Recently I was on Twitter (okay, I’m constantly on Twitter, so that’s a ridiculous phrase for me write out) and the topic of Google+ came up. My friend Winnie of Healthy Green Kitchen asked if people were using Google+ and nearly every response was “No, can’t be bothered” which is fine EXCEPT that Google+ has a lot of advantages that apparently food bloggers don’t know about. After butting into the conversation (which is what I do in Twitter, I butt in. I highly recommend this methodology by the way) I started to explain why Google+ is worth being on. Then I found myself explaining it over and over again to people who kept on butting into the conversation (the downside of butting in I guess). So I figured I would write a blog post about it. For those looking for my usual witty lighthearted story and recipe, I’ll be back with one on Thursday, but for now, here’s the food blogger’s guide to Google+.
Why does Google+ even exist?
The reality is that NO ONE really wanted Google+. Had Google done market research, I’m pretty sure there would have been an overwhelming response of “Useless!” “Don’t care!” “Gurl, don’t go there. *finger snap*” (OK, that last one is the stereotypical random gay guy in the focus group…I’m not beyond stereotypes. Heck I’m one myself – google “gaysian” no, no on second thought, don’t). But what I’m trying to say is that Google was stuck creating their own social networking site because if they didn’t have one, they would be behind the times. They tried buying Twitter, but it didn’t work. Facebook has pretty close ties with their competitor Microsoft. And Google once tried to create a social network a few years ago called Orkut except no one joined other than the country of Brazil (I know! Brazil. Weird huh?)
So Google had a dilemma, and decided, what the heck, let’s create something that no one wants or needs and let’s REALLY throw our weight behind it. Enter Google+. A fully integrated social network within the Google world, that no one (except Google employees) joined, and that no one wanted. But here’s the thing. Even if you aren’t on Google+, you’re already being influenced by it, and so is everyone else on the internet that uses Google (and really, as much as Yahoo and Bing would like otherwise, EVERYONE uses Google). This is important to note because, as a food blogger, you need to know what is influencing the internet – more importantly what is influencing search engine results.
Search Engine Optimization. (I hate that. You do too. I’ll try not to put you to sleep.)
No food blogger likes to talk about Search Engine Optimization (well there, are a few, but they are rare and usually have a day job at a tech company so they speak geek all day long anyway). Search engine optimization (SEO) is something that most food bloggers dread because it’s goes against their natural flow of writing, recipe developing, and taking pretty pictures of macarons then complaining on twitter about how those same macarons pictures were rejected by Foodgawker. Also thinking about SEO takes away from the all important blogging task of spending five hours browsing Pinterest boards, all in the name of “research” (you know who you are). It’s “awkward” and “annoying” to have to think about SEO when writing a post… and you know what? You’re right. It is. But it’s not hard to do. And the better you get at it, the more likely you’ll show up in search engine results. The more likely you show up on a search engine, the more likely someone will click through to your macaron post on your site, and the more likely they’ll fall in love with you and your gorgeous photography and BAM you have a loyal reader (take that Foodgawker!).
If I had a dollar for every single time I was asked “How do I get traffic to my site?”… I’d probably have five dollars (which is more than I probably would make if I put a Foodbuzz ad on here, but that’s neither here nor there). Everyone wants traffic. No one knows how to get it. You can write beautiful, thought-provoking prose, take gorgeous breathtaking photographs, and create mouthwatering “to-die-for” recipes (side note, if you actually write “to-die-for” in your blog post then you aren’t really writing beautiful thought provoking prose so avoid that phrase) but if no one can find you, well no one is going to read.
Now the big bloggers probably don’t worry about SEO. They already have the traffic. I know, it’s unfair, sort of like when the celebrity actor walks into a restaurant or clothing store and get a ton of free stuff. I mean, they’re the people that can afford to buy the crazy $95 entrée and $350 t-shirt but because they famous they get it for free (note to self, become famous as soon as possible). But the rest of us, are left scrounging about and trying to figure out how to get people to visit our site. And since we constantly get rejected from Foodgawker (I don’t mean to pick on Foodgawker, I get rejected from Tastespotting all the time too – I shake my fist at both of you!), no matter how beautiful our photography is, we are left trying to figure out how else to drum up traffic.
Enter SEO. Now I can probably go on and on about SEO…and I’m not even a tech geek. People make a (really) good living consulting, discussing and dissecting how to improve SEO on sites, and maybe I’ll write another post about how to improve SEO overall. But I will tell you being on Google+ helps with SEO (a lot), and most of it is pretty easy to implement.
