{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

Yesterday, I had a rather heated debate with a fellow online marketer, on one of the most popular topics within SEO at the moment: Namely, the impact of Google+ (and its +1s) on search rankings - or lack of, to be more precise. 

Let me start this post with a couple of caveats. First up, whilst I'm very much on record as not being a fan of Google+ (I *may* have called it 'The King's New Clothes of Social Networking' a few times) my opinion about the topic in question is entirely unrelated to this.

I may not be a fan, but I certainly recognise the impressive offering Google have developed in the fight against Facebook. I have a Google Plus profile, I encourage our clients to use it too and I pop on there at least once a week to see what's what.

Secondly, and this one goes without saying I suppose,  this post is based on my opinion. But frankly, most of the opposing arguments are also based on opinion. Search all you might ('scuse the pun), there is almost no plausible or credible proof that +1s have any impact on SERPs or search visibility.

Whilst I firmly believe that, I should also point out what I am not saying.

  1. I'm not saying brands (or webmasters) shouldn't have Google+ profiles. Far from it, as the branded-search coverage alone makes this worthwhile. After all, who doesn't want a little extra Google real estate when people search your brand?
  2. I'm also not saying that Google doesn't factor 'social signals' in to search rankings. Far from it, as I've long been an advocate of the integration of Search and Social, and can give you plenty of examples of when the two have worked together to give a better result.
  3. Finally, I'm not saying that you shouldn't keep a close eye on how Google develops Plus or +1s in the algorithm in future.

What I am saying is that you shouldn't let passionate or argumentative SEOs convince you that Google+ should be a key part of your site's strategy. Sadly, this is exactly what I see happening far too much.

As a blogger myself (I'm one of the dreaded 'dad bloggers' in my spare time!) I'm a member of a number of blogging communities, where my fellow bloggers and I can discuss our plans, opinions, tactics and ideas.

Not a week goes by without one of them reporting that they've been told (or they've read) that Google+ needs to be central to their strategy, sometimes even going as so far as to say they shouldn't bother with any other social networks in their social strategy. 

Upon further research, very few of these blog posts, slideshares or stories ever actually include any evidence or facts. They're essentially hearsay and opinion painted as fact. Get into an argument with one of these passionate writers and you'll be told things like "Everyone says it, it must be true" and "Prove it doesn't make a difference!"

The second of these comebacks is baffling to me. As somebody saying it doesn't have an impact, surely the impetus isn't on me to provide proof. That would be like asking an Atheist to 'prove' that there isn't a God: can you ever truly prove something doesn't exist? No, you can't.

As a hardy sceptic (and a casual atheist) I take the same view of Google+ as I do to God: prove it to me categorically and I'll take you seriously.

Of course, I wouldn't be any better than them if I didn't provide any proof of my own. And what better proof than Google itself? 

The evidence against...

Despite the fact that Google probably benefits massively from this argument (after all, marketers are telling anybody who will listen that they need to use Google+ more, what isn't there to love for Google in that?) it has actually been very open and honest about this.

Just last week at PubCon in Las Vegas, Matt Cutts explained that social signals like Likes, retweets and +1s will have no short-term impact on your search performance. They won't help you rank better, in other words.

While he did say that a long-term haul of these social signals 'could' have an impact on your influence, the fact remains that Cutts clearly stated social signals from Facebook and Twitter would be just as likely to have this affect as +1s.

In other words, Google+ doesn't need to be the central hub of your social strategy.

There have also been a number of third party studies looking into the effects of Google Plus on rankings. 

Google Plus isn't big enough to use as a ranking signal

And let's face it, in all honesty, how could Google hope to maintain a respectable and competitive search engine if it took data from what is undoubtedly still a very small social network?

Google claims to have almost 250m 'active' users - compared to Facebook's 1bn+ (though how it defines 'active' is clearly very debatable), but even the most anecdotal of evidence will tell you that Google+ is used by only a small proportion of users.  

Take my own Facebook friend list for instance. I've spent some time working out how many of my 700+ Facebook friends are also active on Google+. By basic logic alone, you'd assume it must be at least 150 - if not 200.

But how many of them are actually active on Google+? My best estimate said no more than 20, and I'm being quite generous in my definition of active there.

The simple truth is, very few people are using Google+ in any great capacity at the moment, so Google would be utterly bonkers to make data from it anything but the tiniest, inconsequential factor in search rankings.

And if anybody tells you otherwise, ask them for proof. And I mean proper proof - not signed-in, short-term boosts - I mean long-term, available to all ranking changes which will have actual impacts on the average webmaster.

Henry Elliss

Published 28 October, 2013 by Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss is a senior strategist at Good Relations and contributor at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or via his own parenting blog.

18 more posts from this author

Comments (25)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Avatar-blank-50x50

Tom Benton

Great to see the emperor's clothes finally taken off. Great post Henry.

