Ron Haugen (the author of the great movie clip about finding a Saturn repair shop) and I had a chat about Google plus and its repercussions on search results.
Over the course of the conversation the following questions emerged, and we thought questions and answers might be worth sharing. Here they come:

1. Word out there is that if you do not have a Google + account, your business’ search engine ranking will suffer. Is this a valid concern ?
Absolutely valid, and if you don’t buy at least Ads worth $500 per month with Google, you won’t have any chance getting on even page #2 in Google search.

I am just messing with you and I am sorry, but the temptation to mock fear based sales tactics is so high I couldn’t resist.

Lets get as accurate as I can:

Your business search rankings won’t suffer if you don’t have a Google Plus account.  What you should consider though: If you can engage your prospective and existing customers in a meaningful conversation online, share valuable content they are interested in on Google Plus and earn ‘+1’ clicks in return, Google will consider your ‘social ranking’ as one of many parameters in determining your search ranking. In other words, having an account alone doesn’t help much – you need to use it to engage in a meaningful online conversation with your customers. It does make sense, doesn’t it? Just like real life, the more people talk with and about you, the more attention by searching motorists you deserve.

2. Is it possible that Google users will see different search engine results when logged in than those who are not, and if so, does that mean we will have to do multiple work steps to please different search engines and their members?

First question first: YES, logged-on Google users see potentially different search results than those who are not. The reason is that Google ranks relevance of the search result to you.  If you check out certain websites more frequently than other websites (you found them using the same or similar search terms), it seems logical that you have personal reasons to do so. Thus Google assumes those sites are more relevant to you. Making sense?

That also means that those of you whom check out their own or their closest competitors’ website too often when logged onto their Google account will enter a reality distortion field (which can be very flattering, I admit). Instead, use the ‘incognito window’ in Chrome when checking ranking results.

Hmm, but doesn’t that mean that every Google account user sees a different search result and that it is unpredictable for us to know what they see? True, but for another reason we haven’t mentioned yet: Google has started tagging and featuring websites as search results friends in your social network like. “Friends” can mean you have them in your Google Plus circles, or you just had an email exchange with them. See the comparison below. The search result for “auto repair campbell ca” at the top is done without me being logged on and below you see people in my network having +1’d the site. No change in rank, but something your eyes pay attention to.


More interesting is the following example (please enlarge the image by clicking on it). It is a Google search page #1 for ‘BMW repair Newport Beach ca”, not logged-on at the top and logged-on below that. The search ranking has changed based on the social ranking, probably because I visited the site several times and it has been +1’d. In summary, the fact that Rocky (the owner) and I are connected on Google Plus makes a web page on his site featured even before the business listing. Powerful stuff, isn’t it?



3. Does Facebook have any weight or effect on a search using Google, and does Google recognize Facebook?

 Yes, for simplification reasons, just look at Facebook as another business directory, just  like yellowpages(dot)com, competing for ranking on Google.  Below is a Google search result on page 2 when searching “auto repair clive IA”.


4. We are always hearing that Google is making algorithm changes that impacts search rankings. How often does this really happen, and how does an individual or even a company like Auto Vitals keep up?

If we knew how often it happens in advance and what pattern there is, our life would be a lot easier.  The not-so-satisfactory answer is: it happens when Google sees a reason to change the game of search by increasing the value for the searching public and thus maintaining its leading position compared with its competitors (are there any serious ones?). Google has started to give local businesses a lot more attention on search, which resulted in at least 3 major changes in 2011 alone. The introduction of ‘social search’ when they started Buzz (now Google Plus) and how they combined it with search results is the most powerful change I know of and we haven’t seen the full extent of it.

I can’t say how other companies do it. We try to do two things.

  • Anticipate what Google is going to do, implement it beforehand and be ready when it happens. We have been successful for two of their major changes this way.
  • Spend tremendous human and software effort to always know, almost at every hour of the day, how all of our clients rank, what selected indicators tell us about trends and how we can incorporate findings in the software so that changes to our clients’ websites and listings can be published within a few hours to a day for every single one of them. Collaborating with industry experts helps as well.

5. From Google’s view, is it important to have an account for your business, or for the business owner, or both ?

Google gives us tools to accommodate what we need. It is up to us how to use them. If you want to split your personal life from your business activities, create your personal Google Plus account plus a business page. This is the most common approach.  The need for more than one full account, as some do on Facebook, to differentiate between social and business, is not as strong due to the Google Plus Circles. That is another powerful concept, but maybe more about this in another post.




I hope I didn’t waste your time. Please keep the questions coming if I can help.