Yes Virginia, Google+ Can Directly Impact Your Search Rankings

Every time I see an article about how Google +1s currently have no direct impact on search rankings, I cringe a little bit. Not because I believe Google +1′s DO currently have a direct impact on your search engine rankings. The reason I cringe is because so many people seem to read a quote like the below…

“Google +1′s Have No Direct Impact On Rankings” (Search Engine Land – Quoting Google Search Engineer Matt Cutts On August 20, 2013)

…and what they hear in their head is “Google+ currently has no direct impact on your search rankings.” And that interpretation is simply not true – nor do I believe it is what Google is actually saying in quotes like the above.

Understanding the semantics

I recently gave a presentation at the Blog Elevated conference here in Houston (which I was really impressed with by the by). Within it was a slide showcasing Matt’s quote above, with the following notation by me…

“Giving a page a +1 is not the same as searching while being logged into a Google account you heavily use and pad with information about your interests and connections.”

I’m not usually one to analyze the way Matt words things. But in this case, I believe people commonly confuse a “+1″ with “Google+” as a whole.

The quote by Matt above refers to whether or not a post of yours getting a large amount of +1′s will directly effect the ranking of said post within the search results in a positive fashion. And in that specific case, I’d have to agree with him.

But this does not mean that your visibility (or lack thereof) on Google+, especially within your niche and target consumer base, does not have both direct and indirect impact on your search engine rankings. Because it does.

The direct impact of Google+ on your rankings

The bottom line is that if a user has a Google+ account and searches Google while logged in, it can indeed have an direct effect on the results they receive for their search queries – and thus where you rank within them.

Let’s look at an example. This morning I did a search for “SEO Software” (without quotes). When I do this search from a proxy (which has no Google+ account, no cookies and isn’t logged in), Raven Tools isn’t on the first page of the search results for that phrase. (Click on all images to enlarge them.)

Search via proxy

When I do the search while logged into my personal Google+ account, they’re #3.

Me searching logged in

Furthermore, when I do that same search while logged into my husband’s Google+ account (which he rarely, if ever, uses), I get results that mimic those shown when searching via the proxy.

Now, not only does my Google+ activity combined with searching while logged in have a direct effect on Raven Tools (by ranking them higher for me), but it also has a direct impact on Authority Labs (who isn’t in the top 10 via proxy, but is for me logged in).

Additionally, it also has a direct effect on Hubspot.com’s listing, SheerSeo.com’s listing and Scribe’s listing – by knocking all three of them off the front page of results for me (Scribe was replaced with a Google+ post by Jeremy Rivera linking to Raven Tools).

The reason my results noticeably change could be attributed to many things, but they’d all be speculation at this point.

  • Is it because I’ve circled and heavily interact with several “faces” of Raven Tools on Google+?
  • Is it because I belong to the Raven Tools affiliate community on Google+?
  • Is it because I have Raven Tools in my circles on Google+?
  • Does Authority Labs get a boost because I’ve circled Brian LaFrance (who is a “face” of Authority Labs) and interact with him a lot?
  • Is it because the people I’ve circled are also heavily connected to these companies and/or the faces of these companies?
  • Is it because I’ve interacted on links to articles from these sites within Google+?

Regardless, my use of Google+ and my searching while logged into it has had a direct impact on my search results, and thus other people’s search engine rankings.

Another example. I asked Melissa Fach to log into Google+ this morning and then do the same search I did above on Google.com. Her results are below.

Melissa searching while logged in

Melissa sees the same boost for Raven Tools. But in her results, Authority Labs doesn’t show in the top ten as it did with mine (which is partially hysterical, because she writes for them and has that fact in her Google+ profile). A Google+ post from Majestic SEO shows in her top 10 results, but not mine or via proxy. And once again, SheerSeo.com and Scribe get the boot from the first page of results.

Another example? I asked Brian LaFrance of authority labs to do the same search. His results are below.

