Google+ is a social networking and identity service which is owned and operated by Google. Google+ has been described, by Google, as a “social layer” that enhances many of its online properties, and it is not simply a social networking website, but also an authorship tool that associates web-content directly with its owner/author.
Second only to Facebook, Google+ is the second largest social networking site in the world. Google counted 540 million monthly active users on the identity service side, of this number 300 million users are active in “the stream”.
In a 2013 survey, 30% of surveyed smartphone users used the Google Plus app at least once a month. Another survey stated that, in August 2013, 92% of US smartphone users had visited a Google website or app.
How Google+ impacts search ranking
Since Google started “Search Plus Your World”, most Google Search users have witnessed results that add more emphasis to sites shared on Google+.
TastyPlacement, a search engine marketing firm, conducted a study to determine just how much of an effect Google+ promotion has on search rankings. As it turned out, having Google+ followers boosts the ranking the most, while a “+1” still does way more for your search ranking than Facebook or Twitter.
There has been a pretty heated debate going on as to the relationship between Google+ and high ranking search results. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, has actively denied that Google directly uses +1s as an input for its algorithm. What can’t be denied is that webmasters using Google+ have much higher ranking websites than those who don’t.
Google goes to great lengths to assure users that this is search ranking has nothing to do with Google+. They have also drawn parallels between the situation and that of Facebook “likes,” with Matt Cutts claiming, “If you make good content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc. But that doesn’t mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking. Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.”
In SEO, correlation is a lot of times mistaken for causation. As the precise details of Google’s search algorithm are unknown, people have typically offered an educated guess on how to improve a website’s ranking. A good example of this are all of the studies published on search engine ranking factors, which show the common elements of high ranking pages.
The main subject for debate is whether +1s cause a website to rank higher, or if high ranking websites have +1s for other reasons. Google claims it is because of other reasons, and that this is a simple case of people misinterpreting the relationship between +1s and PageRank.
However, since we don’t have access to Google’s algorithm, it is impossible for anyone to know all the “other reasons” high ranking websites may have +1s. Until this information is made available, people are likely to continue the debates, because without it, Google’s claims need to be taken at face value because after all, the search engine is a part of their business.
Eric Enge, for Stone Temple Consulting, conducted an incredibly detailed study to determine the relationship between Google+ and search results. His interpretation of the findings supports Matt Cutts’ claims that the tendency of Google+ pages to receive high rankings is a case of correlation. While he believes that Google+ leads to quick crawling of content, he does not believe this same speed is applied to indexing. When he created test pages provided with +1s, Enge monitored the outcome and found no “material evidence of Google Plus Shares driving rankings movement.”
In his analysis, Enge found that Google+ still has value for SEO. He also felt that the correct use of Google+ can be a fantastic strategic tool for optimisation practices. Enge finds that use of Google+ encourages both the discovery and indexing of content.
After Enge submitted the first batch of Google+ web pages, there was an almost immediate crawl of the content by GoogleBot. GoogleBot also completes additional crawls of the website every time that it receives another batch. Enge also made note of a small quote by Google made on its developers’ page, that states;
“By using a Google+ button, Publishers give Google permission to utilize an automated software program, often called a “web crawler,” to retrieve and analyze websites associated with a Google+ button.”
This statement alone would imply that the use of Google+ drives website discovery by the search engine. As a result, websites using Google+ are likely to be found faster than those that don’t.