Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Meet The Suggested User List in Google Plus – And How I Jumped From 4K to 80K Followers in Just 4 Months

by Glenn Gabe

Suggested User Lists in Google Plus

I’m a big fan of Google+, and have been from the start. I joined the first week it launched, and have been extremely active there ever since.  Since joining, I have loved the engagement, the people, the smart conversations, the functionality, etc.  In addition, I have seen the impact it can have on exposure, SEO, traffic, and credibility.

And like many others who believe in Google+, I have defended it many times.  But, I haven’t defended it based on Google bias.  Instead, I base my opinion and recommendations on data, and my knowledge of how Google works.  To me, if you aren’t using Google+, and you are interested in boosting your social and SEO efforts, then you are missing a huge opportunity.

Growing My Presence on Google+ and Increasing Connections
Similar to what you need to do with any social network, you first need to build a following.  I’ve always believed the best way to do that is to add value and engage users.  And that’s what I tried to do on Google+ from the start.  And over time, I’ve met some incredible people, engaged in some great conversations, while also providing a steady stream of valuable, curated updates.  Those updates included articles, posts, and insights across a range of digital marketing topics like SEO, SEM, Social Media Marketing, Mobile, Web Analytics, etc.

And that approach has definitely worked for me.  I grew my following to about 4K people as of April, 2013.  And no, I really didn’t care about the number of followers.  I cared much more about the quality of people that had me in circles.  I found there were real people on the other end of my updates, with their own experiences, and their own points of view.  I found myself going to Twitter first, but Google+ was always a close second.  It became a natural part of my social media process.

Boom – Hockey Stick Growth
In early April, everything was chugging along as usual on Google+.  I was getting approximately 10-15 followers per day, and that was great.  But then April 12th came along, and I saw first-hand what hockey-stick growth looks like.  My followers began to jump, and jump fast.

I began seeing an increase of 400-600 followers per day.  Yes, you read that correctly.  And on some days, I saw over 1000 new followers.  Since April 12th, I have skyrocketed from 4K followers to over 80K.  You can see the hockey stick growth below in a chart from CircleCount.

Hockey Stick Growth in Google Plus


The Power of the Suggested User List
As you can imagine, I was heavily interested in finding out what was going on.  Was it my latest updates?  Was it my column on Search Engine Watch, combined with my writing elsewhere?  Were the new followers real people?  I had many questions.  So, I started contacting people that had recently circled me asking how they found me.  I figured they could shed some light on why so many people started following since April 12th.

And supporting one of the things I love about Google+ (that there are real people behind the profiles), my new connections got back to me pretty quickly.  The first response basically answered my question: “I saw you on a suggested user list for Technology”.   Then the second came in: “You were on a list suggested by Google”.

Ah, now I got it.  I was added to a suggested user list… now the growth made sense.

Suggested User List in Google Plus for Technology


OK, But Why Was I Added To The SUL?
As I said earlier, I have been continually sharing high quality, curated content on Google Plus (and other social networks).  I determined that my followers would benefit from the specific articles or posts that I read and marked as important.  That could be breaking news, tutorials, reviews of technology, or evergreen digital marketing content.  Never did I use a tool to automate that process.  I simply always tried to keep my connections up to speed on what’s breaking in SEO, SEM, Social, Mobile, Technology, etc.

And over time, Google+ algorithmically determined that the posts I was publishing were high quality, extremely relevant, drove engagement, etc.  At some point, I must have passed a threshold to be added to a suggested user list.  No magic. No gaming.  Just hard work and time.

The Growth of Google+, Seen First-Hand
There has been a lot of talk about Google+ not growing, and that it’s a ghost town.  I never believed that, just based on the people I saw there every day.  And when I was added to the suggested user list, I saw first-hand how many people were signing up.  You see, suggested user lists are presented when you first sign up.  Sure, you can see them any time, but they are prominently showcased when you sign up for Google+.  And if Google+ wasn’t growing, then I wouldn’t have seen a jump to 80K that fast…

What I’ve Changed Since The Jump
Absolutely nothing.
:)  Seriously, why in the world would I change anything now?  I keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is what my overall social strategy has been from the start.  Share valuable posts, engage users, and help others.  And I’ll keep doing that, even if Google+ removes me from the SUL.  It’s how my brain functions, which is also why I do so much blogging.  I love what I do, I love helping other people, and blogging and social media have been a natural fit.

The Impact of Google+ Growth:
OK, I know you’re wondering what the impact has been.  Like everything else in digital marketing, it’s important to look at the impact through a few different lenses.  I’ll touch on each one below.

Engagement and Connections
I have definitely seen an uptick in engagement since the surge began.  That includes people reaching out to me directly, in addition to engagement via posts on Google+.  It’s not 20X engagement, but I’m confident I’m getting in front of more targeted people on a regular basis.  And that’s a good thing social media-wise, and SEO-wise.  More about SEO soon.