Brian searching while logged in

His results show Raven Tools at #3. Authority Labs shows in the top 10 for him (though I’d be surprised if it didn’t LOL) while SheerSEO.com and Scribe drop off the first page.

Yet another example? Max Minzer is a monster on Google+ (not in regards to “being circled” but in regards to using it beyond heavily). I asked him to do the same as Melissa. His results are below.

Max searching while logged in

Raven Tools appears to be winning when it comes to Google+. Once again, they’re #3 for the search for Max. A site called ibusinesspromoter.com gets a double listing (video and main page) in his top 10 results, but not any of the others (only the video shows in the others). The same post from Jermey Rivera that showed in my results while logged in also shows in his, as does a post by AJ Kohn. Losing their first page slots? Hubspot.com, SheerSeo.com and Scribe.

Do you see why there is such a huge importance in understanding the semantics between “+1′s” having no direct impact vs. “Google+” having no direct impact?

Yes, this direct impact obviously only occurs if the searcher is actively using Google+ and searches while logged in. My point isn’t to say Google+ will change your results for 90% of the people searching your keywords online. But it absolutely can directly change where you rank (positively or negatively) for those who are doing so while logged into their Google+ account.

But your target demographic isn’t the SEO community. It doesn’t heavily use Google+ like they do. So none of the above really matters to you right?

Let me ask you a question.

Are the influencers in your community using Google+?

The indirect impact of Google+ on your rankings

By influencers, I mean the high visibility people within your niche. Some might argue that I’m an influencer in the SEO and affiliate marketing communities. I definitely blog about both. Which often means linking out to other sites when I do.

But let’s step away from the SEO community for a moment and look at a niche with much less of a tech savvy skew.

Let’s say I am writing a post about why I follow the primal diet on my personal blog. And within that post, I mention that eating meat is healthy. I want to link out to something that supports that statement. Typically, I’d search for what I’m looking for and scan the first page of results for a source that I trust.

So I do a search for “is eating meat healthy”. I scan the results looking for a source I’m familiar with that I can trust linking to without needing to read the entire article. Doing the search while logged into Google shows me a result from Kris Gunners at #4 (he is not in the top ten without me being logged in).

Kris Gunners Result

I’ve circled Kris on Google+. I had actually never heard of him before coming across some posts from him ON Google+. I interact with his posts there quite a bit now. While a little extremist, I know his opinions on eating meat and I feel confident his article will explain what I’m trying to get across. So guess who gets a link from my post? His blog post on the topic.

His effective use of Google+ means he has a following on it. As part of that following my search results are altered to have him show up within them. As a blogger in that niche (which means I’m an influencer in that niche on some scale), I end up linking to him as a result.

That link will end up helping him in all versions of the search results – both by those searching logged into Google+ and those not.

Where Google is Heading

Yep, these are smaller scale examples. No, Google+’s impact on your search rankings is not “large scale” for now – and it may not ever be. But, this is where Google is actively trying to head.

Authorship, Publishership, Google+ search result customizations, understanding your intent, interests and social connections… this is where they want to go on a large scale. Humanrank vs. Pagerank. Will they ever fully get there? Who knows.

But, I prefer to be ahead of the curve and not chasing after it – especially when there’s clear evidence there are already small scale effects. To quote Todd Hartley from his SMX West panel, “Don’t bet against Google+.”

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

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The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

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Comments

  1. Totally agree. I am one of those who has stated that +1s IN ISOLATION don’t appear to have an impact, and we made an attempt to measure that to prove the statement. But, and it’s a big but, G+ impacts rankings in many ways!

    • Yeah – the part that drives me nuts is that people hear Google+ as an entity has no effect on search results vs. hearing “+1′s” alone. Hopefully this showed some folks why that’s not the case.

      Also, for anyone interested, the measurement attempt Eric referenced in his comment is here.

