Last year Instagram was the new up-and-comer on the social media landscape, exploding onto the scene and earning a $1 billion pay check from Facebook. With 58 photos being uploaded per second and well over a billion photos uploaded to the site as of May 2012, Instagram was clearly the success story of 2012.

Just like Pinterest in 2011 and Foursquare in 2010, Instagram burst onto the scene last year and cemented its place at the top of the social media table. So who will take 2013’s crown?

I think 2013 is the year for Google Plus to display its credentials. It may be 18 months old (having been set up in June 2011), but Google Plus has been growing quietly in the background, away from all the hype (and controversy) that the likes of Facebook and Twitter attract.

With an estimated 525 million users, Google Plus has an existing user base that can compete with the likes of Twitter, and overpowers the likes of LinkedIn. But many still see G+ as Google’s attempt to beat Facebook, with features like Circle’s and Hangouts seen as a feeble attempt to try and persuade users to ditch Facebook and come over to the dark side.

That’s the thing, Google Plus isn’t Facebook. It can’t compete with the sheer user base and dominance that Facebook possesses. But where Google Plus can differentiate itself is in one area: search.

Google is the king of search, and is making it essential for brands that want to rank highly in search engines to have a presence on Google Plus.

Google have engineered it that the more +1’s a story receives, the higher the story reaches it search engines, and is constantly evolving G+’s role in search, factoring in your connection’s shares and content into your search rankings.

What’s clear though, is that those who are more active on Google Plus will reap the benefits first.

Rand Fishkin, founder of SEOmoz, conducted a study into whether sharing content on G+ would get a page indexed.

He found that the more authority a Google Plus profile has, the faster links will get indexed. This means that someone like Lady Gaga could have a link indexed within minutes.

While we all may not have the power and popularity of a Lady Gaga, it does show that it’s beneficial to have a strong Google Plus presence if you want to rise up the search rankings.

The desire to be number one on Google isn’t going away anytime soon, and many brands will be exploring the possibilities of Google Plus to see how they can capitalise in the search rankings.

What do you think – is 2013 the year of Google Plus?

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