Source: Flickr user kimba
When Google introduced its Google+ social technology platform last summer, I was surprised at its lack of company or brand pages. After all, Google runs the biggest advertising business online, and Facebook — its archrival in social media and obvious Google+ target — sells tons of ads to companies that want to drive traffic to their Facebook Pages. Then, last week, Google introduced Google+ Pages for companies and with big companies set to make that feature an element of their social media marketing programs, Google could have a jump on Facebook.
Facebook’s main advantage over Google is ubiquity. The former has offered brand pages for several years, and its huge audience ensures that most consumer marketers have one. Over the past couple of years, an ecosystem of companies offering marketing tools and agency services has grown up around Facebook Pages. Companies like Buddy Media, Efficient Frontier and iCrossing help marketers integrate Facebook Pages into their advertising campaigns. That’s necessary in part because as a product, Facebook Pages is pretty bare bones. The service doesn’t enable much customization in terms of layout or design, and the pages are hard to find with Facebook’s search.
But marketers like Dr Pepper, Warner Bros. and Nike can and do take advantage of core Facebook platform features. Updates and activities appear in users’ news feeds, although their frequency is at the mercy of Facebook’s algorithm whims. And marketers can deliver interactive experiences, shopping, gaming and sweepstakes via apps housed on their pages. In fact, companies like Ford spend more money off Facebook — e.g., buying online ads elsewhere, sponsoring video promotions — in support of Facebook Page–hosted apps than they spend on Facebook itself.
So can Google make up for four years of marketers’ experience with Facebook Pages? A few observers have been critical of Google+ Pages. Some have griped about minutiae, but there were other, more legitimate critiques of missing management tools and a lack of integration with Google Places for local businesses. But Google is wisely focusing on key aspects of company pages that differentiate it from Facebook and that many marketers will value. Just as with its overall Google+ strategy, Google is integrating its pages with services where it has industry leadership:
- Search. Google is introducing a new search feature: “Direct Connect” will send a searcher directly to a company page. This is a lot like AOL Keywords, which were powerful marketing mechanisms back in AOL’s heyday. Even more important, Google+ Pages can reduce paid search costs for marketers.
- Advertising integration. Google will make it easy for marketers to integrate pages into campaigns using its industry-leading search and display ad networks. Google’s +1 Like equivalent in ads and on Google+ Pages will boost organic search results, an appealing feature for sites and marketers. While Facebook Connect’s Like button is widespread, it doesn’t affect search results.
- Analytics. Facebook’s own analytics tools are pretty mediocre, creating a need for third-party tools and services. Google is a force in analytics tools, and it typically gives them away for free to encourage adoption.
Google may not be able to instantly add 750 million highly engaged Google+ users. But its initial implementation of Google+ Pages is focused on delivering marketing benefits that play to existing Google strengths and have a few advantages over Facebook Pages. Facebook can depend on its ecosystem to counter some of those, but Google looks like it has a solid offering. Many marketers will jump on it. Now it needs to get back to work on Google+ APIs, so apps developers have more to work with.