The launch of Google Plus was just the first step in Google’s attempt to socialize searching. In January 2012, Google startled the online world by announcing a radical new confluence of social and search called Google Search Plus Your World. All Google searches are now separated into two categories: Personal and Global, with Global being what you used to think of as a normal Google search. Personal search gives a strong priority to Google Plus profiles, posts, and links. Although Google allows you to switch between Personal and Global search results, Personal Search is the default setting. So you can no longer assume that what shows up on a Google search is the best information available, since you’re probably viewing Google Personal results, which are biased toward Google’s own content.
So what to do? Never use Google again, as some are recommending? No, taking your ball and going home will not help you get referrals when Google still garners two-thirds of all computer searches. Moreover, Google says it’ll be integrating even more of its services into Google Plus in the future, so it’s best to join them. Follow these guidelines:
- Create a Google Plus Profile with either your name or your business name at: http://plus.google.com.
- Make your profile purely professional, only using your office address and phone number, and your website URL.
- Try to post something on Google Plus at least twice a month.
- Instead of lists of followers or friends, Google Plus has Circles of Contacts. You can organize your circles by anything you want, such as profession (psychotherapists), location (your city or state), and hobbies (kayaking). Create several circles and invite people to join them. Here are two good free tools to find people to add to your Google Plus circles:
Over time, more free, organic search results will be populated by Google Plus posts, so being an early adopter will pay dividends in the future.
In addition to these new Google Plus guidelines, your website will consistently show up higher in the search results if you regularly add fresh content to your site, have your website URL listed on other sites (called inbound links), and populate your meta tags with the highest-value search keywords for your areas of specialization (to find the best keywords, search for Google Keyword Tool).
There’s another way to make Google Plus relevant: pay to show up on the first page using Google’s Pay Per Click AdWords service, since AdWords listings aren’t affected at all by Google Personal search.
Since many people now do their searching within Facebook, everyone should create a free Business Page, which serves as a sort of miniwebsite within Facebook. You can create this page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php.
Facebook offers a unique way to get your message out to people who are most likely to be interested in your particular service—Facebook’s version of Pay Per Click ads. But unlike Google’s ads, which are keyword-driven, Facebook’s ads are seen only by people who fit a particular profile that you select. Because Facebook has a great deal of personal data on most of its users, you can create ads that will be seen only by people with certain interests and/or demographic factors, such as family and marital status, age, gender, education level, and city of residence. This level of precision targeting has never been available before in any advertising medium.
The second major trend in Internet marketing is the focus on local businesses. Google has expanded its local emphasis through its two related services, Google Maps (for getting directions) and Google Places (where you post a profile of your practice). The great news for private practitioners is that since October 2010, Google has frequently been putting Google Places profiles on the top of the first page of the search engine results, and the profiles are free to fill out. To take advantage of this, create a Google Places profile at: http://www.google.com/places.
Google will ask you to enter up to five categories of your service. Since these categories are what drive the local search results, be sure to fill out all five categories. You can use terms such as psychologist, psychotherapist, counselor, marriage counselor, and others. Google will rate your profile more highly if you add more media—up to 10 photos and 5 short YouTube videos.
Often forgotten in the search engine wars is Microsoft Bing, the second most popular search engine, with about 30 percent of all searches. Many are predicting that the backlash against Google Personal Search will result in Bing’s getting an even greater search-market share. Just as with Google, you can create a free Bing local business listing by starting at http://www.bing.com/businessportal.
With these two free steps, you can start showing up on page one of 95 percent of local search results.