Google+ rides momentum up social net ranks

After opening membership to all, visits to Google+ skyrocket

Just weeks after opening up membership to Google+, visits to the new social network are booming.

Industry analysts say the trick will be whether Google+ can maintain the momentum that has taken its new social network to a spot in the top 10 ranking in just a matter of weeks.

"This is good growth," said Matt Tatham, spokesman for Experian Hitwise, an online traffic tracker. "Obviously, when they opened up the site, it did really well. It's down from that initial peak, [but] now they just need to sustain this traffic growth month over month."

Thatham told Computerworld on Monday that during the week of Sept. 20, when Google+ officially went from invitation-only to an open membership model, the site had 14.98 million U.S. visits. Last week, those numbers were down to 7.2 million visits.

However, the positive news is that it's still up considerably from the average 1.2 million visits the site saw between Aug. 6 and Sept. 17.

Google's new social network saw a 349% jump in visits between August and September, going from 5.4 million U.S. visits to 24.2 million, according to Hitwise.

And while Google+ is making great strides in bringing visitors to the site, it's still distinctly behind major social networking players like Facebook and Twitter.

By comparison, Facebook had 8.2 billion U.S. visits in August and 7.65 billion in September. And Hitwise reported that Twitter had 172.9 million U.S. visits in August and 144.9 million visits in September.

"The numbers for Google+ are good, but it's not really a challenger to Facebook yet, although the numbers are big enough to warrant advertiser attention," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.

Olds added that every time Facebook makes a misstep, as it did by tracking some users even after they had left the site and by launching yet another unpopular site redesign, it's an opportunity for Google+ to look better by comparison and pick up a few more users.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, noted that Facebook's changes won't force a mass migration from that site to Google+, but each instance is cumulative.

"It's too early to tell but ... if Facebook isn't careful, they could drive renewed growth to Google+, and may have already," he added.

However, it's doubtful that Google+ can thrive on Facebook castoffs alone.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis, said the coming months will be a strong indicator of how popular Google+ will be -- especially once the hoopla of the site's opening cools off.

"Signups are one thing," said Shimmin. "Usage is another. I think only time will tell for Google+ in terms of its ability to truly compete with Twitter and Facebook in user retention and day-to-day usage. I think Google+ holds the most promise not as a rival to Facebook but as an enterprise social networking platform."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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