Google recently announced its first round of design changes to its Google+ platform since its official launch in September 2011. During this period, the network has grown to over 170 million users to date, with nearly 30% of the audience engaging daily and 60% returning at least once a month according to Google.
Changes to the platform were introduced to make a ‘simpler more beautiful Google’ (Google official blog, 2012), moving towards a very minimalist design, yet clearly responding to the trend of a more visual web. New features of Google+
- The homepage displays a customisable navigation bar which allows users to easily move around different areas of their profile. The top section of a profile activity stream has a small bar that can customise a user’s network activity stream to see posts from their circle of choice.
- Similar to Twitter’s ‘Trending Topic’s’, Google+ has “Trending on Google+” which displays the top topics on Google+. Looking into the near future, this feature will be fine-tuned making it location specific.
- “You may know” – Google+ now pulls up a small list of people you may want to add to your circle.
- The new Google chat is located on the right hand side of users profile page.
Profile - Google+ pages now have a larger profile picture displayed with basic user details (e.g. work, location etc.). Like Facebook, users can add a cover photo (900x180) to their Google+ page to create a more visual profile. Authors: Lindsay Lichtenberg & Marian Adjei
Explore - Explore is similar to the ‘Trending on Google+’ feature, with additional elements that allow users to find out what is happening on Google+, such as what people are sharing and recommendations on who to follow to get the most out for your network.
Hangout - The new ‘Hangout’ option on the left hand side of the navigation bar provides a complete list of potential Hangouts that a user may join.
Photos - Google+ has also been working on their photos feature. Images are now bigger with higher resolutions to enhance user experience.
Games - Google+ now display a range of games sorted into various categories. The games section also displays information on the games being played by individuals within your circles as well as the most popular games.
The most obvious question is whether these changes will drive increased growth and user engagement. At the moment it is reported by Google that 50 million Google+ users engage on a daily basis - that’s only 33% of the entire audience. In terms of engagement, its worldwide audience base only spends an average of 1.5 minutes per visit compared with Facebook which holds attention seven times longer. The new design has been developed to address these issues, helping to increase interactions between users, creating opportunities to chat and hangout or provide reasons to stay and explore.
Whilst overall engagement with the platform is still low, it is imperative brands take note, as Google+ is beginning to represent a very important (if not central) piece of the Google portfolio. +1’s are emerging in search and display and these social annotations are increasing CTRs by 5% according to Google. Smart brands are already activating and reaping the benefits across their entire Google footprint. If those who aren’t wait much longer, they may be left in the dust.