What you need to know about Google+ shutting down

After Facebook in March, it’s Google’s turn to face the consequences of a data breach. As a result of the data violation, the company has decided to close its social media network. Facebook didn’t shut down its business so you might be wondering why Google+ is being taken off the market. I explain why this is below.

Google+ who?

Google+ was launched with a bang, but the truth is that it’s been dying a slow death over the last few years. TechCrunch announced the beginning of the end back in 2014.

The concept of Google+ was great. An asymmetrical social network that is fully integrated with all of Google’s services. Similar to Twitter, being asymmetrical meant users had the capacity to grow their networks without being dependent upon reciprocity. Additionally, being able to integrate the social network with all of Google’s services meant that content you posted could appear in the SERPs of Google, as opposed to the walled garden networks of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin that restrict Google’s access to their data.

For digital marketers and business owners, this platform promised plenty. Google+ was another channel that offered an opportunity to improve your business’s organic visibility, boost traffic and increase user engagement with your brand.

Unfortunately, Google+ never really took off as a social network. It never legitimately became a competitor for Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter. In theory, up to 2.2 billion users are registered with Google Plus, because you have to log in to the platform to gain access to Gmail, Google Drive and Google’s other apps. However, active users are known to be a fraction of that number, with as few as 4-6 million active users reported. Google themselves this week added that “The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

Google Plus on tablet

Why is Google+ shutting down?

After years of speculating that Google will be shutting down Google+, the recent data breach seems to be the tipping point for Google to do just that. The internet giant announced yesterday on its blog that a bug had been accessing private user information through Google+ People application programming interfaces (APIs).

The bug made it possible for 438 apps to access users’ and their friends’ non-public personal details. They retrieved profile fields such as email addresses, birth dates, gender, profile photos, places lived and occupation. Google estimates that over 500,000 users have been affected, although there is no evidence that the data was misused.

The company discovered that the bug had been active since 2015 in March this year. It didn’t make the news public for fear of public outrage, especially because the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal was in full swing at the time.

The same blog announces the shutdown of the consumer version of Google+. Google’s Privacy & Data Protection Office review “did highlight the significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers’ expectations”.

The shutdown will be rolled out over the next 10 months, scheduled to be completed in August 2019. Google+ won’t completely disappear, but it will be turned into an internal social and communications platform for businesses. Google will release more information on this at a later time.

How does this affect you?

The impact Google+ has on SEO and your digital marketing strategy has not been significant for some time now, and it’s unclear on how Google will exactly reposition the product. What we do know is that Google is winding down the platform for consumers slowly, sunsetting Google+ over the next 10 months. This will allow users the opportunity to migrate their data.

During this time we expect Google will release more details on how they intend to use Google+ as an enterprise product and their new purpose-built business features.

Hallam Digital Director, Ben Wood, comments:

“Like most people, I’m not hugely surprised at this news. One of the main areas in which Google+ was so popular was the SEO community, due to the prominence of Google Authorship in the search results. To be eligible for these results to display, users had to have set up an active Google+ profile.

Here’s an example of what this looked like in Google’s search results:

Google plus example

In my personal experience, since Google scaled down and eventually killed Google authorship I didn’t notice as many of my peers active on the platform. The posts on Google+ communities became less moderated and beneficial and effectively the active user base has declined.

Many press outlets are reporting that Google has sped up the decision to kill the platform due to a security flaw which went unannounced earlier this year. Google has instead stated reasons in a blog post around low usage and engagement on Google+.”

As soon as we have further news from Google, we’ll provide advice on what actions you should take if you use Google+ as part of your digital marketing strategy.

If you have any questions about social media or SEO, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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