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Should SMBs Add Google+ To Their Marketing Plans?

WordStream CTO says Google's nascent social network has quickly become the top source of referral traffic to his company's site.

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Google+ might still be ironing out the kinks, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming a major source of referral traffic for at least one small business.

Online marketing firm WordStream noted a surge in its Google+-referred traffic in a July 26 blog post; the new kid on the social networking block had already climbed into third place in referrals, passing LinkedIn in spite of a much smaller user base. WordStream CTO Larry Kim ran the numbers again for InformationWeek.com, this time analyzing the seven days from July 28 through Aug. 3. Google+ was the top referrer to WordStream's blog during that span, driving 37.1% of referral traffic. The upstart social site was followed by Facebook (27.4%), Twitter (25.6%), and LinkedIn (9.9%).

"That's unbelievable," Kim said in an interview. "I ran it twice; I just couldn't believe it."

WordStream and its 35 employees use social media because it is core to their search marketing business. They also use it for the same, broader reasons that attract SMBs of all stripes: "It's an amplifier for us," Kim said. WordStream hasn't done anything specific to generate the referral traffic other than adding Google+ buttons to its site; meanwhile, the company has been spending money to build its Facebook presence and also does a "ton" of content marketing via Twitter.

Kim notes that WordStream's industry--online marketing--is almost certainly a factor in the rapid rise of Google+ referrals. He is also quick to acknowledge WordStream's site--though it receives around 250,000 unique visitors each month--is just a single sample is the vast Web universe. Still, the message seems clear: SMB marketers who ignore Google+ do so at their own risk. (Check out InformationWeek.com's 10 essential Google+ tips if you're not sure where to get started.)

"You've got to communicate with your customers wherever they are," Kim said. "If they're flocking to Google+, go there and don't fight it."

Google+ got off to a false start with businesses, but Kim said it possesses two key advantages. First, because it's in field-test mode, Google+ has a better "signal-to-noise" ratio than the likes of Facebook or Twitter. "It's less competitive when things are new," Kim said.

Second, in spite of the tech world's emphasis on being first, Google's earlier social stumbles may be a good thing for Google+. "Google kind of has this last-mover advantage: They can see the problems that Facebook and Twitter have," Kim said. He lists annoying apps, spam, and a cacophony of marketing voices as examples. "Maybe they're smart and can avoid some of that."

Kim also pointed out that user engagement may be the real test of social media sites--and the value of the referral traffic they generate. He cites, for example, recent Pew research showing 41% of Twitter's 175 million registered users rarely--if ever--visit the site. Early adopters of Google+--20 million and counting--are more likely to be engaged because there's no fatigue factor yet.

One key measurement of engagement post-referral is the average time spent on the site. For this reason, Kim chooses not to include sharing sites such as StumbleUpon and Reddit in WordStream's referral data.

"They drive a tremendous amount of traffic," Kim said. "The problem is: Engagement is like three seconds, five seconds. They're just channel surfing."

LinkedIn sits alone at the other end of the spectrum: referrals from the professional network spent more than a minute on WordStream's site post-click. That tops 50 seconds for Twitter, 40 seconds for Google+, and, 30 seconds for Facebook.

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