Here is an example of a Google Plus Ripple for one of my recent blog posts:

Google Plus Ripple

 

Clicks From Google+
Based on the total number of updates I share via Google+, Twitter, Facebook, etc., I rarely end up sharing my own links.  My ratio of sharing non-G-Squared posts versus my own content is easily 100 to 1 (if not greater).  I don’t participate in social media to continually shove my own work in front of others.  I share important posts from around the web that relate to digital marketing.  Sure, if I write a post or need to reference one of my own articles, I will.  But that’s not what I do on a regular basis.

In addition, I use bitly pro to have a custom url shortener, which also enables me to track each url.  Using bitly pro, I can see a number of metrics for each url shortened, including total clicks from my shortened link, total clicks from all bitly links for that content, which referrers drove the most clicks on my link, geographic data, etc.  Note, I obviously can’t see impressions, so this is purely click data.

What I’ve seen recently is a jump in the percentage of clicks from Google+.  Now, I’m not Robert Scoble seeing hundreds or thousands of clicks per url.  But, I have seen the percentage climb for G+.  Again, it’s just another signal that more people are seeing my updates and engaging with the content.

For example, over the past 30 days, Google+ accounts for 26% of all clicks on my shortened urls.  Twitter is 24%, Facebook 7%, and “Other” accounts for 35%.  “Other” includes direct traffic, email, air clients, IM, etc.  So, Twitter is actually greater than 24%, based on third party apps.  But, Google Plus is not far behind, accounting for over one quarter of all links I share.

Percentage of Clicks for Google Plus Increases


Authorship and AuthorRank
There’s no doubt that authorship markup has a big impact in the SERPs.  The credibility that author details brings can impact click-through rate for sure.  But in addition to the increased real estate, the pure number of people following me can have an impact.  When users search for answers and solutions, view a search listing from my blog or column with author details, and see 80K+ people have circled me, that can mean a lot towards increased click-through rate.

Author Details in Google SERPs

And from an AuthorRank perspective (which doesn’t impact rankings just yet), the more people that have me in circles could potentially impact my AuthorRank score.  And that score can eventually impact rankings, and subsequent traffic.  Actually, AuthorRank could be impacting in-depth articles already…  So, the more weight my Google+ profile has, the more it could potentially impact AuthorRank (and natural search rankings).  Food for thought.   Note, I cover more about authorship and author stats soon.

SEO
With Search Plus Your World (SPYW), Google could increase the rankings of content published by people you are connected with on Google+.  That means my content could surface more often (and higher) for the 80K+ people that are following me.  And that includes both the urls I share from across the web, and the specific Google+ updates I publish.  For example, having plus.google.com/{some-update-here} rank highly in the  SERPs for people that are connected with me on Google Plus.

Here’s a quick example.  I had some connections of mine perform various searches while logged in.  Here is a screenshot of a Google plus update ranking based on a search for the phantom update.  And this plus update does not rank highly when my connection is logged out.

Google Plus Posts Ranking via Search Plus Your World


Author Stats in Google Webmaster Tools
OK, I know after reading that last paragraph about Search Plus Your World, you’re wondering how you can actually see the impact of SPYW via reporting.  For example, is there a way to see how many of your posts show up in the personalized listings?  Google Analytics won’t show you that data, although that would be a great addition.  But, there is a roundabout way to see which plus updates are showing up.  And it’s buried in Google Webmaster Tools in a report titled “Author Stats”.  It can be found under the “Labs” link in the left-side navigation.

Author Stats in Google Webmaster Tools

While researching this post, I dug into my latest stats (which shows statistics for pages which are tied to me as an author).  These are pages that show up in the SERPs with author details (based on rel=author markup).  For me, there are many posts showing up from my Search Engine Watch column, Search Engine Journal Column, and my own blog posts from The Internet Marketing Driver.

But there are other posts listed there…  And as you can guess, they are Google Plus updates.  And those plus updates primarily show for people that are connected to me on Google+ (i.e. people that are seeing my plus updates based on Search Plus Your World when they search for answers).

Over the past 90 days, plus posts account for 15% of the pages showing author details (based on the author stats reporting in Google Webmaster Tools).  That’s a telling story when it comes to Search Plus Your World.  Most of those impressions do not occur for my connections when the personalized results are turned off (or for people that aren’t connected with me on Google+).  So, that’s a clear indicator of the power of SPYW and SEO.  And the more people I’m connected with, the more those plus posts show up in the SERPs.

