This week brought big news for Google+, the search giant’s attempt at social networking. The site finally rolled out brand pages, a way for companies to interact with their customers much like they do on Facebook. Google+ was initially available to individuals, with no group or organization profiles allowed. Many, including Mashable, created accounts for their brands anyway, but were quickly suspended by Google.
Despite its many advances, Google+ still lacks what some would consider crucial features. On Facebook, brands (and regular users) can claim vanity URLs just like domain names, so you end up with web addresses like ‘www.facebook.com/NewsyVideos’. However, Google+’s ‘Direct Connect’ feature does link Google’s search engine and Google+’s brand pages - making it easy for users to find the brand they’re looking for.
Users can type +Angry Birds or +Toyota and be taken directly to the verified Google+ pages for those brands. Upon viewing pages through Direct Connect, users are also given the option to automatically add brands to their Circles.
This gives Google a huge, and some might say anti-competitive advantage. Mashable’s Ben Parr has high hopes for the new brand pages, but believes regulators may not be so impressed. Google is already receiving a lot of scrutiny for its secret ranking algorithm, and controversy about preferential treatment of their own products is the last thing they need.
Typing ‘+’ into a Google search only works with Google’s social network, and gives Google+ brand pages privileged status among search results. A normal Google search for ‘Toyota’ brings up a hodgepodge of links. Toyota’s Facebook and Twitter accounts don’t appear until halfway down the second page of results; which is as good as not existing at all when it comes to search rankings. Perhaps users will soon grow accustomed to typing ‘+’ before their favorite brand names.
Right now Direct Connect only seems to work for verified pages, which there are very few of. But there is no doubt that Google will verify as many brands as possible, just as they have done with the personal profiles of many celebrities. There are also several planned features that have not yet been released for brand pages. Google assures users that these features are coming soon, and with its current schedule of almost daily Google+ updates and feature roll-outs, it’s hard not to take Google at its word. Brands will be able to assign multiple admins to a page, and ‘+1s’ (similar to Facebook ‘likes’) will appear alongside ads from Google’s AdWords network. This feature alone should be a huge draw for brands, adding an element of trust and social recommendation to their advertisements.
Monopolies foster complacency, and while Facebook may still reign supreme, it’s certainly been interesting to see how quickly they have been forced to innovate since Google+ launched. When two companies of this size go to war, the only guaranteed winner is the users.