According to Trendstream's Global Web Index, Google+ is the second largest social network in terms of active users, but keep in mind that there is overlap between Google+ and YouTube in terms of active user stats. Not to mention, although it boasts a large number of "active" users (i.e. users who are logged in and take some kind of action), it's still nowhere near as active and as prominent as Facebook. Google+ seems to be the network that everyone talks about but no one is really active on, so, what's the big benefit?
The answer lies within Google's own search results.
Here's a simple test – do a search for "SEO" in Google. If you're logged into a Google account, you'll likely see a lot of your search engine results pages (SERPs) occupied by content from Google+, either a post or a profile from a SEO thought leader that showcases the typical result, along with Rich Snippets (a summary of content) and a profile photo. That space is where Google Authorship comes in, and that's a whole post in and of itself, so we'll save that for another time.
Pure and simple, Google likes to play nice with its own products and to encourage users to use the network, it's going to promote it in whatever channel it can. It integrates well into your main Google account dashboard (thus the overlap with popular services like YouTube), and now, with personalized searching playing heavily into your user experience, Google+ is here to stay in the results. But, what if you're not logged in and Google isn't taking your personal history into account? You really can expect the same results.
On a lot of queries, Google+ results will find their way in to the results pages, but when you think about it, it's not that much of a surprise seeing how Google Places and YouTube tend to rank highly. It makes sense to drive traffic to other Google services and in Google's mind, these are the places that are most likely to offer value for that query. Google's entire mission is to build a great user experience based on people getting the valuable and relevant information they want. Google+ is another hub for that and you can bet that Google will invest itself into making that network flourish – so why isn't it taking on Facebook in a major way?
There are lots of reasons and speculations behind why Google+ isn't seeing the interaction it should, despite what numbers Google has reported. The benefit of Google+ may not be so much in quantity, but in quality. Google+ is designed to further the connection made within Facebook in a few ways, the biggest success of which is that of Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts can be powerful tools for building a strong Google+ presence and we've already seen several great examples of effective Google+ marketing, such as Google Hangouts within Google+ for the release of The Muppets. Plus, Google+ has long been touted as a place for businesses to claim ownership of their brand on the network and many business owners can now take advantage of features specific to them, like Google+ Local listings.
SEO-wise, Google+ is powerful in a few ways. One, it gives you more search engine real estate, which is tough to compete for. This is especially true on keyword phrases relating to your own brand, which ties into your online reputation, yet another bonus. Google+ is also good for helping to establish Authorship, which can be an entire blog series in and of itself! If you're interested in learning more about Authorship (which we promise to cover in a future post!), here's the best place to get started.
To summarize: Google+ is sure to rank highly in Google by it's nature and if you're looking to own more real estate on the SERPs, it makes sense to invest at least the time to create a profile on the network. Depending on your industry and your goals for Google+, you'll want to evaluate just how much time you want to spend engaging – or in some cases, hanging out.