Google Plus, We Have a Problem

Does Google Plus Help Drive Traffic?

For the record, I’m a huge fan of Google Plus.

I’ve written articles in support of the platform in recent months (here and here). And in spite of what I’m about to write, I remain extremely impressed with the level of community engagement and interaction on Google Plus, and I still believe that G+ and Google Authorship will have a major impact on SERP in the months to come.

Now, what’s the problem?

Last year, on the day Google launched its new Communities platform, I got a big first mover advantage when I created a lawyer community that quickly became the largest of its kind, and is now growing at almost a thousand members a month. And as the most active member of the community, I’ve seen my share of +1’s, comments and shares to the articles I’ve posted. Moreover, many of those social signals have been directed at articles that I published on my own law blog, TheLawInsider.com. So I have a good degree of insight into how successfully Google Plus drives traffic back to the articles I share.

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Over the years, I’ve also spent a significant amount of time on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn—where I’ve built a relatively large community—and where I also frequently share articles from thelawinsider.com.

In the last few months, the disparity between +1’s (Google), and other social signals (i.e. Retweets and Likes) has grown at thelawinsider.com, as G+ has seemingly become my most engaged network.

But Google Plus, we have a problem

According to my Google Analytics (see chart below), when I share articles from thelawinsider.com to G+, they don’t frequently result in a referral back to the original blog post. My articles produce plenty of comments and +1’s, but for all that perceived engagement, people aren’t clicking through to the articles– they aren’t reading the articles. And at a time when I receive more +1’s than I do Likes or Retweets, I wouldn’t expect Facebook and Twitter to be dominating referrals for my blog.

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(The analytics chart above shows that referral traffic from Twitter/t.co and Facebook are well above Google Plus, in spite of the fact that during this period of time I received more +1’s than any other social signal)

Why Are People Giving Plus Ones?

As the creator and moderator of a popular lawyer community, perhaps I receive +1’s from community members as a gesture of goodwill, but no one actually cares to read what I’m writing about.

Putting this theory to the test, I looked at the single-day analytics report of an article I posted on June 1, 2013 about an attorney, Michael Roark, who had made a career for himself in Hollywood after law school. The article received 86 Likes on Facebook and 31 +1’s.

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The result: those 86 Likes helped produce 190 total referrals (includes m.facebook.com) to my blog, while the 30 +1’s helped produce just 6 referrals.

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But does this really mean that my Google Plus Community doesn’t actually care about what I’m publishing? My Facebook community certainly appears to care. So what gives?

There’s also some evidence that Google Plus isn’t even driving traffic to articles published on popular, mainstream news sites. On a frequent basis, I catch myself, and others, commenting on articles we haven’t read. Have you done this? Even some of the most engaged and thoughtful contributors (see two bel0w) from time to time provide commentary without actually reading the linked article. As seen below, two contributors responded to the title summary—but didn’t read the full post. The comments below pertained to recent articles from CNN and the WSJ.

 

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And I’m certainly not blaming anyone for not reading the source articles. I’m certainly guilty of doing the same.

The point I’m making is that Google Plus doesn’t seem to drive traffic to the articles shared on its platform.

One theory is that Twitter is set up more effectively to draw readers to the source article because 140 characters simply isn’t very much space to do anything but share the article title and a short comment on why it’s worth reading. Twitter forces us to read the article, does it not? Google Plus on the other hand, for all its cool formatting and picture friendly layout, exists more as a blog platform itself. It’s a place where information is shared, consumed and discussed– but the reader isn’t necessarily encouraged to leave the platform. But I’m not sure that theory holds up.  Facebook shares many of these same qualities with G+, but, at least for me, has been quite successful at driving traffic to articles.

The truth is, I don’t know the answer to the problem I’ve presented. Why don’t articles posted on G+ drive traffic back to the source? Maybe Google Plus isn’t supposed to refer traffic at all—but rather it’s a platform for sharing complete content and promoting conversations that keep the audience right where they are.

The good news is that there’s great network of G+ experts like Mark Traphagen and Gyi Tsakalakis who presumably have more proof points and insight into this phenomenon. I look forward to hearing from the great network on G+.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation, the comments section of this blog is conveniently powered by Google Plus.

By the way, thanks for reading. 🙂

About Preston Clark

Preston Clark has been writing about legal tech since 2010. He's currently the CRO for a leading legal tech SaaS company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Preston was formerly in-house counsel for the University of Miami and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America. In his free time, Preston enjoys building world-class sales teams, reading about SaaS, playing pick-up basketball and planning adventures with his son.