Updated December 11, 2018.
On October 8, the Wall Street Journal broke news of a major Google+ privacy leak that occurred earlier this year.
Hours later, Google announced in a blog post that it would shut down Google+ by August of 2019. Then, in the wake of a second data breach discovered in November, Google stated the Google+ closure would be expedited to April of 2019.
What does this mean for Google+ users, including businesses using the platform to boost their online presence and search engine ranking?
While the demise of Google+ may represent the end of an era for Google, its impact on the rest of us isn’t as significant as you might think.
Why Google+ is Shutting Down
The reasons behind Google’s decision to shut down Google+ is twofold: low user engagement and security troubles.
Back in March of 2018, Google uncovered a serious software vulnerability in the Google+ API. Essentially, the bug gave outside developers access to private information on nearly 500,000 Google+ users: names, email addresses, birth dates, locations and more. Mallory Locklear at Engadget penned a good overview of the Google+ data leak here.
Although Google didn’t find evidence that anyone used this bug (for malicious reasons or otherwise), they felt an in-depth audit of the Google+ platform in general was warranted.
The audit, named Project Strobe, raised a couple of red flags:
- Google+ had not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption and had limited user interaction with its associated apps.
- Though Google’s engineering teams put a lot of effort into building Google+ over the years, there were “significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers’ expectations.”
Google found that 90 percent of Google+ user sessions last less than five seconds. To put that in perspective, the average Facebook user session lasts six minutes and 23 seconds, and the typical user logs 173 sessions a month.
Considering these issues, Google is shutting down the consumer version of Google+ over the course of the next six months. The process will conclude when the platform closes for good in April 2019.
Google+ and Search Engine Optimization
When it launched in 2011, Google+ was intended to make Google itself more social. Users could make profiles and connect with networks of family, friends, and other contacts. The platform had a stream akin to Facebook’s News Feed.
Google+ was also a part of one of Google’s newest search features, the +1 button. As the launch video explains, the button allowed users to ‘recommend’ webpages to their Google+ network.
The +1 button was important for another reason: search rankings. Initially, Google indicated it was one of many ranking signals Google’s search engine algorithm used to gauge search quality and rankings.
Over the years, Google+ made appearances on Google’s main site in various other ways, but none seemed to stick.
For a time, Google+ and +1 button activity were used to personalize users’ search results, and Google+ assets like photos and posts showed up in some results as well. Content posted to Google+ was often indexed faster than other sites.
Before Google My Business, Google+ pages also served as a public face for businesses in search.
Marketers and businesses flocked to the platform for its purported search benefits. But the public didn’t follow, and as time passed, Google downplayed the importance of Google+ and the +1 button as ranking signals.
What the Google+ Shutdown Means for Search Engine Optimization
The end of Google+ will mean the end of its effects on search engine rankings, however minimal they may be.
It’s welcome news to businesses who were compelled to use Google+ only for its search benefits. The time spent posting to Google+ can instead be used to engage communities their customers already use: whether it’s Facebook pages and groups, Twitter, LinkedIn, or niche industry forums.
If you’ve invested time in building a presence on Google+, there’s lots of time to tie up any loose ends. The platform doesn’t officially close until next April, and Matt Southern at Search Engine Journal has put together a timely guide on how to export your Google+ data.
Have questions about the Google+ shutdown? Don’t hesitate to ask – we’ll be watching as this continues to unfold.