Does the Google +1 Button Affect Search Results or Search Rankings?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

By: Weston Bonnelle
Why the Live Q&A Session?
Eric Schmidt at congressional hearing

On September 21st Matt Cutts gave a live Q&A to answer the never ending questions of SEO experts, webmasters, search engine enthusiasts, etc.  This was a very timely session, since Eric Schmidt and the rest of Google team were at a congressional hearing held by the antitrust subcommittee.  This hearing was a follow up to the Federal Trade Commission’s Investigation of whether they were taking advantage of their web dominance. It’s likely that this live session was conducted to help Google appear more transparent & trustworthy and to distract their users from the hearings. This was definitely a more personable, genuine & friendly form of PR; a creative method to connect with SEO experts, bloggers & web giants so that they could spread positive feedback about this session…which in return could give Google a loyal fan base that helps defend them. They want the users to feel as if they have more control over the processes to reduce  scrutiny and widespread suspicion. The Google team are PR geniuses. I do understand Google’s dilemma, on one hand if they reveal the details of the algorithm spammers will manipulate search results and rankings. On the other hand the secretiveness can take webmasters by surprise and make Google appear to have “evil” ulterior motives. Despite the intent of the session, I still love Google and the Live Q & A Session has a lot of great material for beginners.

I wanted to focus on the Google Plus Button because the although this mysterious feature has the potential to be very influential on SEO and a powerful ranking tool for Google, we don’t have much concrete news or evidence about its impact. Therefore I narrowed in on the question about the Google Plus Button and if it factors into Google search results or rankings.

Matt Cutts Answers the Question of Whether the Google +1 Button Will Have Any Effect on the Search Results or Page Rankings during the Live Q&A Session September 21st

The Google + 1 button in its current state is mainly a social feature as opposed to an algorithmic feature. So it’s supposed to benefit you by attracting networks of friends and associates to your content. Since friends are linked socially and share similar lifestyles, demographics, education levels, values, etc then content endorsed by an associate, theoretically, should be more relevant and trustworthy. However it is not being used as a sign of quality, in the same way backlinks or relevance in the same manner as return visits & bounce rates. They are still doing testing on the feature because there are always webmasters that figure out a way to abuse the system. Matt Cutts gives more insight on the issue “Right now we are still studying it. We do use if people have blocked stuff in the search results. So if enough users who we believe are trustworthy or that we have some measure that they are not just a bot have blocked a site, then that is one of the signal that was rolled into PANDA for example.” Cutts’s went on to explain that they are studying to see how much of an affect the +1 button might have and that it’s “promising.” They don’t want to rush into it because they are working to find an effective use for it. The Webmaster FAQ page provides more insight, "This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality. For +1's, as with any new ranking signal, we are starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality."

Even though Cutts says that they are not using it for quality yet, I do believe that they may be conducting discreet tests on a small amount of keywords to compare bounce rates, time on site, comment rate of sites with and without the Google + 1 button. So those  minuscule amount of sites that are unknowingly, yet directly involved, are being affected. However I do not believe that websites are currently being affected at a mass level like PANDA or other algorithm updates. A user also asked how much the Google + 1 button will affect the ad rankings. He doesn’t believe that the ads will be affected by the Google + 1 button. The button on the ads is solely for social relevance.

Predictions: Will the Google +1 Button Affect Search Results or Page Rankings?

Google will employ any tools and indicators available that can be used to improve their search…and I mean any. For instance some seemingly minor signs of site quality and relevance that Google uses include bounce rate, speed load, the URL of your website, domain extension, etc. The SEOdesk reports from Wired.Com that "more than 200 signals are currently used to determine website ranking." Therefore the use of the +1 button for search results is inevitable, even if it only plays a minor role. Also Google is steadily trying to find a legitimate method to rank sites since SEO experts are able to contrive quality and relevance. Google has largely retired page rank due to fraud, DMOZ has become inefficient, backlinks can be purchased or exchanged and relevance can be faked through keyword density tools. Therefore Google is eager to move on to another source for determining quality and relevance.

