there that offers your business no benefits whatsoever. Yet you’re being forced into joining by those with vested interests, and nagged into joining by those looking to justify a timesink.

Which all leads to one question:

Will You Use Google+?

Unfortunately, despite the failure of Google to create a useful social network, the bullying tactics announced by Eric Schmidt, and the knowledge that only the self-serving want you to join up, you’re not going to have a choice.

Sergey Brin Wants Your Love on Google+

I bet I bloody won’t

You’ll need to sign up for Google+, add your rel=author tags to your blog and rel=publisher tags to your website, and make a handful of desultory posts until your rich snippets show up.

But here’s the swindle. Google and those bloggers are stealing your time, and they’re taking you away from activities that will actually help you communicate with clients.

You are not going to use Google+. Because once you’ve warded off the threat of being penalised in the search engines, there’s nothing to keep you there. Except for the sort of shameless self-promotion that’d leave even Twitter blushing with embarrassment.

And doesn’t the fact that we’re all being railroaded into a time sink just to assuage the egos of Mr Schmidt, Mr Page and Mr Brin just get your blood boiling?

Edit: March 2015

This post generated a lot of heated debate – and no small amount of fury from Google+’s small but loyal fanbase of people invested in the service for the reasons above. Unfortunately for all the people sinking time into this anti-social network, Google seem to have realised that people aren’t interested. And Google+ is, seemingly, going the same way as Yahoo Meme.

I say good riddance.

29 Comments comments for "The Great Google+ Swindle"

  1. Well said Andrew! I’m in complete and utter agreement – excellent post! :o)

  2. Excellent, excellent post. It’s true, we are all being blackmailed into using G+. Since I never log on if I can help it, I’m very grateful that a few people have added me to their circles, so I have some basic level of credibility at the site. Because I have precious little time or mental bandwidth to spend on yet another site – especially one that offers me zero enjoyment or benefit over and above what other sites offer.

    There might have been a chance to call the bluff if all reputable authors had ignored G+, obliging Google to rank a load of second-rate hogwash and neglect actual quality. But everyone hedged their bets by getting into it just in case it got big. It didn’t, but that ‘interest’ has served to sustain it – at least for the moment.

  3. Ben Lloyd says:

    I have to admit I am active on Google+ purely because I will be penalised if I choose to eschew it. Sometimes “free” stuff truly sucks.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for the comment Ben. I see the post’s been particularly popular with people in your circles?

      It’s an under-rated feature of Google+, the fact that it emails you to tell you people think your posts are “shitty” and full of holes. 😉

      • Ben Lloyd says:

        The Google+ fans are pretty rabid – those criticising your article are amongst the biggest movers and shakers on the platform, so you should be proud of the attention garnered ;). The only other topic which generates such levels of hysteria is Android v Apple. Otherwise conversation is relatively civil.

        • Andrew says:

          I’m flattered. Especially by the ad hominem attacks. They’re an excellent advert for the “thinking man’s information network.”

  4. Alex McCann says:

    I work with Small Businesses on their Social Media and do I recommend they spend their spare time on google+ … no!!!

    This article is fantastic in summing up what i’ve been saying for a while and agree with your comments on Marketeers being part of the problem local Social Media “Gurus” are complicit in this Google + propaganda

    Businesses should be where their customers are i.e be social

  5. I joined it because I read somewhere that any blog posts I write would be more likely to be found if I linked my name as the author to my G+ profile (is that right, by the way? Is that how it works?) I have never used it since.

  6. Tiggerito says:

    I think Googles strong arming is a lot deeper. If you have a gmail account they push you. Buy an Android device and your in. Want to comment or review a business, sign up. Use YouTube, Chrome or most other Google products and you need a Google+ profile.

    I think the Android affect may be what tips them from being a world of geeks to one with the customers you want.

  7. Google+ is not a social network. They don’t even claim it is. They have never called it one. It is an interest network. And a damn good one. It’s the thing I turn to every day, first, because it gives me fascinating things to read.

    It’s not a very good social network. It is a great interest network. So, apart from your central point being wrong, er, good post.

    • I have to side with James. I agree with many of your posts Andrew, but after being strong armed into Google+ (for Authorship) I grew to like it and not it is my go to place. I’m a member to some helpful communities where I interact with industry leaders and professionals in my interests which I’ve never been able to replicate on other “social networks” like Facebook or Twitter. To me, Facebook is for friends, Twitter for link/topic scanning, G+ for getting S@#$ done. Well read post, Andrew.

    • Andrew says:

      It looks like a duck. It quacks like a duck.

      Thanks for your comment James.

  8. I prefer Google+ to both Facebook and Twitter.

    No other social network could stir up this amount of anger from people who work in digital marketing and that, alone, endears me to it :)

  9. Andrew says:

    I’ll just leave this comment someone made on Twitter here:

    “G+ is the douchebag-dimension. It’s online marketers egomasturbating one another. Zero added value.”

    Scathing.

  10. Joey says:

    I agree and disagree. I don’t think G+ is struggling because Google doesn’t understand social — I think it’s because they’re late to the party and haven’t got anything to offer that’s worth the fantastic effort for the layman to switch from Facebook.

