Google's +1s do not have a direct effect on a site's ranking in search results. Google's Matt Cutts said as much in a "Power Searching With Google" hangout on Google+ (via Alex Graves). However, he did indicate that Google is really only getting started with authorship, which he hinted will only become a stronger signal going forward.
Have you seen benefits of getting people to click the +1 button on your content? Let us know in the comments.
Right now, it seems, Google cares a lot more about authorship, and expects this to become possibly a weightier signal in the future. Here's more of what Cutts had to say in the hangout:
"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. But there are things like, we have an authorship proposal, where you can use nice standards to markup your webpage, and you'll actually see a picture of the author right there, and it turns out that if you see a picture of the author, sometimes you'll have higher click through, and people will say, 'oh, that looks like a trusted resource.' So there are ways that you can participate and sort of get ready for the longer term trend of getting to know not just that something was said, but who said it and how reputable they were."
"I think if you look further out in the future and look at something that we call social signals or authorship or whatever you want to call it, in ten years, I think knowing that a really reputable guy - if Dan has written an article, whether it's a comment on a forum or on a blog - I would still want to see that. So that's the long-term trend."
"It's just the case that that picture is just more likely to attract attention. It's just a little more likely to get the clicks, and you now, it's almost like an indicator of trust."
"The idea is you want to have something that everybody can participate in and just make these sort of links, and then over time, as we start to learn more about who the high quality authors are, you could imagine that starting to affect rankings."
This is not the first time Cutts has downplayed the significance of the +1 button with regards to ranking. At SMX Advanced back in June, Cutts said (according to a liveblogged account of the conversation), "When we look at +1, we’ve found it’s not necessarily the best quality signal right now.”
It's going to be interesting to see how Google progresses with how it handles social signals, because it may have some major competition right around the corner. You know that little social network that just surpassed a billion active users? They're talking about doing search. Here's what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said about it this past week:
“As Mark said, I think people are surprised how much search is done on Facebook, you know, every day there’s enormous percentage of search. There’s also a promise in the market that search could become more social that we don’t think this has been met. When you’re looking for information, the question is who do you want it from, the wisdom of crowds or the wisdom of friends? Our answer is the information that’s most relevant for users is really about friends. That if I’m looking for a restaurant to go to in New York this week, I’d rather get a recommendation from a friend. That’s really what we’re working on."
OK, so getting a bunch of +1s on your content is not going to necessarily going to get it ranked higher in Google's organic listings, and Google is not necessarily looking to it as a quality signal. However, there are still clear benefits to the button for search visibility. Consider that many people are seeing Google's "Search Plus Your World" results, which push social connections (frequently from Google+) into the search results, making the +1 button a much more significant factor. For that matter, Google tends to show less regular organic results on pages these days. The button can also, of course, spread content throughout Google+ itself. And there's still no reason to think Google won't adopt it as a more significant signal in the future.
Based on what Cutts said, however, authorship is practically a must for content providers. And even if your'e not seeing major benefits from that now, it sounds like we're only in the beginning of how Google is going to use it. Of course, authorship is linked directly to your Google+ profile.
On a related note, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller has also been talking about authorship, and how the sites you're linked to don't necessarily have any effect on each other based on your connection to them. Barry Schwartz points to this Google Webmaster Help thread where he said, "No, there generally wouldn't be a connection with regards to crawling, indexing, or ranking between two websites that are both linked from your Google Profile."
So, in other words, if you have one site that was penalized by Google, it should have no direct negative effect on another site you're connected to, just because you're part of both sites.
Do you think Google is getting social search right? How could Google improve it? Let us know what you think in the comments.