How Google+ Affects Search Results

google-plus-logoBy Josh Cline

Google+ is a ghost town, right? Wrong. If you ignore the search engine’s answer to Facebook in your social-media strategy, then your business will miss out on a lot of opportunities.

As Forrester Research Vice President Nate Elliott noted at Forbes last month:

  • 22% of online adults told Forrester that they visit Google+ each month – the same percentage as Twitter and a higher percentage than LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Instagram.
  • Top brands have collected 90% as many fans on Google+ as on Twitter and more followers than those on YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram combined.
  • The Google+ posts of top brands generate almost as much engagement per follower as their posts on Facebook — and almost twice as much engagement per Twitter follower.

Search Engine Journal offers these statistics:

  • 300 million active users
  • 39% growth per year
  • 1.2 billion monthly visits (even higher than Facebook!)

Such data points, however, focus on the digital trees rather than the forest. Google+ is not just the search engine’s version of Facebook. It’s a lot more.

Better Search Rankings

For one, Facebook pages and profiles do not directly affect search-engine rankings (except to be included in them if someone were to search for, say, “Josh Cline Facebook profile”). For many different reasons, the number of times that a website link is shared on Facebook is not going to help its Google rank directly.

However, Google+ does directly affect the search rankings that are shown to people when they search while logged into their Gmail or any other Google account (in personalized search). As we wrote:

The more that both a company’s Google+ page and individual Google+ profiles gain followings and can gain “+1s” (Google’s equivalent of a Facebook “like”) for their content, the more that their content will appear in others’ personalized search results.

Eric Enge put it this way: “For example, if someone is following you on Google+, the chances that they will see your posts in Google’s search results go way up.” In addition, Cyrus Shepard found in a study that the Google “+1s” had the highest correlations with high rankings in personalized Google search results.

Mark Traphagen agrees: “When people use Google Search while logged in to their Google+ accounts (and increasing numbers of people do just that) they get search results boosted just for them based on the plussing activity of people in their Google network.”

In other words: the more that you are active on Google+, the more that your content will appear in Google searches performed by those who follow you on Google+. Building a social audience also helps your SEO. Everything is integrated.

More Prominence in Search Results

But it does not stop there. Not only can Google+ be used to increase the rankings of your website and content in search results, Google+ can also be used to increase the click-through rate from the search results to your company. After all, it is called search-engine marketing, not search-engine listing. It is useless to appear in Google search if no one clicks to your website.

Google created Google+ authorship markup to assign individual pieces of content to real people. It is a way to use code to connect a person’s Google+ profile to an article, blog post, video, or anything else.

The effects are enormous. As we wrote:

A study by Russell Jensen has shown that having Google+ authorship increases click-through rates in search results to your content by as much as 38% because the eyes of searchers are naturally drawn to photos more than just lines of text. Your content may get more clicks even when other websites rank above yours! Cyrus Shepard found that testing and optimizing his author photo also increased clicks by 35%.

Building Individual Brands

And it is not just about getting more clicks in search results. It is using Google+ to build both individual and company brands online. Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, once explained the company’s overall goal:

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance; even the most fascinating content, if tied to an anonymous profile, simply won’t be seen because of its excessively low ranking.

This idea is what leads me to believe that Google is working on what has been termed “AuthorRank” (akin to “PageRank”). When The Cline Group attended SMX West in March 2014, we heard Google executives Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal discuss this issue. The gist of the conversation was that Google uses Google+ authorship to rank an individual’s authority on a given topic in a very limited capacity now but is looking into expanding it in the future. (See here for a summary of the talk.)

Translation? Build your Google+ brand now. The Google executives needed to be vague publicly, but they were likely hinting at the future. Companies and individuals need to:

  • Publish quality content on your desired topic
  • Attach Google+ authorship and publisher markup to the content
  • Gain more +1s on the content
  • Build a Google+ following

The more that individuals and companies can do all of this, the more that Google will likely “rank” that individual and company as authorities on that topic. Then, that individual and company’s content on that topic will rank more highly as a result of this potential “AuthorRank.”

When we were at SMX West 2014, Moz cofounder Rand Fishkin spoke about the future of SEO and essentially said that Google will reward those companies and individuals who can build strong online brands:

Google+, content creation, and PR are the best ways to do that as part of an overall SEO strategy and social-media strategy.

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