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Tyler

Moz used data to show a scientific correlation (not to be confused with causation) between rankings and +1s. Did Cutts define "short term" in his remarks? All you have is your self-defined "basic logic," "anecdotal evidence" and an opinion on what would be "utterly bonkers." I'm not betting the house on G+ alone, but I'm sure as heck not changing my opinion of it based on this post.

almost 3 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks Tyler, interesting take. To be honest, most people that seem convinced on the benefit of G+ seem pretty hard-line in their views - i.e. they believe it works and don't want to hear anything to the contrary. However, it's not people like that who need to hear this - it's bloggers and small site owners, who are being scared witless by marketers telling them Google+ is the future, and who are panicking that they don't have any G+ followers so are doomed. I don't disagree that G+ may have an effect (as I clearly state above) but what I don't agree on is that it should be the centre of your marketing strategy. Part of, definitely - but not main part.

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Asad Imam

What are you thoughts about Google Authorship, surely that is a strong enough signal of Google+ 's influence in terms of rankings

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Nick Stamoulis

"sometimes even going as so far as to say they shouldn't bother with any other social networks in their social strategy. "

Really? I'd argue that those SEOs take a look at their own sources of social traffic and I'll bet Google+ is nowhere near the top. Could Google+ play a role in the algorithm? Sure. I doubt Google has no plans for whatever data they can pull from their own social network, but that doesn't mean it's the end-all-be-all way to success.

almost 3 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Nick - I completely agree. As I say in the piece, I'd definitely advise using G+, and making it part of your wider strategy. But making it the center of your strategy is ludicrous.

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

grumpyoldseo

Good article Henry and great to see your findings backing up my own observations over the last year or two. GooglePlus is a ghost town, always has been. But there's just no telling the Google fanboys.

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Scott Valentine

Social engagement may not yet be leading a spider revolution on our sites but all signs point towards a future where social channels push greater relevance and expertise in search results. While it's true that there are fervent subjects who stubbornly defend the emperor and his folly at this point, without integrating Google+ into an encompassing content strategy it may soon be he who has the last laugh.

Thanks for the article and the opportunity to chime in.

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

chris

Take my own Facebook friend list for instance. I've spent some time working out how many of my 700+ Facebook friends are also active on Google+. By basic logic alone, you'd assume it must be at least 150 - if not 200.

But how many of them are actually active on Google+? My best estimate said no more than 20, and I'm being quite generous in my definition of active there.

You have 700 friends? How many do you actually know on a personal basis and talk to, as in move your jaw and noises come out!

If you'd ask how many use Google+ instead of guessing would that not be better? Without the exact figure I get the impression you're are doing your best to pass on your dislike for it.

I use Google+ as my social network. Thankfully I don't get pictures of peoples dinner or silly check ins at McDonald's. Facebook may have more active users but it's the childs social network, Google+ is a little more grown up.

The remarks about it being a ghost town should take a look at who uses it. Virgin use it, a lot as do other huge brands. The BBC use it, Prime Ministers and Presidents use it as do many other well known people and institutions. The Imperial War Museum, The Times, Telegraph to name just a few.

Are you basing the term ghost town on people that use it or 'friends' that follow you? I use it exclusively to blog, instead of the traditional website. Every post is there on Google+, not a headline with a link out, it's all there. I've picked up 70k followers in a few months.

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Chelsea Adams

Hi, Henry!

I appreciate the passion that fueled this article. I can actually hear your voice exasperating "+1s are a social signal!!!!!!! GD it!" -- and I like it.

I tend to agree that +1s are only a "could possibly be maybe kinda sorta" unproven signal that probably doesn't have any weight that is more prominent than the kindasorta weight that tweets/like/shares/comments have.

I do, on the other hand, think that it's not to be overlooked that Google does crawl, index, and return Google+ content in SERP results; *and* it returns them with priority, at that.

I just wrote an article about this (Google returning G+ post content in SERPs) that is based 100% on my search experience and observations of G+ over time. More or less, the idea is that I have found myself reading a lot of content in or through Google+ posts lately because Google keeps putting links to G+ content in page one of my SERP results -- not because I (like the larger world) am going to consume content in G+ daily.

As a tangible example, I did 15 searches for competitive search queries, and 12 out of 15 of those queries returned at least one (often more than one) G+ post in the page one results.

Note that this comment is totally not a plea for SEOs to make the +1 the center of their strategy (why would any SEO make a social network the center of their strategy...??). I am suggesting that a Google+ content strategy and G+ circle building might be useful as part of a larger content or social media strategy if ranking on page one is a goal.

Here's a link to the article: http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/2013/10/google-plus-strategy-serps/

Feel free to take it (the link) out if you want (the intention of this post isn't to Spam you with links to my content!)

