Do Google +1s and Shares Help Search Engine Rankings?

My friend Eric Enge from Stone Temple Consulting took the time recently to put together a great study that focused on the Google+ social network. The whole idea of this study was to figure out whether or not Google +1s actually help search engine rankings. Without even knowing the results of this test, I can honestly say that I predicted the results of that test. Let me explain.

social shares

Eric has been working hard, for a long time, on a study “to attempt to directly measure the impact of Google+ Shares on Google’s search rankings”. The results of this study, according to Eric, are this:

And here is the shocking result in a nutshell. In our study, and in my opinion, Google Plus Shares did not drive any material rankings changes (of non-personalized results) that we could detect.

Why exactly did I predict, without even knowing the results of the study? While you can isolate new URLs in such a way that shows whether or not Google+ Shares help rankings or not, we already know, from public statements by Google (Matt Cutts) that Google does NOT fully trust social shares such as Google+ shares and +1s.

Since Google does not fully trust social shares (yet), there is no way that Google would trust a social share, even if it’s a Google+ social share or +1, without combining that “factor” with other search engine rankings factors. So, in other words, Google+ social shares and +1s on a URL alone are not trusted. But, when combined with other factors, they CAN trust it.

So, what’s my conclusion?
Google+ social shares and +1s *DO* count. But they only count when they’re combined with other search engine ranking factors. For example, if a new URL is added to a site that Google already trusts (has authority) and that new URL has internal links pointing to it, and that new URL has social shares from Twitter, Google+, and other social networks, that’s when the value of a Google+ social share and +1s “kick in” so to speak.

There has to be other search engine ranking factors involved in order for Google+ social shares and Google +1s to “count”. So Eric’s study, while it was in depth, was really “doomed from the start” so to speak.

It Takes 10 Years for Google to Trust a Ranking Factor
You might have missed it, but one year ago, at the Search Engine Strategies Conference that I attended in San Francisco, California, Matt Cutts did a keynote address. In that keynote address, he specifically said the following:

Google has a 10 year plan for relying on social factors as a part of the algorithm.

So, let’s take a look at this statement. In order for a social factor (such as a social share or Google +1, or even a Tweet) to “count” as a search engine ranking factor, it takes 10 years before Google will fully trust it. My interpretation of this is that after 10 years they will fully trust it, 100 percent. So after one year, they would trust it 10 percent. After 5 years, they trust it 50 percent.

So, let’s take it one step further. How would Google possibly start integrating the “trust” of a social ranking factor into the algorithm? Keep in mind, they don’t trust that social ranking factor right now–they only trust it “20 percent”, for example? If Google were to make it mandatory that other factors must be present that they “trust” in order for them to partially trust a social share, then they could start to “trust” that social share.

If Google only trusts a social share a little (or, as Matt Cutts called them “social factors”), then there is no way that Eric Enge’s study, which isolated Google+ social shares, would even work or show that social shares, by themselves, count.

Google’s own Matt Cutts already told us that Google does not fully trust social factors. So, Google doesn’t trust those social factors by themselves.

So, that begs the question here:

Do Google +1s and Shares Help Search Engine Rankings? You bet they do! Yes, yes, yes! Social Shares, Google +1s, and Tweets definitely help search engine rankings, without a doubt. Google said so themselves, in public.

But there is no way that a social share is going to “count” or “help” search engine rankings if that’s the only thing that a new URL has. If a new URL only has social shares, it won’t help rankings. We know that: Google fully doesn’t trust social factors. It takes them 10 years to do so.

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  1. Bill Hartzer says

    Thanks for clarifying these things, Mark. I believe that it really would be virtually impossible at this point (Google wants it that way) to completely isolate and “figure out” with any certainty whether or not any “search engine ranking factor” has any specific weight. And whether or not specific factors such as Google+ shares and links have an effect.

    In studying all this, I keep coming back to the fact that it’s not just one factor–the real effect is when certain factors are combined with other factors.

  2. Mark Traphagen says

    Some great thoughts, Bill, and fully in keeping with the caveats Eric carefully included on his post, i.e., that his test only demonstrates no effect in a very narrowly defined band of conditions.

    That being said, we need to be very precise about what exactly Eric was testing. He was NOT testing “social signals.” Rather he was specifically testing the power of followed links in Google+ posts. Perhaps calling them “Google+ shares” confused matters a bit, but in reality a Google+ share is a Google+ posts, and Google+ posts have a very similar structure to a regular web page, including a followed link in the “featured” link in the post. Given that we know Google assigns PageRank to G+ profiles, it was reasonable to try to test whether those links truly pass ranking authority in the way we have come to expect links on web pages to do.

    (By the way, in the famous Hacker News thread, Matt Cutts ONLY ruled out +1’s as having any direct ranking effect. He said nothing about links from Google+ posts,which is what Eric was testing)

    All that being said, I know Eric agrees with me that his test does not conclusively rule out that Google+ shares and links have any effect on search. It is quite possible (and I believe from my experience to be the case) that they do have an effect in combination with other factors, as you say here.

  3. Leon Bailey says

    This is pretty interesting read. Honestly, I have never depended on just one thing when it comes to SEO and well, Google is pretty terrible at explaining what works. They say things, but not tell the whole story.