Would You Use Google+ More If You Knew It Could Help Your Search Rankings?

    August 20, 2013
    Chris Crum

Update: Matt Cutts has responded to Moz’s report. See end for update.

Sure, some of you are already using Google+ a lot, and I’m not one to call it a ghost town, but I don’t think many would argue that it doesn’t get the level of use as Facebook. But if you knew for a fact that Google+ could directly help you rank better in Google’s search results, wouldn’t you dedicate more time to it?

Would you use Google+ more if you saw direct ranking benefits? Let us know in the comments.

It seems like only yesterday that Google was telling us that the +1 button had no direct effect on rankings. Actually, it was in October.

“In the short term, we’re still going to have to study and see how good the signal is, so right now, there’s not really a direct effect where if you have a lot of +1s, you’ll rank higher,” Matt Cutts said in a Google Hangout back then.

Google has not come out and officially said that +1’s will help you rank higher now, but Moz (formerly SEOmoz) has put out an interesting report suggesting that they will. Each year, they run a scientific correlation study looking at factors that have a strong association with higher Google rankings. This time, it found a very interesting trend.

“After Page Authority, a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor,” writes Cyrus Shepard. “In fact, the correlation of Google +1s beat out other well known metrics including linking root domains, Facebook shares, and even keyword usage.”

Plus Ones

Searchmetics also recently found significant correlation of +1s and rankings:

Plus ones

Shepard notes that Moz found similar correlation with Facebook activity in rankings in a past study, but this was generally dismissed as not being a direct relationship, as that content likely had a lot of overlapping factors (like links and high quality content). He says it’s different this time with Google+, because it’s “built for SEO” in that posts are crawled and indexed “almost immediately,” Google+ posts pass link equity, and Google+ is “optimized for semantic relevance.”

Basically, Google+ posts are very similar to blog posts.

It doesn’t hurt that Google recently made +1s a lot more visible within Google+ itself, showing +1’d content more (which could lead to even more +1s).

Plus Ones

But +1s aren’t the only Google+ property that could be helping sites’ search rankings. Search Mojo CEO Janet Driscoll Miller recently made a pretty compelling case that Google authorship is substantially impacting rankings.

None of this is officially acknowledge by Google, though in that Hangout above, Cutts did talk up the possibilities of authorship.

Google is clearly doing just about all it can to keep from having to point users to third-party properties. This is most evident with its continuous expansion of the Knowledge Graph, but it also means pointing people to Google+ among other properties.

As I mentioned in a previous article, Google is already sometimes ranking Google+ URLs for content shared on the social network better than the actual URL of that content.

Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t seem to be a bad idea to be utilizing Google+ as much as possible if you want to improve your rankings. It certainly can’t hurt. That is unless you find a way to abuse it, then Google will surely find a way to make it hurt.

Have you seen any direct relationship between rankings and Google+ activity? Is this a good direction for Google to go in? Let us know in the comments.

Update: Matt Cutts responded to the new Moz report on HackerNews (h/t: Search Engine Land). This is what he said:

Just trying to decide the politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings. Let’s start with correlation != causation: http://xkcd.com/552/

But it would probably be better to point to this 2011 post (also from SEOMoz/Moz) from two years ago in which a similar claim was made about Facebook shares: http://moz.com/blog/does-google-use-facebook-shares-to-influ… . From that blog post from two years ago: “One of the most interesting findings from our 2011 Ranking Factors analysis was the high correlation between Facebook shares and Google US search position.”

This all came to a head at the SMX Advanced search conference in 2011 where Rand Fishkin presented his claims. I did a polite debunk of the idea that Google used Facebook shares in our web ranking at the conference, leading to this section in the 2011 blog post: “Rand pointed out that Google does have some access to Facebook data overall and set up a small-scale test to determine if Google would index content that was solely shared on Facebook. To date, that page has not been indexed, despite having quite a few shares (64 according to the OpenGraph).”

If you make compelling content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc. But that doesn’t mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking.

Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.

Shepard, the author of the report responded back:

Thanks Matt, I think we both agree that Google doesn’t use +1’s directly in your algorithm. But are you implying there are no SEO benefits to posting popular content on Google+? Google does use PageRank and anchor text, 2 things present in Google+ posts that aren’t passed as easily in Facebook and Twitter. It seems to me that a popular post on Google+, shared and linked to by well known authorities, is just like earning a high authority editorial link – and this is a bit different than most other social media platforms.

Now, if you tell me you treat Google+ differently in a way that blocks link juice, blocks anchor text and doesn’t pass link equity, then I think I would have to rethink my thesis. Regardless, I think we’re both on the same page here. The goal is not to accumulate a massive amounts of +1’s (and I’ll amend my post to make that clear) but to share high quality content on Google+ and build your influence through this channel, and this can lead to real world success.

My argument is that Google+ as a platform passes actual SEO value, and I don’t think this is a bad thing or something that needs to be debunked. Feel free to disagree if I’m way off base here.