Final thoughts:
Although this discussion can be infuriating; I kind of love having it. I love topics that get people all riled up. Keeps the heart pumping ;)

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Social Strategy SEO

I think Google+ is where individuals and organisations are themselves.
This makes for a better social environment. Fakebook and Twaddle are very superficial and rehearsed in my experience and I have created a few experiments with social and traditional SEO which show that once you are established social has a mild effect but if you are new and just starting out it sky rockets your presence. Just sayin ;-)

almost 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Tom Evans

Thanks for so eloquently explaining what I felt intuitively.

The bottom line is that Google is great for search but who actually ever asked it to provide a social media service? I was quite happy with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and the like. The only invites I get to Google+ are from people I already know.

Apart from anything, I find the GUI is non-intuitive and what looks like brilliant Google Hangouts on the surface have all "hung up" every time I've participated in one - again, very happy with Skype.

And also use Google search daily - stick to what you are good at IMHO

p.s. my aim is to help and add constrictive criticism, not to denigrate (just in case this is being indexed and scanned)

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks for all the comments, guys - I'm glad this has created a bit of debate if nothing else!

Scott Valentine - I completely agree. I'm a massive proponent of the merging of social and SEO, and I tell all our clients to make sure their search strategies incorporate as much social as possible, including Google+ (when relevant)

Chris - Re those brands you mention - first up, all of them are equally using Twitter and Facebook, so they're not putting Google+ at the center of their strategy. Secondly, Google have made huge efforts to court big brands, because they know their involvement gives them credibility. That doesn't make it successful...

Take Virgin America as an example. They post exactly the same thing to Facebook as they do to Google+. Compare the last 3 posts - the "kid in a homemade plane costume" post got 1,077 likes on FB, 98 +1's on Google+. It carries on like that - they may have over 1,000,000 followers, but the engagement levels are miniscule.

Chelsea Adams - you make a great point, and I agree completely that Google is favouring Google+ content in SERPs. Heck, if people were telling bloggers to move their blog posts whole-sale to Google+, I'd be tempted to agree! But the idea that it will help their own SITE rank better is still unproven.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

MattySwan

Great piece and well written Henry. Only thing is that I feel you are speculating about how the search algorithm works. While I am not arguing for or against, I am just pointing that out - and for the same reason, while I agree there may not be a huge amount of benefit in giving Google+ a central role to your SEO strategy, there is no harm in including it, as it really doesn't take too much time to do so. As with all things SEO, I would recommend a pragmatic approach.

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

MattySwan - I completely agree. A pragmatic approach sounds sensible!

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Sophie

Great article, really interesting to read. It's so hard to know what to believe when it comes to Google+ affecting rankings but i make sure i dabble in it weekly, just in case! But i definitely wouldn't disregard the other social networks in place of Google+, it's clear from what you've said Henry that they are all equally taken into consideration.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

浮気調査

Very helpful article. Not just Google+, but there has always been a cloud over facebook shares, twitter retweets and so on. It was good to have a different view of information.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Ranjan Padhi

Hmm.. Well I can see Gif animated post getting more attraction in Google+. As, myself spend most of the time giving +1's to animated Gif rather than normal post's. May be that's the reason its getting less engagement in Google + compared to Facebook. Must try something different with Google Plus..

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks for all the feedback, guys - I knew this would be a contentious issue, but I'm glad to see lots of you have found it helpful too.

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

(P.S. Don't think I haven't spotted the irony of how many times this has been shared on Google+!!)

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Ashley Webb

Valuable post, thanks! I especially like the mindframe. Treat it as one component of your strategy, not THE solution.

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks Ashley! As I've said a few times, I don't argue that it shouldn't be a PART of your strategy - far from it, as I know several brands that are going great guns on Google+. But the idea that it will have a big impact on your SEO is a sad fallacy.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Ben Smart, Marketing Manager at Smart360 Photography

How about the impact on Google+ Local pages? More +1 = higher on search rankings = more visibility in search results / on Google Maps.

over 2 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Hey Ben - that's a great point, and one I heartily agree with. On a micro scale, Google+ clearly has an effect on some aspects of visibility. But for overall SEO? I still say it has very little.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Steve Masters, Services Director at Vertical Leap

Criticising Google+ for not helping rankings is like criticising a kettle for not making toast.

Why should +1s help web rankings? They are easy to manipulate. In my view, Google would be crazy to just rank sites based on a number of clicks on a +1 button. That would be like counting a number of backlinks and calling it popularity. Gaining +1s, and even gaining reviews, is simple - you just pay an SEO farm in India and have armies of people trying to manipulate your popularity.

The major factor that Henry misses in this argument is that Google+ offers a whole new layer for Google - one of identity. It is able to take an aggregation of behaviour across +1 activity and work out whether it's valid. Who is voting things up? Are those people influential and popular? Are they real people? What affects rankings these days relies on so many nuances, and of course a ranking for one user is not the same as for another, depending on their own history, location and connections.

over 2 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.