Sharing a URL on Google+ automatically gets it indexed and crawled by Google. Google+ is so integrated into the search engine, that the minute you share a link, Google’s engine sees it, and thinks “Huh. Wonder what’s on that link” and then goes to it and crawls through it, looking for searchable keywords and terms. In other words, if you write a post about banana rum jello shots set in vintage 1950s copper moulds (God bless you) you don’t have to wait a day or two for Google to come around and check out your site to see if you had posted anything. Nope, you post something and the minute you share it Google+, that post is indexed and if five minutes later a college frat boy decides he wants to make banana rum shots and types in those keywords, conceivably your recipe will show up. Bam! You got traffic. This is especially important for those of you who post infrequently (which, by the way, for SEO purposes is really bad) or have a blog under a year old. The longer your blog is around or the more consistent you post, the more Google considers you a reliable source of information, and will visit your blog to index it. Posting on Google+ takes the guess work out of when Google is indexing your site, and gives you a level of control that previously didn’t exist.
An additional perks of being on Google+ also means you can claim your website as your own. What does that mean? Ever done a search and seen a picture of the author of that article that comes on a website? That’s because the person has set up an authorship of their site. It’s not hard to do, though it does require a little bit of coding. But what it means is that every time someone does a search and your blog posts comes up in the results, your picture shows up as the author. It’s a great way to leverage your name out there as a brand and expert. Show up enough times on someone’s search results and that person might start noticing you and suddenly you have a loyal reader. More importantly, it tells Google there is an actual person behind your site, and it’s not just a junk or scraper site trying to snare traffic & spam people. The more Google thinks you are a real person and not a bot or spammer just looking for high traffic, the more it will take your site seriously and bring your blog higher up in the search results.
But one of the most important things to consider about Google+ is that more and more people are searching on Google while logged into Google. Whether you’re logged in via gmail, youtube, google+, google docs or any other myriad Google sub-brands, Google recognizes you as logged in, and when you do a search, they deliver results based on who you are and what your contacts are. This is called “personalized search results” and it is becoming more and more common. It’s why when you do a search for “farmers markets” Google knows who you are, and can return results of farmers market locations that are in your area, before it returns locations of farmers markets in a different cities or countries. Consider this example. Search for “krispie treats” while not signed in, leads to various recipes out there by sites like Recipe Girl, Joy of Baking and All Recipe. However if my partner AJ logs into his gmail to check his email, and doesn’t bother to log out but then searches for “krispie treats”, my recipe suddenly appears in the number three result as “Irvin Lin shared this”. Nifty huh?
The implications of this pretty big. Considering how many people search while logged. All of sudden this becomes a big deal. If you are connected to large groups of people, the chances of showing up on their search results is significantly higher. Immediately you have a better chance of getting traffic from a search result that normally wouldn’t give you any traffic at all. With more and more people logged in to their google accounts (inadvertently or not) it’s becoming clear that you should be connected to as many people as possible so that you can show up on their search results. Of course the converse is true, if you aren’t in their circle, you have a lower chance of showing up on personalized search results as they are personalized and tailored by individuals tastes. Do keep in mind, this is a simplification of personalized search results, as there are many factors, but who shares what in Google+ is one of those factors.
I’m still not convinced. I don’t care about SEO. Gimme another reason to get on Google+
A lot of complaints that I hear about Google+ is that everyone on there is pretty much the same people that you can find on Twitter or Facebook, you know except less active because no one bothers to use Google+. That’s because you’re following the wrong people. If all you are doing is following food bloggers on Google+, then you’re right, they’re the same food bloggers on Twitter and Facebook and they are most likely more active on either of those network than G+, and you’ll probably see a lot of duplicate posts. But what if you could reach out to an audience beyond the food blogging community and that is completely supportive of your work and can even help inspire your work?
I asked my friend Jenn over at Jenn Cuisine about her experiences on Google+. Jenn got onto Google+ super early and currently has over 16,000 followers. In other words, she’s a rockstar on Google+. Here’s what she had to say.
“I joined G+ pretty much as soon as I was able to – a photographer I follow, Trey Ratcliff, got one of the first invites to the service and set up his Facebook page as a place for people to share their invites – so I joined the invite “snowball” event and found myself with a brand new shiny account on Google+.
I instantly fell in love with this new social media network. Unlike Twitter and Facebook wherein I primarily had interacted with other food bloggers, Google+ showed me a whole new world of other people, who had other interests as well. I found photographers, techies, scientists, and others, and just started getting to know new folks and building new relationships. I love being able to share my work with new people, get great feedback, and enjoy the nice pretty format of G+ photos. I feel I can follow conversations with much more fluidity than I can on Twitter (which also allows for more in-depth conversation all around), and I love that not everything has to be out in the public for the entire world to see. I got to participate a lovely photowalk in the Swiss Alps with some newfound friends from G+, and had a great time. The more I share and the more I interact, the more new friends I make.
