Yesterday Google debuted a new metric for Profile and Pages on Google+: Google Plus Views. Predictably, this has incited both excitement and controversy, love and hatred. For casual users, it seems to have been especially polarizing, mostly in the negative direction, or so my own observations of the response would suggest.
For marketers, the response was more mixed: many agreed it was nice to know their total Views, but it was hard to escape a widespread sentiment that the metric, while perhaps not entirely worthless, fell fall short of being the powerful new analytic tool one might have expected. On the one hand, the Views data is given in the aggregate. Have your Views gone up or down over time? It doesn’t say. With careful attention to a Page Dashboard or third-party tools, and a lot of personal effort, you could discover some of this missing data, but then the aggregate View would do nothing to help you there. Personal Profiles have no Dashboard or Insights at all and have to rely entirely on third-party tools.
The situation is even more complicated for Local Pages: all Google Places were migrated to Google+ Local Pages, which existed whether or not they were claimed, they could have accumulated a significant number of Views before ever being claimed. If they appear in the Knowledge Box, Map Results, Local Carousel, or otherwise in Google Search except as a blue link. The lack of anything beyond an aggregate number here is unhelpful in measuring the value of managing your Google+ account.
Here is what I hate and what I like about Google+ Views, in that order:
What I Hate
Put simply, Google+ Views seem to tell us nothing in particular, yet it gets shown next to Follower Count, a number which also told us nothing in particular. Yonaton Zunger of the Google+ Team states, “I’ve actually found the raw number to be quite useful — it’s a better metric of the overall engagement strength of a profile than follower counts, or +1 counts, or pretty much anything else we’ve released so far. It’s the ratios which are troublesome to interpret.” (Emphasis Mine)
I believe him, but only because Follower Counts and +1’s really do tell you nearly nothing by themselves. They’ve been gamed by spammers, distorted by Suggested User Lists, obscured by algorithms that require some variable blend of data science and creativity to master. It remains to be seen if these View numbers remain more reliable now that they’re known about and spammers will be seeking to run up their View counts.
What I Love
They are definitely a step up from +1’s, which were always too obscure and easily gamed. For example, a Page that created a Community could gain +1’s from engagement within that Community, even if the brand had nothing to do with the Community or its content. At worst, View Counts are probably at least as accurate an indicator, and more often superior. Views aren’t always better than Follower Counts, from what I can tell, but luckily the two don’t have to be considered separately.
Views may even be a step in a better direction for social analytics, but that depends on how Google proceeds from here. Unfortunately I struggle to come up with anything else to love about them. They’re an improvement, but in some ways also a step backwards to the bad old days of Site Counters, except they’re displayed by default on all accounts, and hiding them may be as much or more of a liability for some people than showing them. It’s easy to say these numbers don’t matter, until they do matter to someone, and they will. Google ensured the latter by featuring them prominently.
Hope for the Future
If Views remains in its current form, then it will become just the newest and one-of-the-hardest targets for people who game the numbers in their favor. By hook or by crook many will seek, and many will succeed, in driving this number sky high at the expense of anything else. They may not always gain in the long run by doing so, but in the short run at least they can cause a lot of damage, and set the stage for the next purge of spam tactics that will inevitably take down innocent people whose only mistake was to trust the wrong person (because they had no way of recognizing the right one) to manage their online presence. For veteran users, meanwhile, this will be business as usual, the New Boss who is at best slightly better than the Old Boss.
The 10x solution for social media remains elusive, and it remains to be seen if Google+ Views will remain in their current “better than the alternatives but far from ideal” form, or evolve to become a useful piece of the analytic puzzle, both for social media managers and for private users trying to have the best experience of using Google+ by finding the right accounts to follow.