    It’s actually the same problem that MMO games face. They can’t win against World of Warcraft because everybody is invested in WoW. Their friends are there, they’ve spent years gathering items, wealth, and fine tuning their characters… Years of labor down the drain to abandon it for another flash in the pan that’s the same thing with one or two new features.

    G+ is in the same position. My mom doesn’t understand G+ and she’s heavily invested in FB. Why bail now? The swindle is Google’s attempt to recover the product — but that’s fallacious since only 1% of the population even knows what SEO is.

  11. What Joey said. What g+ would need to do to lure people from Facebook is provide an interface that allows you to view Facebook through g+. And while they’re at it, Twitter too. Generally, I like Google products, but only if they’re useful!

  12. Kristen says:

    I’m surprised you have so many contacts on facebook using it for professional purposes – I find most the people I know use it exclusively for social and are annoyed by the marketing that’s been increasingly trickling into that space over the years.

    I think G + won’t ever become something people use the way they use facebook. I think it’s carving out a space in social that’s somewhere between LinkedIn and Facebook – not quite exclusively professional, not just social. It seems like the moves Google’s been making are aimed at turning it into a content distribution network more than anything else, where connections are based on shared content more than relationships.

  13. James says:

    I quite like G+ even though I did initially sign up to it to investigate its SEO benefits, and i was initially sceptical like you. I now use it just for what it is, which for me isn’t all about being forced to use it for SEO. I’ve found some good communities on there too.

    I don’t think a website such as this will be penalised in any way for not using it, as it already has good authority. Apart from extra CTR that an author pic might give, i don’t think you’d need to use it.

    At the moment i can see it being used to weed out poor quality spammy blogs and guest posts in their search engines.

  14. Just wondering, Andrew: Was the reason for this column primarily based on Reason #5 in your previous post about ideas for blogs: Start an argument?

    • Andrew says:

      Good theory Michael!

      This post wasn’t intended as rant bait. It’s a genuine opinion that’s held by a fair few people in my networks. That said, the choice of tone and language was chosen to start “robust debate”!

  15. A couple of points in response, then. First, the tactics of persuasion that Google applies may be objectionable, but is Facebook a model of thoughtful consideration of its users? Second, from my understanding, Facebook doesn’t offer marketers anything like nicely packaged insights into user behavior; Google does. From a marketing standpoint, wouldn’t it be more useful to have good data on, say, 1,000 people vs. close-to-useless data on 10,000? I’m talking about the perspective of a company that has the in-house ability to make use of such information, not whether a very small business can find leads through one or the other.

  16. Simon Carver says:

    Google Plus is either a Facebook killer or a big dud. Google+ has become a large question mark for many small business owners. I do not know the quantities of actual number how many people know about Google+ new components include Circles, Huddle, Hangouts, and Sparks.

    Thanks ANDREW for sharing this post.

  17. Tom Gibson says:

    I think much of your venom is misguided.

    You quote Schmidt: ‘Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification’

    As far as I can tell, ‘verified online profiles’ easily includes LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Unless there’s a official statement to the contrary, we’ve no reason to believe that Google would open themselves to yet more antitrust issues by prioritising or requiring G+ profiles be these ‘verified online profiles’.

    Even if it were necessary that we have one of Google’s profiles, you can easily set one up without having to actually *use* G+ (that is, ever go on the site, engage with others, whatever).

    You are, of course, right to point out that there’s a problem of pick-up in general userbase, though there are suggestions that this is changing. But that alone is little reason to call the whole thing a ‘swindle’, especially one perpetrated by Google.

    If you feel swindled into using it by other content marketers, that’s one thing. But, realistically, the reason so many tech-and-web-focussed people have talked it up is that it’s so much nicer to use than Facebook. As you quote, it’s a brilliantly designed site, and I know for one that I wish all my friends and family switched to it from Facebook. And why would they ever do that if people didn’t sing G+’s praises?

    If those two points are agreed, then all that’s left is the fact that there are less contacts and leads to be made on G+. That’s fine, and I’m inclined to agree with you to some level, though you forget that G+ interactions show in search results, where Facebook keeps theirs hidden behind a login-wall. You also need to bear in mind that Google is playing the long game. Integration with Android and all of their web services is only set to deepen, and it’s likely that your hotel owner, salon worker and the rest will end up using G+ without realising it.

    So, I don’t really get where the anger’s coming from. It’s fair enough to wish not to use it, but it seems a misunderstanding of the situation to focus your ire on a perception that you are being forced to use the site.

  18. Barry Adams says:

    Five months later and this is still perfectly, entirely, unequivocally true. And, as then, the pro-Google+ crowd – technology geeks and digital marketers each and every one of them – are still mindbogglingly ignorant to it all.

    It’d be funny if it wasn’t so profoundly sad.

  19. Bel says:

    I haven’t a clue about yahoo meme. Need to google it. 😉 Does it mean that google is going to retire google+? That would be good riddance. I was sorry when they retired first igoogle and then the google reader, but after some searching around, I discovered another reader, so I do no longer feel the loss.
    I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with google products, but coercing businesses into using a google ‘service’ is just as unethical as a lot of other google stuff. Oh well, the aim justifies the means, I guess, not just for google.

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