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