Google Plus Updates Showing in Author Stats Reporting in Google Webmaster Tools:

Google Plus Posts in Author Stats Reporting in Google Webmaster Tools

And before you go crazy and start screaming that Google is driving more people to its own property (Google+), SPYW also impacts my other updates on Google+, which lead to external websites.  It’s just harder to understand how much they jump up in the SERPs based on Search Plus Your World (since it’s hard to uncover those stats via reporting tools).  The plus posts are easier to isolate, since I can view them in the author stats reporting in webmaster tools.

My Google+ Path Continues
So there you have it.  My story about surging from 4K to 80K followers on Google+ in four months.  Again, employing the right social strategy over the long-term can lead to great things.  You just need to fight through the black hole of social and keep providing value.  Most won’t make it through the black hole, but those that do could see a powerful impact.

My advice to anyone on the fence with Google+ is to start now.  The benefit can be felt on several levels, including increased connections, engagement, exposure, traffic, SEO, and credibility.  But you won’t see any of those benefits if you don’t get started.

I think I can sum up the core point of my post in the following way (and this applies to any social network).  Provide valuable updates, engage users, add value, and help others.  It’s a recipe for hockey stick growth. :)

GG

 

 

  • LarryEngel

    Great article Glenn. I’m curious as to the amount of time it takes each day. It doesn’t sound like this can be done in 15 minutes each morning. How long does it take you to add 400 followers per day? It would be good to know if the time invested per day is manageable.

    • http://www.hmtweb.com/marketing-blog/ Glenn Gabe

      Hi Larry. I wasn’t adding connections, they were actually adding me (based on the suggested user list). I simply noticed the surge and followed it closely. I follow people on a regular basis, but not many per day. I follow them when I come across their updates or read their posts, etc.

      Regarding time per day spent on social networks, I’m probably going to write a post about that soon. It needs to be part of your normal work process, and time needs to be baked in. And you’re right, it’s definitely not 15 minutes per day. And that’s where many people and companies fall short (social-wise).

  • http://lostpr.es/ David Iwanow

    Great insight on the Google+ growth, so my question is around the Twitter clicks on your link have you enabled Twitter Cards yet? I would expect that will help give you an uplift there but have you looked at the ratio of Posts/Followers/Clicks?

    • http://www.hmtweb.com/marketing-blog/ Glenn Gabe

      Great question David. I have not implemented Twitter Cards yet! And it’s on my list for sure. Twitter is still the top social network for me personally clicks-wise (based on Twitter.com clicks and clicks from third party apps). But G+ really started to increase since the April surge (percentage-wise).

      I share more posts on Twitter than G+, but not by much. I definitely want to analyze this further and might write a follow-up post based on that.

  • http://www.eBizROI.com Rick Noel, eBiz ROI, Inc.

    Awesome post Glenn. Hockey stick indeed! I too am a huge believer in Google+ for many of the same reasons ans you and also created a profile as soon as it was released and started a community the day they were announced.

    You are absolutely right that adding value is the key. Being in > 80k circles is a HUGE credibility boost in the SERPs which no doubt has a positive impact on CTR.

    SPYW and Authorship are two very compelling reasons for online marketers to get on board now. Making it to the SUL, now that’s priceless!

    • http://www.hmtweb.com/marketing-blog/ Glenn Gabe

      Thanks Rick! Glad to hear you’ve had similar experiences with Google+. And you’re absolutely right. Search Plus Your World and Authorship are both extremely powerful. G+ has made its way into every SEO audit I conduct now. More people need to understand the impact.

      BTW, I just circled you on G+. :)

      • http://www.eBizROI.com Rick Noel, eBiz ROI, Inc.

        Thanks Glenn for the circle on G+ and follow on Twitter. I appreciate your columns and perspectives on the search and more broadly, on the digital marketing industry. Have a great weekend!

  • Chris Phillips Bannan

    Great post as usual Glenn, and congrats!

    • http://www.hmtweb.com/marketing-blog/ Glenn Gabe

      Hey, thanks Chris. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It’s been crazy to analyze the jump. I’ve been meaning to write the post for a while, and finally did. :)

  • Martin Pierags

    Hi Glenn,

    great news, that you don’t have to be a wizard to rise up to the ski with a hockey stick.

    I’ve noticed the statistics for authorship earlier this week and was wondering, why it rises every 7 days, in my case its a monday:

    https://plus.google.com/113635887908337726113/posts/PWBLvcNXSMt?partnerid=gplp0

    I began supervising keywords day by day to get an idea, where this may come from.

    Watching your stats, it seems you have the same peaks every 7 days. Did
    you noticed it and do you have an idea for this regularity?

    • http://www.hmtweb.com/marketing-blog/ Glenn Gabe

      Hi Martin. Thanks for your comment. For my business, most activity occurs during the week, and within the 5 day week, earlier in the week always seems to drive more activity.

      Some of my clients (that are B2C), see the opposite. Weekends drive the most activity and the graph is reversed. So, it depends on your specific business, content, audience, etc. I hope that helps.