About a week ago, Moz (formerly known as SEOMoz) ran a scientific correlation study to determine which attributes have the strongest ranking factor in Google. Moz does this study every two years, although this time around, the Moz Data Science Team headed by Dr. Matt Peters measured the correlation between Google +1s and high ranking pages. According to Cyrus Shepherd of Moz:
The results were surprising. After Page Authority, a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor. In fact, the correlation of Google +1s beat out other well-known metrics including linking root domains, Facebook shares, and even keyword usage.
Close Correlation is Not the Same Thing as Cause
However Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, was quick to refute Moz’s findings, saying there was no direct relation between Google +1s and how well a page would be doing in the search rankings. Shortly after the findings of the Moz study was published, Cutts went on to a Hacker News thread and said:
Just trying to decide the politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings. Let’s start with correlation != causation.
If you make compelling content, people will naturally share it through social networks like Google+, however what Cutts was trying to emphasize was that a higher number of +1s would not directly impact a page’s performance in the SERPS. He even referred to another Moz study from 2011 that tried to prove the same relationship between search rankings and Facebook shares with a small scale test. The page that was used in that test never got indexed despite having a fair amount of shares.
+1s Still Have SEO Value
If we are to take Matt Cutts at his word, then we would have to accept that Google doesn’t use raw +1s in determining search rankings. However, that doesn’t mean that +1s don’t have any value to SEO. Google+ isn’t like Facebook that hides data a lot of data from Google as a result of privacy settings and sharing restrictions. Anything shared on Google+ is immediately accessible by Google’s search engine and is typically indexed very quickly. In fact, according to Cyrus Shepard of Moz:
Pages and posts on Google+ not only accumulate PageRank, but because links to posts are followed, they pass link equity on as well.
Unlike Facebook or Twitter, each post you make in Google+ has most of the characteristics of a full-blown blog posting.
+1s Have Similar Value to Any Editorial Link
Based on this, we can say that while +1s aren’t the direct cause for how well a page does in the search rankings, they do have SEO value and will give you a number of benefits. One commenter said it best:
It is not the +1’s themselves that are causing the high rankings of posts but the fact that most +1’s on a site result in a shared post on Google+, which creates a followed link back to the post. It’s instant organic link building.
So it all goes back to creating compelling content that gets shared. Just like any other social network, if they like your post, people will share it with people they know. However unlike Facebook or Twitter that doesn’t share a lot of data, Google+ was optimized for SEO, so a +1 has more SEO value than a tweet or share on Facebook.
The best thing to do is build your relationships on Google+ and post compelling content in order to naturally attract links and take advantage of the platform.