Being an Authority on Google+ Directly Impacts Search Results (Case Study)
Note: This post is a summary of the results of an extensive case study on Google+. You may also be interested in reading the entire Google+ Case Study.
While we all may have our hunches that Google+ and Google Authorship influence our search results, I wanted to create a case study to better the SEO community by isolating the value of Google+ on search results.
This study, conducted over the course of 3 weeks between February and March of 2013 looked at the SEO impact of Google+ on 4 brand new sites that had never been promoted by anything but Google+. The results provided extremely revealing insights into the value of Google+ in search results.
A single +1 from an authoritative Google+ account can propel a brand new site to a top 10 ranking with no other promotional activity involved, as long as the site being promoted is in the same niche as the Google+ account
You read that right. A single +1 took a brand new website into a top 10 search ranking for a targeted keyword overnight… and it has stayed there ever since! Here's the story of how important Google+ has become to helping your website rank, and why you should start investing your time in this social network immediately.
Isolating Google+ From All Other Factors
Last year, I noticed the impact of Google+ shares and Authorship on the rankings and click throughs on my new Digital Marketing Blog, so I submitted a YouMoz post about Google Authorship's impact on rankings. Great discussion was held about the topic and while the results were promising, it was concluded that the observations were hard to prove because there were too many other variables contributing to the success that was being seen.
Learning from that experience and incorporating feedback from the SEOMoz Community, I immediately went to work creating a scientific study to isolate Google+ as a factor in SEO rankings. The following considerations were made to make sure all sites were created equal:
- 4 websites were created from scratch with brand new domain names
- Site niches were chosen based on similar monthly exact match search volume and relative competition
- All domains were registered within 15 minutes of each other and used different hosting companies
- Websites were built in WordPress using the default 2012 Theme and used the same plugins
- Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics were Installed on each site and an XML site map was submitted
- Each site had 3 pages of content of similar length, use of images/videos and substance
- Proxy servers were used to create accounts where needed to prevent skewing of results
The only variation between sites was how they were connected to Google+. Here is how this was done:
- No Google+: One site was not at all connected to Google+ nor did it receive any +1's
- New Google+: One site was connected to a brand new Google+ account and verified itself as an author to the site. I gave the site homepage a +1 from this Google+ account.
- Less Than Relevant Google+: One site was connected to my established Google+ account and verified as an author to the site. The site was in a niche that I have never before discussed on Google+. I gave the site homepage a +1 from this Google+ account.
- Relevant Google+: One site was connected to my established Google+ account and verified as an author to the site. The site was in a niche that I talk about often on Google+. I gave the site homepage a +1 from this Google+ account.
It didn't take long to see the impact of Google+ on each of these sites. The 3 sites with Google+ were all crawled by Google Webmaster Tools within 24 hours of being created. The site that did not use Google+ was not crawled until a day after that.
That's not all. I checked the rankings for each site the day after launching and noticed that they all ranked differently according to which account was used to promote them.
A day after launching the site content, all of the sites were ranking in Google, even the one that did not get a +1 from a Google+ account! The site that ranked best was the site most relevant to my Google+ account. It was relevant because I am an aspiring Travel Blogger and I wrote an article about my passport scare on my honeymoon last year. I often post links to travel articles on my Google+ account, so Google is able to understand that this +1 was topically relevant to my profile. This site ranked #8 for the targeted keyword a day after the site was published.
The next best ranking site was a site that I also gave a +1 from my established Google+ account, but not topically relevant to my profile. This site was showing up on the third page of search results a day after receiving a +1.
The two sites that were either not associated with Google+ or a brand new account did not rank nearly as well as those that were promoted from an authority Google+ account.
Key Takeaways from this Google+ Case Study
So what ease learned in this case study? A lot! Here are 8 reasons why you need to establish yourself as an authority on Google+
1) Google+ has an immediate impact on SEO results
When it comes to Google Search, You are becoming more important than your domain name. When I say You, I mean the way that Google views You. If you have established yourself as a valued contributor to Google+, the content that you share on Google+ has a better chance of ranking highly in Google Search results, immediately.
While other factors of SEO still remain important to achieving a #1 ranking for competitive keywords, Google+ can't be ignored as a part of a well balanced plan of attack. Prepare for battle by adding people to your circles on Google+, sharing relevant articles, and interacting with the community.
Tip: I really enjoy the Google+ iPad app for viewing content. It's works very smoothly and is very easy to use.
2) Google Authorship creates a win-win situation for both parties involved
By writing often and verifying with Google that you wrote a particular piece of content, you are also sending a signal that the content you write can be trusted to provide value to their customers.
You make Google better and they better help you build and serve your audience. That's a win-win!
3) Authorship Has Contributor Limits
While conducting this case study, I verified myself as a contributor to 12 sites in Google+. On the last two sites I added, those that are specific to this case study, I was not able to see my author profile on the articles when initially published.
After clearing out some sites I don't contribute to as often, I saw authorship on my site the next day.
At least in my case there appeared to be a limit of 10 sites that I could contribute to as an author before Google Authorship went away. I think an excellent follow up would be for a more authoritative and diverse blogger to conduct a test to see if that works for them as well. Maybe a task for Rand Fishkin?
4) Google Authorship Alone Does Not Appear to be a Ranking Factor
I was under the impression that Google Authorship alone would make my site rank, but I was unable to prove so in this experiment.
5) Yahoo Scrapes Public Google+ Data
Yahoo is apparently scraping Google+ data, because that is the only way they could have known about my site! While this may seem surprising or unscrupulous, I believe that it is actually fair game for them to utilize publicly available Google+ information.
6) SEO Analysis Tools Will Need to Adjust
It will become more difficult to trust an SEO analysis tool that does not incorporate Google +1's into their data front and center. I hope that the smart tool makers are already tapping into the Social Data Hub to pull more of this information into their analysis tools.
7) Use Google Author Stats
For those of you who have been granted Google Authorship, make sure that you quantify the value and impact of your writing in search results using Google Author Stats.
You can access this report from right within Google Webmaster Tools, and the report covers all sites that you have verified as an author. Ever think you aren't reaching anyone with your articles? Author stats provides a fantastic reality check.
8) New Sites Can Rank Quickly with Google+ and Retain Rankings
A new site can see meaningful rankings within a day of the domain name being registered. Not only that, but the rankings may hold steady or even improve, even without any further promotion. Over the course of 3 weeks, all four sites of the study maintained steady or increased rankings.
Read the Full Detailed Study
For those of you looking to learn more, I encourage you read the entire Google+ Search Rankings Case study.
What has been your experience with Google+? Have you seen similar results from your account? Please let me know in the comments!