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Last week I presented at SMX London on a Google+ panel which looked at research I had done on the impact Google+ has to organic search.

The research showed some very interesting results!

Firstly, what does Google say?

So starting with the theory, Google says

On average, search ads with annotations have a 5-10% uplift in click through rate and the AdWords Social Extension helps you show more of them.

All sounds pretty sensible to me.

But let’s test it out…

So if Google is saying you’re likely to see a 5-10% increase in CTR, I thought the best way to do this would be by reviewing the performance of our clients in Google Webmaster Tools. 

I picked those with strong Google+ brand pages so that I could get a good idea about which were likely to benefit most from this. 

The main example site I used was Soft32.com, which had 456 Google+ votes on its brand page at the time of testing. So not huge numbers, but you’d expect to still see it benefiting from the increased CTR impact of Google+…

Result = 44% Decrease in CTR With +1!

Yes, you did read that correctly – without +1 this generated a 9% CTR, yet with +1 this dropped to 5%. 

That’s a huge drop, and certainly not the 5-10% increase we expected to experience. But, having tested a larger range of sites and asking for advice on Twitter,  this isn’t the exception, at the moment it’s the rule.

So far, at best, I’ve seen mixed results between positive and negative CTRs. However, recently I have heard of many sites experiencing positive results for product-based listings.

But, why is that?

Thinking about it, the lower CTR actually makes more sense than you would first think.

For two reasons:

  1. +1 results are inflated so they’re not always relevant to a specific query, they’re just personalised. This means that they are often less relevant than standard listings.
  2. Many homepages appear as annotated +1 results so the CTR is always likely to be lower in comparison to a URL where a high percentage of visits is likely to be via branded search.

But what about the impact to rankings and organic traffic?

This is the real question. If the CTR is lower than average, but it’s for extra traffic that you wouldn’t have had previously, I would still class this as a good thing. The impact to how this affects your rankings, and subsequently your organic search traffic is the most important metric to measure here. 

So I took a study using Analytics Canvas to group together trends on how our clients have been impacted by organic traffic during the last three to four months. These were placed into two sets: 

Set 1 Result = 19.5% decrease in traffic for sites not using Google+

So not good! But how does this compare to those who are actively using social?

Set 2 Result = 42.6% increase in traffic for sites who are using Google+

So that’s a huge difference in organic traffic when comparing the two! 

Does this mean that Google+ has a direct correlation to organic rankings?

No! It doesn’t. But it does show that having a strong social footprint is something that the sites which are performing incredibly well have in common, so they must be doing something right! 

And likewise, the sites which are struggling all have a weak social profile so I would definitely say that’s something they need to pay more attention towards improving.

What are other brands seeing? 

Just as a comparison, I wanted to get an outside perspective of a leading UK brand.

For this, I picked ASOS as it has a very strong profile on Google+ with over 300,000 people having the ASOS brand page listed in their circles. 

Result = 100% increase in organic search visibility during the last 12 months

Again, this isn’t directly down to Google+ or social media but it shows that Asos is a brand that are doing the right things in Google’s eyes and is clearly being rewarded with extra organic visibility as a result!

Conclusion

  • +1’s are currently having a negative impact to CTRs but this is for rankings which have been inflated, so it's generating you additional traffic, not less.
  • Sites which have strong social profiles are experiencing a strong uplift in organic traffic, during the last six months especially.
  • A strong social footprint is likely to make your rankings more defensible and future proof to algorithm updates. So rather than thinking about the next quick fix or latest SEO or link building tactic, make content marketing the centre of your SEO strategy instead!
Kevin Gibbons

Published 24 May, 2012 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

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Jenni

"Sites which have strong social profiles are experiencing a strong uplift in organic traffic, during the last six months especially." I don't think you can draw that conclusion from your study alone. With ASOS in particular, you don't know what on page and link building changes they've made (or if you do know, you haven't mentioned it).

There are too many factors involved to make any kind of sweeping conclusion.

about 4 years ago

Tim Aldiss

Tim Aldiss, Consultant/Director at ThinkSearch

Nice one Kev. Really good to see some research into this and your methods and insights all very credible.

I have just one observation though. In regards to personalised results being given greater prominence you state "This means that they are often less relevant than standard listings." Is this what you find? Surely Google have considered this and are giving them prominence because they are filtered by a second algorithm - that of your peers?

about 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Jenni yes, it's a completely outside perspective - which I agree on it's own doesn't show why Asos have benefited so strongly from organic search. What I meant was that from the trends I'm seeing, when I analysed sites that are heavily using social - they have experienced large uplifts in organic traffic during this period as a common trend.

Again, this doesn't show that social is the direct cause of this - but it shows that these sites are doing the right things (writing great content, attracting natural links, social signals etc...) and getting rewarding in Google as a result.

