50% of New Users Stick with Google+

So there has been some talk about Google+ dropping in traffic by some 60% according to Chitika’s statistics. Looking at the graph and comparing it to the Google Trends info about Google+ leads to some fairly obvious and interesting conclusions.

Google+ 2011 Trends

First off, the info about those letters from Google Trends:
[A] Google launches Facebook rival ‘Google+’ – Sydney Morning Herald – Jun 29 2011
[B] Google+ social network membership tops 10 million – The Province – Jul 15 2011
[C] Google+ social network adds games – Ottawa Citizen – Aug 12 2011
[D] Google+ opens to everyone, takes fight to Facebook – Zee News – Sep 21 2011

If we use Paul Allen’s user base estimate (an interesting read), we can see that the second spike’s (point D) downward slope correlates to about a 14 million user base increase. This would be from Sept. 21st (the start of the traffic increase on Chitika’s graph) to Sept. 27th (the end of Chikita’s graph). Considering the estimate that there are about 50 million users after this spike, we can conclude that the user base shot up by 33%. Seeing as how new users will be posting several times more than established users, 33% increase of users causing a 60% traffic spike seems fairly reasonable. Of course, the result is that traffic will drop back down to normal levels afterwards. The most interesting points to then compare on Chitika’s graph are the average traffic numbers from before the opening of Google+ and the average traffic after the spike settled down. The numbers from the 18th to 19th seem to average out to 50 while the numbers from the 25th to 27th average out to about 60 on the traffic index.

So what do we know? A 33% increase in user base from 36 million to 50 million correlates to a 20% increase from 50 to 60 on the traffic index. So this new group of 14 million users ended up having a lower usage rate of Google+. How low? Well using these numbers, we can estimate that every 1 million users from the initial base results in 1.39 points on the traffic index. Meanwhile, every 1 million new users results in 0.71 points on the traffic index. That either means newer users use Google+ about half as much as established users OR only about half of those 14 million bothered to stay after seeing what Google+ had to offer. I’m leaning towards concluding that Google+ has a 50% retention rate as human behavior isn’t going to be drastically different in terms of site usage over a large sample size.

Another bit of interesting info is that if you compare the jump from release to their first peak at 10 million users (A to B) and to the spike in September prior to opening to the public (no doubt induced by rumors) on the Google Trends chart, you’ll see that the magnitude of the slopes are the about the same. Considering how the first 10 million users were invite only and the second coming of 14 million users were from open signups, I’d say Google wasted their buzz value (based on Search Volume Index). How much did they waste? If we estimate the Search Volume Index points for the slopes to be about 2, then it took about 0.2 points to get every 1 million users during invite only and about 0.14 points to get every 1 million users after opening signups. So Google squandered about 25% of their publicity buzz after their initial announcement.

Now let’s take my crappy statistical analysis a step further and say that had Google opened signups from the start (or after a 2-3 days of conservative initial testing), they would not have squandered their marketing and gotten a 25% larger user base with 100% retention/higher usage rate (1.39 traffic index points per 1 million users). That means prior to Sept. 21st, instead of 36 million users at 50 traffic index points, they’d have 45 million users at about 62 traffic index points. The following week would have simply continued the trend of signups and they would have hit the 50 million mark anyway. However, you can already see that their average site traffic would be much higher and their signup rate could have possibly accelerated after hitting critical mass instead of slowing down and needing the adrenaline boost of open signups.

The major counterpoints made by Facebook that lead me to this conclusion are the introduction of the better Group/Friend List feature, the much more clear (albeit still not perfect) privacy settings, and the more streamlined interface for managing what is shown to whom on your Facebook page. These were all pushed out in response to Google+ and seeing as how only 50% of users after open signups decided to stay, I’d say that Facebook made a very good counterattack. Stunting Google+’s effective retention rate by 50% is enormous and will guarantee that Facebook stays in the lead for quite a while (perhaps long enough to turn Google+ into a niche social network). All of this could have been avoided by Google if they opened signups immediately. The fallout of their closed beta period is resulting in the same backlash that I predicted: lack of engagement by newer users post open signup, lost momentum (though, not a total loss, just less efficient, and now they have to fight based on features. Features that, I might add, are easily copied by Facebook. Their more unique features, like Hangouts, also have to compete with established products like Skype and all manner of chat systems.

If Google+ ends up falling to the wayside, the wasted marketing due to not immediately opening up the service will be the primary contributing factor to its failure. I just hope that doesn’t come to pass as we consumers need competition in this space.

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