Aaron Wall, a well-known publisher from, believes that “For most people I see it as a waste of time & an added jump to hoop through. User adaptation has been abysmal, but you can count on Google tilting their relevancy algorithm (and announcing intention to it) to drive adoption, just like they did with the Google Checkout buttons on AdWords ads. My guess is that Google will publicly hint at using the data much more than they actual do. It remains to be seen if that message will spread outside the SEO niche.” I agree with this sentiment for the beginning stages of the Google +1 button. They will first convince publishers to add the +1 button to their site by subtly exaggerating the current impact of the +1 button. As the + 1 button rises in popularity, the early adapters will experience a major benefit from it, which will usher in a herd of formerly resistant users and further increase the influence of the button. Once the button is widely used, it will evolve into a powerful tool with multiple uses.  Google loves to grow from a base concept. If Google takes a strategic stance against bots and spammers, then this further increases the potential effectives of the Google +1 button. The more effective the +1 button, the more weight it will have on search results and page rankings. This may prove difficult because there are already spammers enticing readers to +1 their site with promises of a special offer.  In a sense if the button is effective, it will be more powerful than Facebook. 

Basically you will have reinforcing reasons to hope for +1 endorsements as opposed just hoping for traffic and quality signs from Facebook likes. Many webmasters are feeling the pressure to add it to their sites. An article published by Forbes, “ Stick Google Plus Buttons On You’re your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers”, caused much controversy but probably expressed the suppressed fears of small publishers. The article has since been taken down. Despite my predictions, it's ultimately the users that will determine whether the search result will be influence by the + 1 button. Do you have any predictions?

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal
Photo Credit: Technorati 

Follow Analyst District on: Twitter / Facebook / Tumblr


Sheltie Times said...

Thanks for the update. It does not seem like one of their better moves, but I guess we will have to ride this one out.

Dianne Heath said...

No problem! Hopefully this is a feature that we can ride out. It may in fact just take over. Depending on the user response, this may be a pretty good move. It all depends on us though. Thank you for commenting!

zamahsari said...

I personally don't agree if Google use G+ as one of so many factors determining SERPs as it can be abused easily. However I'll wait and see the next story..

Dianne Heath said...

@ zamahsari,
I think that's one reason why they are still doing testing and why they are so determined to get profile users to use their real name. It's going to be a battle indeed.

Sandra McLeod Humphrey said...

Thanks for the update and being as technologically-challenged as I am, the simpler they keep everything the better as far as I'm concerned.

Dianne Heath said...

@ Sandra
I'm glad that you appreciate the update. I wish that they could keep things simple too, but it's easier to scam simple. Unforunately this leads to Google having to take extreme measures (such as PANDA) to protect their search engine.

Thomas @NE1UP said...

Hey, I connected with you via...gosh, some other site. I'm sure I replied to one of your comments or posts just recently, and mentioned being stationed near Chapel Hill. Oh, V7N maybe?

Anyway, great post. I'm using +1 on my blog, but just because it's the cool thing to do right now and I have a hard time betting against Google making it.

Still they have a long way to go with this thing. I'm not particularly a fan of their social network, and even their higher-ups are talking about the problems and knee-jerk reaction that is Google Plus.

Still, they have a lot of traffic and money, and high-level criticism like that spread the web pretty fast, certainly putting their feet to the coals in terms of really turning things around for Google Plus.

Take care, keep in touch!

Thomas O'Hearn said...

LOL. Oh man. That's an address and picture from like three years ago. How embarrassing. ;-)

Mandy said...

I am still trying to figure out if I like google plus or not. Thanks for the update.

Dianne said...

@ Mandy
Yeah, I'm still trying to figure out if social relevance is even effective.

@ Recent UFO Sighting
I think that I may add the Google +1 button on my site in a couple of months. For the time being I would like it if people +1'd my individual posts. However I think that could be a lot to ask from people. I think that the hangout section and the circles is the main feature for their social network. I agree, with criticism they improve very quickly, plus they have so much money. Thanks for commenting, I hope to take with in the future.

@ Thomas

samsung tablet said...

I will wait till I see some SERP results based on google +1.