@Tim I agree that is Google's intention. I have often found found that content promoted doesn't really answer a specific question (especially for informational queries), it's just personalised and closely relevant. Product searches are doing much better though in terms of CTRs, so it does seem to be influencing buying decisions here already.

about 4 years ago

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Kevin Gallagher

Thanks for the research but "Sites which have strong social profiles are experiencing a strong uplift" does not prove anything. I am sure you know that there is so many other factors that could be causing the uplift. So it is a bit of a leap to claim IMO. Correlation does not imply causation

about 4 years ago

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Kieran Flanagan

Thanks for the post, nice info in there. One thing that was a little unclear (or maybe I am having a stupid day) is you say:

So starting with the theory, Google says:

"On average, search ads with annotations have a 5-10% uplift in click through rate and the AdWords Social Extension helps you show more of them."

and then go onto to discuss organic. Google is discussing search ads. Still, really interesting that +1 results have a lower CTR. I think you may be right in the assumption that results with +1 may get shown for less targeted searches. It would be good if you could segment results with +1 against impressions to see if they are getting shown against odd things.

about 4 years ago

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Jon Lim

I think to delve a little deeper, you should take a look at the content that those companies that you have examined have produced.

Why?

If they have a strong social presence, it's quite possible that they are also producing very good content that they are sharing across their channels, which is getting re-shared, retweeted, Liked, +1'd, and commented on.

All of those "social signals" as well as the link juice from people sharing might be the larger contributor, not so much *just* the social presence.

Just my two cents.

about 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

I'm still on the fence about the long term success of Google+ and the +1 button. I've seen a lot of Google products come and go over the years, and this one is facing some stiff competition from Twitter and Facebook. I'm of the mindset that it can't hurt. Since it's a Google product that means Google can see how people are using it and add it as a ranking factor.

about 4 years ago

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JP

Google is struggling one more time with is Google+, they're pushing people to use it, and if you use it good: they reward you like a dog been rewarded...
Google + is just a big place for spamming people all day long....
I have 2000 friends on Facebook and they are all surfing and kitesurfing pros, not a single one use google+ !!!!!
Cheers

about 4 years ago

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Kevin Gibbons

Thanks for all the comments - and I absolutely agree, correlation doesn't = causation - and Google+ on it's own doesn't = great rankings.

However, if you combine strong social signals with great content and authoritative links it certainly does! The point I'm trying to get across is that have a Google+ presence is a strong commonality for sites which are currently experiencing increases to organic search. It's not a direct factor, it's one of many and an indicator/signal that these sites are doing the right things.

about 4 years ago

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips, E-Commerce Manager at HJ Hall

@Kevin
"Thanks for all the comments - and I absolutely agree, correlation doesn't = causation - and Google+ on it's own doesn't = great rankings.

However, if you combine strong social signals with great content and authoritative links it certainly does!"

Can you show the evidence to support the statement that it 'certainly does'? I see lots of circumstantial evidence, but nothing that backs up your statement.

You could have easily said "Sites that have loads of nofollow links rank strongly in Google, so obtaining inbound nofollow links is a key SEO strategy". As has been said by others, it's all correlation and no evidence of causation.

about 4 years ago

Mobilapegustultau.ro - Mobila la comanda

Mobilapegustultau.ro - Mobila la comanda, Personal at Personal

Perfect analysis of possible dependencies and consequences. One could speculate if there is any kind of a conspiracy on Google's side to maybe inflate the effect of +1's at this stage to get more people to use them (and lure more people into Google's social workings) and whether or not Google will decrease their significance later on - but hey, it's our everyday reality, the algo changes continuously, we work with what works now and hope it would be meaningful enough to help us in the future.

almost 4 years ago

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Ewan Kennedy

Hi Kevin,

I agree with your conclusions that are largely based on common sense i.e. "they must be doing something right" in the broadest sense and note that you are not claiming to have discovered any direct cause and effect between narrow metrics.

Irrespective of any direct benefit from G+, I'm not sure what choices we have. Google is using its muscle to pressgang us into adoption, notably with its Google+ Local pages replacing Google Place pages in the last few days.

Cheers.

almost 4 years ago

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Keith Horwood

Interesting points about the +1's and Negative CTR.

I've seen some huge CTR increases - but only on specific items, and usually there is not enough annotated impressions to make any meaningful analysis from what I have.

I think mainly on content/tools people have +1'd and they return to use it. If they themselves have +1'd a blog post and need to find it again, a +1 would help, so it makes sense to have a better CTR.

I'm going to continue to bang the G+ drum though, especially for clients I work with!

over 3 years ago

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Christian Business Owner

SEO is effected by Google+ simply because of the Authorship Markup to give content writers their credit. They have to have the markup code on the website that its published on as well as on having hat site linked to their google+ account. Its actually a great improvement and promotes great content.

over 3 years ago

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Allan

It's hard to figure out exactly what helps and what doesn't help. I use Google plus but it doesn't appear to be affecting my traffic.

over 3 years ago

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