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Is The Google+ Team Hiding Dismal User Numbers?

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EDIT: Please check out Edward Morbius' response to this post in the comments below.

Many might consider Google+ to be a black sheep among social media networks. Despite claiming to have around 540 million active users, many people feel that Google+ is a ghost town when compared to networks such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Indeed, reports seem to come out regularly stating that only a tiny fraction of Google+ users are actually active on the network.

Google+ leaders insist that the network is thriving, but they also "don't want to talk about numbers." According to one blogger, Google is shying away from numbers because they're much worse than reported.

Many Google+ Profiles Exist, Few Are Used

Blogger Edward Morbius performed a test on January 18 to see whether or not Google has been over-reporting their active user numbers. His process, described in an Ello post, involved analyzing a representative sample of Google+ profile sitemaps. He determined a profile to be "active" if it had made a public post to the network. Public comments and private activity were not considered. What he found was pretty astonishing. Apparently:

  • 2.2 billion Google+ profiles exist in total.
  • Only 9 percent of all profiles have ever posted anything publicly.
  • 37 percent of users' most recent activity involves a YouTube comment.
  • Only 0.3 percent - around 6.6 million users - have publicly posted to Google+ in 2015.

These numbers are not only far below the competitor's user numbers, they're also well below what Google reports them to be. Also, if Google+ was not tied to YouTube comments, it seems that it would be even worse off. Morbius points out that, out of the 7,875 profiles that have posted something publicly to Google+, only 24 of them didn't involve a YouTube comment.

Problems With The Analysis

These findings are pretty damning, but they're also limited in a few ways. For instance, only one sitemap file out of the available thousands was used to make these assertions. Morbius states that Google+ profiles are randomly placed into each sitemap file and that each file has a generally similar number of profiles contained within it, making one arbitrarily selected file a good representation of all the files as a whole. However, there is a small possibility that the Google+ profiles are not in a random order in these sitemaps. It may also be the case that some sitemaps include drastically different numbers of profiles than were in the single analyzed file.

It could also be argued that public posts are not necessarily the best indicator of whether or not a user is active. Taking private activity, comments, +1s and similar actions into account could reveal that many more people are active on the network than this analysis suggests.

What This Means For Marketers

Google+ has recently been going through many changes that indicate a decline in user activity. Regardless of the validity of Morbius's research, his findings probably echo a feeling you've had if you've spent any time on the network recently: it just doesn't seem like Google+ has 540 million active users. The network feels slow-paced and dormant.

With all that said, though, it still doesn't seem like companies should abandon their Google+ profiles. While it hasn't been explicitly stated by Google, it's assumed by many that actively taking part in Google+ is good for showing up in search results. It also seems to help enhance the appearance of your company's knowledge graph and local search results, especially if users have taken the time to review your business on Google. Also, even if there really are only six million active users on Google+, that's still a huge opportunity for small business to generate some leads - as long as their target demographics use Google+.

What do you think? Do the findings from this blogger have any merit? Is Google+ simply not worth the time?

T.J. Anderson

Posted on 21st January, 2015 by T.J. Anderson

About T.J. Anderson

T.J. is a Chicago-based content editor and writer, as well as an SEO and marketing specialist.

View all posts by T.J. Anderson

4 Responses to Is The Google+ Team Hiding Dismal User Numbers?

  • T.J. Anderson

    T.J. Anderson says:

    January 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Hi Edward, Thank you for commenting and for shedding some light on the concerns I had. I agree that the repeatability of this research is an important concept for anyone who doesn't always trust Google (like myself). I'm following you on G+ and looking forward to your further research on this. I've also added an edit at the top of the post to make sure readers see your response.

  • Resuna

    Resuna says:

    January 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    "many people feel that Google+ is a ghost town" Google Plus is only a ghost town if you sign up, don't follow anyone, and expect to be entertained. If you use it the way it's supposed to be used, following people based on whether they post stuff you're interested in, it's more like a firehose. Or if you're an SEO huckster trying to figure out how to use it for marketing. Surprise. It's not about marketing. If you want to make money spamming people, go back to Facebook.

  • Edward Morbius

    Edward Morbius says:

    January 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Addressing: "It may also be the case that some sitemaps include drastically different numbers of profiles than were in the single analyzed file." They don't. Not that the number would vary regardless. Independent verification via Greg Miernicki and Fancois Beaufort (of Google) who show (at this time) 2,249,140,135 G+ profiles: http://plus.miernicki.com/ I've since downloaded all 50k sitemaps and can report the following statistics regarding record counts: n: 50000, sum: 2282085028, min: 44816, max: 46498, mean: 45641.700560, median: 45640, sd: 213.389445 Note that my total count is 32,944,893 greater than Miernicki and Beaufort's. I haven't accounted for disabled accounts. This is a 1% discrepancy overall and is below the significance of the results I'm reporting, though I should incorporate it going forward. Non-random placement is a possibility though (I've commented earlier though the post hasn't appeared) preliminary checks suggest that inclusion is sufficiently random for my analysis. I am verifying this further.

  • Edward Morbius

    Edward Morbius says:

    January 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    T.J., Ed Morbius here. I don't assert that the sitemap file ordering of profiles is random, I assume it. Which is a difference. I'm testing that assumption now, which takes a bit of work, but some manual and automatic methods suggest that the assumption isn't invalid. Which isn't the same as it being valid. I should have more on that in a few days. Sampling the first and last 300 profiles of the first and last sitemaps, I find active percentages of 10.0%, 5.7%, 10.3%, and 10.3%, which is generally close to the 9% found in the first 45k+ profiles tested. The larger point of my research, and speaking for all space alien cats out there, is that the data are available and can be independently tested and verified. I'm hoping for others to do just that, though to date I'm not aware that anyone has. It's also that Google's competitors (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, reddit, Ello), advertising and marketing agencies, VC and financial institutions, can do similar analysis with very little equipment -- a laptop and broadband connection are quite sufficient. Which also suggests that Google are effectively only hiding this data from their own users, possibly their employees, and the general public at large. My larger objective in publishing my results is for Google to present its own audited performance data. I'm posting updates to both my Ello and G+ accounts -- I use both services actively, and have used G+ since its inception in July, 2011.


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