Google+ Comments Poised to Change Social Media…But Not Yet

When Google directly integrated Authorship into G+ they demonstrated a direct connection between the social network and the search engine results. Now with the recent implementation of Google+ comments first to Blogger based websites and now to WordPress.org sites (via an unsupported plugin-basically a hack), Google is combining the viral power of Twitter with the SEO impact of back links and sharing on the G+ network.

(be sure to test the G+ comment function at the bottom of this post)

First a little background
Since the early days of the search engine, Google has placed a value on incoming links. In it’s most basic terms, when Google sees a website linking to content on another website, especially if it is related to the content on the linking page, Google assumes the linked content is of value and moves the website up the search engine rankings. Links coming from a trusted, high traffic site such as the New York Times are valued higher than links coming from a smaller site. The value of a website is expressed as “Page Rank.” When one site links to another, it passes some of it’s Page Rank (or “juice”) to the linked site. A small number of links from highly ranked sites can have a big impact on a websites search engine results.

Over the years this became one of the most abused aspects of search engine optimization with “SEOs” buying links and developing a number of schemes for generating these valuable back links. These link building tactics have also been one of the areas hardest hit by the Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates.

Although earned back links from websites with high Page Rank still hold their value social recognition on Google+, especially sharing on G+, is also becoming an important element of the search engine algorithms.  A number of tests recently suggest that post shared on Google+ also pass Page Rank to the original website. Therefore, the more a post is shared and the more comments it receives on G+, the better it should do in the search engine rankings.

The potential impact of Author Rank, which although not implemented yet, only adds to the formula as author profiles become ranked based on authority in the same way that a website gets Page Rank.

Long story short, shares, comments and +1s on G+ are an important element in the search engine rankings.

Enter Google+ Comments
Up until this point, if you wanted to share a post on G+, you either clicked the +1 button on a post and maybe added a comment or two or you copied the URL and shared it directly on your G+ profile. Other G+ users might comment on the shared post or they might click through to the actual website and comment directly on the site. There was no connection between comments on the website and comments on G+.

Now however, with Google+ comments enabled, when a user leaves a comment it not only posts as a comment directly on the website but the comment shows as a shared link directly on G+ along with a link to the original article. The mere process of making a comment equates in a G+ share.

Thinking back to the impact of G+ sharing in the search engine results described above, let me say that again…

The mere process of making a comment on a blog post with G+ comments enabled results in a share on G+.

This means that every time someone adds a new comment to your blog post, the post is shared on G+ with the comment appearing in the user’s stream as a shared post. Not only that, but as people on G+ make comments, the comments appear back on your blog post as replies to the comment that created the original share.

Likewise, replies to comments made on the actual blog also appear as replies to comments on the G+ profile where it was shared.

If all this sound confusing, the screen shot below taken from my G+ profile should help:

Google + Comments

 

As you can see, the comment I made on wjdylofinance.com which has enabled G+ comments appears in my G+ profile as a shared post. The eight comments below show both on my G+ share and on the blog post itself.

As I write this, the post on wjdylofinance.com has 61 comments. Each of those comments equals if not a full share, engagement on both G+ and the originating website. Do a search for Google+ Comments WordPress and you will see Jesse Wjdylo’s post coming up fairly high in the rankings. No question the Google+ comments/sharing is helping that post.

Twitter on Steroids
One of the most appealing aspects of Twitter is it’s ability to help content go viral. Sharing and retweeting takes nothing more than a click of a button and the power to move through Twitter exponentially is huge. Google+ comments take this same viral nature and adds discussion beyond 140 characters. And unlike content on Twitter which has a very short shelf life and can disappear as fast as it came, comments on G+ tend to stick around for a while and have the ability to generate extended discussion over a period of time.

Google+ comments has the potential to provide both the viral nature of Twitter combined with the potential benefit of moving up the search engine rankings. From a social media/search marketing perspective, Google+ comments may truly be a game changer.

Not Ready for Primetime…Yet (on WordPress)
At this point, Google+ comments is fully available on blogs hosted on Blogger. Although I haven’t tested it, it sounds like the transition on Blogger is fairly smooth. A plugin has recently been released for WordPress but it is not yet supported by Google. There are also a number of issues to consider before adding the plugin to a WordPress site.

All or Nothing 
First and foremost, adding Google+ comments to a WordPress based website is an all or nothing venture. If added using the Google+ Comments plugin it will completely take over your comment system. Anyone who wants to comment on your blog will have to log into G+ first. If they don’t have a G+ profile, they will need to create one before commenting on your post. For those who have a large, active audience on G+, this may not be a bad thing. However, for those who’s audience reaches beyond those on G+, this might cause some problems.

On established websites this may also cause a problem as old comments are lost and Google +1s are retroactively converted to comments. This means that a post iwth 100 +1s would suddenly become a post with 100 comments.

Loss of Control
Once Google+ comments are enabled on a WordPress site you no longer have the ability to control the comments from the WordPress dashboard. In fact, it doesn’t appear that you can control them at all. In other words, if you have a troll leaving offensive remarks or spammers hitting your site, you have no way to delete the comments.

This also means that people will have the ability to leave comments or add content to your site in the comment section without your knowledge. Normally, WordPress lets you know when someone has left a comment on your site. With G+ Comments enabled on a WordPress site, you won’t get this notification. For newer blogs this may not be a big deal but as your blog grows it will become much harder to monitor comments as they are added to older posts. Take my word for it, managing comments on a blog with 500+ posts can be difficult enough as it is. Without notification, it would be completely impossible to manage. Comments could be left on posts that were written years ago and you would have no knowledge of the comment.

However, spam and trolling may not be as much of a problem because in order to leave a comment, you must be logged into a G+ profile. This makes it much harder to leave the anonymous comment. For those with websites being attacked by spam, this might actually be a benefit as the comments would be pulled off your server and onto Google. I have a website that is under a serious spam attack that is causing the site to significantly slow down. Enabling Google+ comments would probably solve the problem (but I’d also lose thousands of good comments).

Contextual Concerns
When you make a comment on a website with Google+ comments enabled, it shows on G+ as a shared post. As you can see in the example above, my comment looks somewhat out of place when displayed on my G+ profile. Although my example isn’t too far out of context, you can quickly see how a quick response could be misunderstood by seeing the comment in their G+ feed without seeing the actual article or discussion where the comment took place.

However…
Even with the above concerns, I wouldn’t rule out enabling Google+ comments on your blog or website. The potential impact on search and social sharing is just too much to overlook. The WordPress plugin is very new and appears to be changing quickly. Once the bugs are worked out and a plugin is endorsed by Google, Google+ comments could be a game changer.

Test for Yourself
After much experimenting and some extra help from +Terry Simmonds (follow him) we’ve been able to add G+ comments to this post (directly below although it may or may not work). Please comment and experiment to see Google Plus comments in action. I’m also curious to see how it works in real life on a WP post.

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