Opinions around the blogosphere and the tech press seem to be divided about Google+ and its value as a social media network for business. On the one hand we have SEO’s who are hyping it as the big thing for everyone involved marketing a business, and on the other hand we have the doubters and their constant refrain of “Google+ is a ghost town; I get no interaction there”.

The truth lies somewhere in between. On balance, we think that businesses who are serious about inbound marketing can’t really afford to ignore Google+, at least in the long-term. Concentrating on the larger networks like Twitter and Facebook makes short-term sense if resources are limited. Google’s baby hasn’t quite reached the levels of engagement and traffic referral that the two social media behemoths can boast, however, because it is Google’s baby, and the search and advertising company appears to be going all-in on using it as the social glue for their other properties, it would be short sighted to ignore Google Plus in the medium and long term.

Authorship And AuthorRank

These are two different concepts that are often confused. Google Authorship refers to the system whereby an author can establish their authorship of a piece of content by linking it back to their Google+ profile. This has various benefits, not the least of which is the rich snippets that appear on SERP results, and include a picture of the author. It doesn’t benefit ranking, but it can benefit click-through rates on the SERPs.

AuthorRank is a more nebulous concept that supposedly uses information gathered through the Authorship program and other signals to attribute a level of authority to writer’s body of work, which is then used as a ranking factor in the SERPs. It’s thought to be part of Google’s move away from link based ranking, which is easily gamed, and towards authority-based ranking, which is harder for SEOs to fake. While AuthorRank may be on the cards for the future, there’s no real evidence that Google is currently using it.

Search Plus Your World, Local, And Google Now

There is a clear trend away from neutral search results and towards search results that are tailored for individuals. In the SERPs that manifests as Search Plus Your World, where +1s, circles, and other factors integral to Google+ are used as ranking factors. Encouraging an audience to interact with a Google Plus page, circle and +1 content, and so on, may result in better positions for a site’s content within a user’s search results.

As Google pushes forward with their newer search interfaces, like Google Now, which will be a major part of Google Glass, whether that takes off or not, and future Android (and even iOS) devices, Google+ will become increasingly important as a source of relevance signals.

Popularity and Demographics

Google+ is not yet as popular as its rivals, but it’s getting there, and levels of engagement are occasionally shown to be higher than with other platforms. While that isn’t the case across all demographics — Facebook has the lock on many audience segments — Google+ has been especially attractive to more technically informed users, and those users are often valuable influencers. Attracting their attention on Google+ may be a useful way of increasing exposure, as those influencers share on Google+ and their other social networks.

While Google+ is not the SEO savior that it’s occasionally touted to be, nor is it a ghost town. It’s a vibrant and growing social network that is embedded deeply into the ecosystem of the world’s largest search engine and online advertising company, so ignoring it into the future is going to be less and less viable.