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!