The Google +1 button seems to be a complete mystery to most people on the web these days. In reality however, it’s quite simple.
A Google +1 is basically a vote of confidence that a piece of content is either interesting or useful and that you feel other people might benefit from it in some way. Unlike Facebook’s ‘like’ button, once a user has added a +1 to a piece of content, not only is it added to the website itself, it also shows up in search results and gets added to a tab in their Google+ profile as well.
Since Google is in the search game, it was only a matter of time before they integrated the +1 into their ranking algorithm. In fact, it was probably designed specifically for this right from the beginning. Of course in classic Google style they will not release any information about how a +1 affects search engine rankings or your search results.
So lets start with what we can guess at…
Google probably feels that if a single person +1s something, it doesn’t really mean much. But if both he and a close friend does, the chances are better that it’s good. Now, if an entire group of friends likes the same thing that holds a lot more weight, and if thousands of tightly interconnected friends across the world all like it, then the chances are very, very high that it’s incredible and deserves more exposure.
You see, Google has to deal with an incredible amount of search engine manipulation and spam which makes the Google +1 the perfect antidote. It has this social proof factor which makes it very difficult to fake.
Up till now, exactly how Google used the +1 in their ranking algorithm remained a mystery. So to get some real data, a blogger ran a little experiment and published a white paper on the results. Basically he called on his readers to +1 some specific web pages in the Google search results for a specific search term. 72 people did exactly that and the results were interesting. The web pages that got +1s had an increase in impressions. This was for three reasons:
1. Those pages would rank higher when the searcher repeated the same search later.
2. Those results now ranked higher in the search results of his Google+ network for similar search terms.
3. A Google +1 increases visibility in a collection of search results which can have a measurable increase on click through rates, causing more traffic to land on the page from the same amounts of searches.
Overall the results were quite impressive with an average traffic increase of 20% – all from just 72 users. So while a Google +1 does not directly improve rankings, it can definitely get you more traffic. Thankfully it’s more complicated than that (otherwise it would be very easy to game the system) and much smarter too. In fact, it’s safe to say that a Google +1 has a totally indirect effect on a site’s ranking and traffic.
This whole process happens seamlessly because of a Google system called Search Plus Your World. When Google+ user Paul signs in and performs a search for ‘tennis lessons’ he might see snippets of annotations from his friend Kate who already did the same search the day before. She found a good article, added a +1 to it and now Paul sees this in his results. This increases the chance of him checking it out, and maybe even adding a +1 of his own.
It’s a very smart system which can snowball very quickly.
However, when a user is signed out they don’t see these annotations but they still get a number of +1s on each link which can be useful feedback on what’s good.
It seems that the Google +1 continues to be a worthwhile social signal to implement in your SEO strategy. However, keep in mind that we cannot simply ignore proven SEO practices or creating great content for our audience. It’s just a useful addition to our existing traffic plan.
So go get some Google +1 buttons on your posts, pages and home page today and let your visitors get more traffic for you right away.