And as a result, the followers have kept coming. I love both sharing my passion for food photography as well as seeing some amazing talent by other folks from around the world. But like any network, what you get out of it is related to what you put into it. If you go and sign up and say, “hey none of my friends are here, this is pointless”, well then I think one is kind of missing the point. What value is there in talking with the same exact people on multiple platforms at once? Likewise, it doesn’t work if you only talk with yourself. You need to join in with others, interact. I use Google+ to build new connections to people I might not have met otherwise, and I think that has been part of why it has been so valuable for me. If you join, don’t be afraid to reach out to brand new people, and share your work in this new venue. Jump into conversations, make new friends, and connect :)”
Though the tech and science people were the first people to jump on board to Google+ the photography community wasn’t far behind as Jenn mentioned. Sharing photos on Google+ is super easy, and unlike Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter’s, your metadata isn’t stripped out of the photo. What does that mean? It means that if someone downloads a photograph via Facebook, any information that is written in the metadata (the hidden data in the file that usually gives you credit and creation for that photo) is removed, leaving that image completely blank. Google+ leaves that data in there. All of sudden photosharing on Google+ becomes not only a fun social experience, but virtual learning tool where you can explore how someone took a photo.
Google’s editing and storage app Picasa is integrated into Google+, which means that basic editing tools like cropping, rotating, and even color adjustment are available directly in Google+. More importantly though (as every food blogger worth their Maldon salt does a little bit of post-process photo editing in Lightroom, Photoshop/Photoshop Elements or even GIMP/iPhoto) Google+ doesn’t compress the heck out of your photos. You know when you upload a beautiful photo in Facebook, and then you look at it and the colors look muddy, with weird pixilated squares in the image? That’s called compression artifacts and Facebook does that automatically with ALL photos that are uploaded to them. That doesn’t happen in Google+.
Clickable hashtags are one more seemingly minor feature of Google+, but has become integral in photography community building. The ability to create clickable hashtags has developed into unofficial photo groups where people contribute to photos on topics. #FoodFriday has become a big one, where people upload a picture of food on Friday, with that specific hashtag and others can browse and find inspiration. But contributing to other photo hashtags can broaden your scope of followers and also inspire you to start taking photographs of things more than just food. The more you exercise your visual skills on all sorts of subject matters, the better you become as a photographer. Coupled with the social aspect of Google+ like commenting, hangouts (which are group live video chats) and clickable hashtags like Twitter, it’s no wonder why there seems to be a robust photography community.
Fine, I’ll start using Google+ more. Now what do I do?
OK, so I’ve convinced you to join and use Google+. How does it work? There are plenty of more in-depth guides on getting started on Google+ and so I’ll only give you a shortened version of how to get started (I’ve listed a bunch of resources at the end of this posts for you to look through) but consider it a bit of a mashup of Twitter and Facebook. The “feed” of the Google+ is much like you would find on Facebook or Twitter, where the items that people are sharing pop up on your stream in live time. But the real question is how to find to follow and get people to follow you.
Probably the easiest thing to do is to bounce to someone’s Google+ page that you like, and start browsing through that person’s list of friends. Like Twitter, you can bounce from personal page to personal page, see who’s feed you like and what they are sharing, and then add them as a friend. Another method is to click on hashtags such as “Food Friday” see what photos people are sharing and then explore their stream. If you like what they share, follow them as well.
Like Twitter, Google+ doesn’t require reciprocation circling, so do not feel like you have to follow people that follow you back. In fact, I’d warn you about being selective about circling random people in the beginning. At the very least, create a specific circle for people you aren’t familiar with, and slowly sort them as you get to know them into more specific circles or uncircle them as you find out that you have no interest in them. Like all the other social networking sites, the more you share and interact with the people on the network, the more you’ll get out of it though.
One last thing
Finally something needs to be said about time management. As much as I tout how important it is to get on Google+ I’m not on it very often. Why? Most food bloggers (myself included) don’t blog full time. That means, we’re juggling our day jobs along with developing recipes, writing blogs posts, painting and artfully distressing wood as a surface texture, and taking photos as well as trying to get food on the table for our family. We barely have time to do Twitter or Facebook much less the other networks like Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon. One more network like Google+ feels like just ONE. MORE. THING to do. However every blogger needs to know the pros and cons of each network. Ultimately you also need to draw your own lines and realize that you can’t do EVERYTHING. If Facebook is the only network you have time for, then use it. If you resonate with Twitter more, than use it. But you should be aware of the differences and the values of each network, so you can make an informed choice about them. Hopefully this posts is helpful in explaining why Google+ might be something worth exploring.
Resources and Links:
How to set up authorship on Google+, the simplified way
Mashable Complete Guide to Google+
Google Official Guide to Google+
Another comprehensive guide to Google+
Colby Brown’s Google+ Survival Guide for Photographers – warning SUPER long and in-depth
Daily Photography Themes homepage
A list of food bloggers on Google+
A list of food photographers on Google+
Jenn Oliver of Jenn Cuisine on Google+
Irvin Lin of Eat the Love on Google +
If you have any questions, points or other resource links I’ve missed (or got somehow got wrong), please leave a comment below. Google+ is still a relatively new network, and as such, it’s evolving. Because it has the weight of Google behind it, trust Google+ to continue to get more and more important.