  2. Hi Rae,

    I also feel a lot of people confuse +1s with Google+ as a whole. Even though it’s nice to have lots of people to like what you’re posting, the fact that your presence is more visible to your target audience is far more essential. From working at Brand.com, an online reputation management company in Philadelphia, I’ve learned ranking on the first page of search results is crucial if you’re a business owner, especially since about 75 percent of consumers never go beyond the first page of search results. There’s an unspoken belief that if you’re not listed on the first page, you’re insignificant (even though we know that’s not true).

    Anyway, thanks for clarifying this up! I hope more people hear about this.

  3. One of the key things to realize is that Google+ Shared links are NOT NoFollowed, and Google deliberately sculpted G+ that way for a reason. I still believe that the links there are not treated the same way as a web link (and we all know that PageRank is a poor measure of, well, everything), but the way they architected that was intentional.

    So, it must do something beyond personalization. Also, you can see G+ posts themselves ranking on their own merits, even with personalization off (ala incognito mode).

    • Yep, I’ve seen G+ posts ranking on occasion via proxies as well. But, the altering of the ranks as with the Raven Tools and Authority Labs example is something I only see when logged in – with web history off. I don’t use Gmail at all, etc. The only Google product I use on the regular (of those they say influences results) is G+.

  4. Glad to see someone is reporting the right thing here. On G+ I have been interacting with “The Brand” with this exact thing in mind.

    People now searching while logged in will see my site more often than not because of my interaction on G+ while logged in. To me this isn’t something new it is something that makes perfect sense.

    Side note: Never believe what Matt Cutts says when he is wearing a dark shirt in his videos :)

    • Hopefully I didn’t imply that this was new – it’s been going on for quite some time. My hope was to get people to realize that a “+1″ is not the same as Google+ in it’s whole form. :)

  5. I agree and especially when you read this sentence from Google’s own Documentation;

    “Linking your Google+ page and your site …. also gives Google information we can use to determine the relevancy of your site to a user query in Google Web Search.”

    From: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1708844?hl=en

  6. So, not to be the contrarian, but doesn’t this all just prove that “personalization” is working? There’s no evidence *yet* that +1s influence personalized results. So then isn’t this just personalization like it always has been?

    Not saying you aren’t on to something, it just seems like typical “personalization”, like it always has been.

    • Hey Joe – dude, I love good questions / thoughts / debate / being made to think. :)

      To be clear, I am not saying “+1′s” have a direct effect on search results. The whole post was about how it’s not about that – as Eric put it, an isolation of “more +1′s = higher rankings” – but that Google+ as a whole is incorporated into and thus changes search results for active users of the service – and therefore Google+ usage does have direct impact on SERPs… which is separate from giving a post a +1.

      My web history settings are turned to off – you should know I’m paranoid. Haha :) If they were going by cookies despite me having those settings off, then me being logged in or logged out should have returned the same results (but it didn’t).

      Additionally, when I logged in as Sean on my laptop, the results were identical to the proxy results… his web history was also off and his results were also set to “private results” by default. However, he rarely ever uses Google+.

      By default, Google includes Google+ input into your search results unless you turn them off https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/2410479 … the real question then becomes “how much?” so to speak…

      I don’t think the average person will even realize what’s “going on”, much less figure out how to turn it off. But, that’s just opinion. :)

      • Oh ok, I didn’t realize you had web history settings are turned off…..this is interesting then.

        • Yep – was to me too when I first noticed it happening. And, as an aside, the more active I am on G+, the more I notice it. I often will see my own recipes from my personal blog show up in the top 10 results when searching for new ones while logged into G+. :)

    • Melissa Fach says:

      Joe, I am in Authority Labs everyday and they didn’t display for me, which makes me think personalization isn’t an issue.

      • Yeah Melissa – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find that one a little weird considering you write for them. But, the real question may be how much you engage with them in a way Google can use to make assumptions. :)

  7. I came to your site after a long long time. What you said above resonated with what you said in an interview years back that I saw on YouTube long time back. Google is thinking big and trying understand the intent of the user. What you said in that video is exactly how it turned out to be with the google plus example. Good one.

