Does Google Plus Affect Non-Personalized Search Results?

Google Plus: Impact on Rankings?I recently published a post about How to Build a Guitar on guitar blog, Six String Soul, and was lucky enough to have Guy Kawasaki share it on his Google Plus profile and Facebook page on Thursday, August 8th (2013). My referral traffic to this article skyrocketed on this day, and I quickly took note of where this new article ranked for non-personalized results in order to see how the social shares on Facebook…but really Google Plus…would affect my rankings.

The SEO world is full of chatter about the impact of Google Plus on search results these days, so my hope was that this case study would reveal whether or not Google Plus shares would have the positive impact on rankings that we’re all suspicious of.

Let’s dive in.

Here’s the social shares by Guy Kawasaki on Google Plus and Facebook:

Here’s where I ranked on August 8th, the morning that Guy shared my post on Google Plus and Facebook. Note: It was a new article at the time, so cut me some slack!

Google Ranking for the Keyword Phrase targeted in <H1> Post Title

Google Ranking for the Keyword Phrase targeted in the Meta Title

I tracked the post’s rankings for the two top keywords I was targeting via my keyword research for a few days, and here’s the results along with the most recent ranking:

Date “how to build a guitar” “how to make a guitar”
8/9/2013 7th on p32 8th on p32
8/10/2013 4th on p34 3rd on p21
8/11/2013 1st on p33 4th on p31
8/14/2013 7th on p21 7th on p29
9/2/2013 5th on p21 9th on p4

Links to the Post

I also checked the total links attracted to the post (not from manual link building), according to Google Webmaster Tools:

Links independent of Google +1's

So, Do Google Plus Shares (with +1s) Impact Rankings?

The post now has 79 Google +1 signals from the various shares on Google Plus (from Guy Kawasaki, myself and others). However, considering the ranking history, it doesn’t seem to me that the Google +1 signal (on Google Plus share posts) had an immediate impact on rankings. The post did jump up to page 21 and page 29 for the targeted keywords roughly a week after Guy Kawasaki shared the post, but that’s still “no man’s land” in terms of rankings.

With Google’s keen interest in having real time data impact their search results, direct access to their own Google Plus metrics, and the influence of Guy Kawasaki’s Google Plus profile page, I would expect the rankings of this post (for the target keywords) to be much more positively affected within a week or two. But, that wasn’t the case.

Traffic to the Post

The organic search traffic to the post has been dismal, at best. Only 4 visits since the post was published.

Traffic to the Post: No impact from Google+ Shares

I attribute this poor traffic to my relatively low Domain Authority compared to my competitors, but it’s also important to take note of the fact that all of the social signals (and 7 linking domains) still have not helped this post rank highly yet. I’ve had past posts on my guitar blog take upwards of 2-3 months to start ranking well (like this one, targeting “essential guitar pedals”), so I’m still holding out hope that this post will perform better for the target keywords (without extensive marketing outreach to promote it) in the near future. If not, I’ll need to kick my search engine optimization efforts up a notch and go build some links.

***UPDATE: Here’s an updated graph showing organic search traffic to the article as of Tuesday, September 17th. It shows that the Google+ and Facebook activity still have not had an impact on organic search traffic:

Does Google+ Affect Non-Personalized Organic Search Rankings? Nope.

What’s also interesting is that with the 7 linking domains (at least) reported by Google Webmaster Tools, the only ranking that improved significantly was the keyword targeted in the meta title (not the on-page <H1> title)…which currently ranks at the bottom of page 4 in Google’s organic search results. This is a clear indicator that the meta title keywords are given much more weight than the on-page <H1> title, an on-page optimization phenomenon which we’ve all known for some time. But…interesting.

Note: About a couple weeks after I began writing this post, Cyrus Shepard published (what turned out to be) a controversial post on the Moz blog that suggested not just correlation between, but causation of higher rankings due to Google Plus shares. His point was that links from Google Plus shares pass link equity, and not that the +1 metric will impact rankings…to be clear. Perhaps my post would need to be shared by different people much more than it was in order for rankings to be impacted, since I cannot see a clear ranking improvement caused by the Google Plus activity.

Conclusion of Google Plus Impact on Search Results & Rankings

In the end, it’s still unclear to many of us exactly how much impact Google Plus is having on organic rankings in Google, but we at least know that Google Plus helps content get indexed more quickly, and that it does pass some link equity to the shared content. It’s also believed that more highly followed Google Plus users will pass more page rank than less-followed Google Plus users. Guy Kawasaki is a highly influential Google Plus user (with nearly 5M followers at the current moment), but that wasn’t enough to push my post to a page 1 ranking. That’s especially interesting since most SEOs know that a single highly influential link can catapult a piece of content in the rankings.

Perhaps even Google Plus profiles with the most page rank don’t pass nearly the same amount of link equity as a page on a highly authoritative domain that is separate from Google’s own platform? Perhaps quantity of Google Plus shares is what my post was missing? There are still many unanswered questions.

What have you seen regarding the impact of Google Plus on rankings?

  • Reginald

    Hi Dan Thanks for sharing. Interesting case study. I think it has an impact, but very slight. Anyway, glad to find this post and thanks for sharing. I am sure many people are looking for this info too. Reginald

  • Shannon Hernandez

    This recently happened to me when Jaana Nystrom reshared out my post about a Beginner’s Guide to Google+ Hangouts. I wasn’t even ranking for the post until she shared it out and now it shows up on the first page for that query. I was MINDBLOWN when I saw this happen. I had come across your article last month and revisited it to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. Funny, the search query I made was “Guy Kawasaki guitar rank” Your post popped right up (only because I refined it, but I was glad to still find it amongst the noise). I’m going to be putting this article in one of my presentations. Great read and very helpful! Thanks for publishing it, Dan! Shannon