  8. Ha! I didn’t know I’d have such a big influence on your search results. Makes me feel a little special.

    That being said, I appreciate you doing the legwork to put together these examples. It’s way too easy to get lost in the echo-chamber that just repeats Matt Cutts verbatim and doesn’t analyze it any further.

    • Jeremy – I think what Matt stated is true at the present time. I think people just hear getting a lot of +1′s doesn’t directly impact search results and assume Google+ usage as a whole is being discussed. My experience as a searcher says that’s not the case. :)

  9. Really enjoyed the post, Rae. I also appreciated you taking a step away from this ‘tech savvy’ industry in your example — makes a great point for users outside of the SEO/etc. community. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Said another way, if you think of G+ as an ecosystem instead of yet another social platform, you’ll better understand potential impact on search visibility. Gave a talk earlier this year about local SEO and had a bit about some ways to take advantage of Google+. During Q&A an attendee wearing a smarmy grin on his face raised his hand and asked (with a snicker) if all my clients serve SEOs & tech people exclusively since those are the only people that use G+. I pointed out anyone using gmail is logged into google and hooked into the G+ ecosystem. Perhaps more importantly, android device users have their google accounts with them 24/7. Whenever they leave reviews while mobile on a business’ G+Local page, that’s part of the G+ ecosystem. There’s definitely a misunderstanding among marketers about plus.google.com and Google+: the former is just part of the latter. You could argue, though, that so long as the misconception persists, it leaves folk that “get it” at a competitive advantage ;-)

  11. William Gomes says:

    Right but does anyone actually own a site that has no links to it but magically is popular on 1+ and ranks well? Because everything I am seeing is just correlation…

    • I don’t think I stated nor implied anywhere in the article that you could have a site with zero links and have it magically become popular on Google+ and then rank in the general public SERPs due to utilizing Google+. So, there’s really no way to rebut a claim I didn’t make nor do I believe occurs.

      I’m seeing a lot of correlation too – so is Google – which they’re using to alter my search results.

  12. Hey Rae, I think you’re onto something, and this is further evidenced by the recent changes in Google Analytics. Now they’re breaking out “social” as it’s own traffic channel, independent of “referral.” I’m still digging into it a little bit, but no question social in general and G+ specifically will begin to play a larger role, if they aren’t already.

  13. Hi Rae, excellent post. It is clear that Matt Cutts is very careful about what he say’s and often his comments are taken out of context. I think we can safely put this to bed by saying:

    “When your customers search on Google, the results to the right may include relevant posts, photos, and videos from your Google+ page. Get found across Google, right when your customers are most interested.”

    Furthermore: “Think of your Google+ page as your brand hub. Your page, along with your profile image and recent posts, is eligible to show on the right-hand side of our results when relevant to a customer’s search. Relevant posts can also show up within search results for your page’s followers.”

    These are quotes directly taken from http://www.google.com/+/business/

    There is no suggestion that having a Google+ page, and +1′s will improve the rankings of your own website. There is every suggestion that posts, pages and videos created in your by Google+ account could be served in the SERPs. So, Google+ provides ‘another’ source for exposing your brand to potential customers.

    • I definitely think Matt is careful on how he words things – with good reason. :) That’s why I try not to read too much into what he says. In this case, I believe too many others did, so I finally wrote the post. ;-) Thanks for the input David!

  14. No matter how many +1s I still dont see the Bucs listed as a legitimate NFL team ;)

  15. In my humble opinion I think that the more popularity that google plus service gets the more impact it will have on search engine results then it currently does. The other day I made a post about free marketing services giveaway and then search free marketing services to behold my google plus account post with the link to my web page. I like the thoughts of google plus weighing in on search ranking, making it harder to manipulate serps in my opinion, I may be extremely confused on this subject but I think I’m thinking in the right direction though.

  16. What’s the search impact of a Google+ follow versus a +1?

    If you had to choose one, which would you choose?

  17. I think that Google + does affect rankings as long as the plus ones are not manipulated and are genuine. Where you get that plus one also matters a lot.

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