Google’s Matt Cutts: Once Again, +1s Have No Direct Impact On Rankings

googleplusGoogle’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, said once again that Google’s +1 data has no direct impact on their web search ranking algorithm.

Moz published a story today named Amazing Correlation Between Google +1s and Higher Search Rankings in which Matt Cutts responded to in Hacker News thread saying, “correlation != causation.”

He said that he is looking for the “politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings.”

Matt then added, he debunked a similar correlation study done by Moz on Facebook likes influencing Google rankings.

In short, Matt says it isn’t surprising content with more likes or +1s have better rankings. Matt explains, “If you make compelling content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc.”

“But that doesn’t mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking,” Cutts add. Matt advises, “rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.”

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • http://www.ladsolutions.com/ OOC

    Same way he came out and said Press Releases have no effect either…only problem here is that they actually want G+ to be readily used so when and if people begin to somehow manipulate this, it will be interesting to see what Google does.

  • http://www.kyleeggleston.com/ Kyle Eggleston

    “no direct impact”. You know what that means… the exact opposite!

    http://moz.com/blog/google-plus-correlations

  • http://federicoeinhorn.com/ Fede Einhorn

    You won me for a second! Then Moz’s scientific study is crap?

  • http://www.kyleeggleston.com/ Kyle Eggleston

    Cutts is saying that raw +1′s don’t affect ranking, yet the evidence shows a clear correlation.

    “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.”

  • Colin Guidi

    I don’t buy an immediate response from Cutt’s on this AT ALL. A study was done over at Moz, proving a correlation. Nobody said +1′s were part of the algorithm, but they do correlate with rankings according to the study.

    A tactic was discovered. Then Cutt’s immediately responded saying it’s not true… if it wasn’t true Matt, why don’t you just let Webmasters ‘waste their time with it’

    I cry foul. Cutt’s just doesn’t want his lil social network utilized by SEO professionals.

  • Chase Anderson

    Love the proactive response to the +1 post. If it didn’t go confirmed by Google, especially from Matt Cutts, everyone would be out to game the system for more +1′s so they could improve their rankings.

  • Chase Anderson

    Because, when webmasters waste their time gaming +1′s the weak Google+ community becomes even weaker.

    Matt’s quick response isn’t an indicator of falsehood it’s an indicator that they take the SEO community as dangerously uniformed. If SEO’s start to take action on hearsay and rumour, the web as a whole suffers.

  • Chase Anderson

    Are you actually trying to argue that correlation is causation despite being told not only by Dr. Pete and Matt Cutts that this is exactly what you should not assume?

  • http://www.kyleeggleston.com/ Kyle Eggleston

    No I’m not arguing that at all.

  • Chase Anderson

    Ok – I wasn’t entirely sure what you were trying to say. Sorry!

  • http://www.kyleeggleston.com/ Kyle Eggleston

    No problem. I’d be upset if someone was arguing that too, lol.

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    Sigh, I’ve been fighting this all day. Read the whole Hacker News thread. The ONLY thing Matt refutes is that +1′s are a direct ranking signal. But as Cyrus Shepard responds in the thread, that was never his claim (despite what he now admits is an unfortunate title for his Moz post). If you actually read Shepard’s article, he is saying that it is link authority from the Google+ share posts created by people plussing a page that lend it ranking authority.

    Later down the Hacker News thread, when Matt is pressed on this several times, he finally responds, “Most of the initial discussion on this thread seemed to take from the blog post the idea that more Google +1s led to higher web ranking. I wanted to preemptively tackle that perception.”

    So again, the ONLY thing Matt refutes is the notion that +1s directly affect search rankings. Cyrus and I have said that for many, many months. Google “Googe Plus SEO” and find my article “Google Plus SEO: Everybody Talks About It” written in March 2013 in which I laid out exactly what Cyrus talks about. In fact he cites that article at the end of his post.

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    Colin, it’s because the thing that correlates ISN’T the causastion, but there IS a causation: the links in Google+ share posts created when someone plusses a page. See my longer comment elsewhere in this thread.

  • Cyrus Shepard

    Hi Barry,

    Cyrus here (author of the article on Moz) Seems to be a lot of confusion over my title, including from Matt, which I take full responsibility for.

    While Matt carefully said they don’t use +1s for rankings, what he didn’t say is that sharing on Google+ has no impact on rankings. I tried very hard to explain all the SEO factors passed through Google+ posts including followed links, PageRank, anchor text and relevancy signals. These SEO benefits are much less pronounced on other social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

    So while Matt supposedly “debunked” what I said, I actually didn’t say what he debunked.

  • Colin Guidi

    No, I’m in-line with your comment below. I didn’t say +1′s were a direct ranking signal, b/c they aren’t part of the algorithm. But, there is a correlation with the number of +1′s and rankings. Good, beneficial content will tend to be +1′d more than its counterpart, so in theory +1′s have been helping with rankings, Moz just placed data behind it.

  • Colin Guidi

    Look I get it, I’m not saying game the system, or take your stale content place a +1 button on it and blast your user demographic for some added +1′s.

    What I am saying, is that when you create compelling and beneficial content, one a 1:1 scale, +1′s appear to help more than let’s say a Facebook ‘like’, for ranking correlation (traffic, different story).

    I agree the community is largely uninformed, I don’t want Google+ getting spammed and then turning ALL links into nofollow as was the case when Pinterest first launched.

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    And what I was trying to explain was that Cyrus Shepard’s post explains what IS the most likely cause behind the +1 correlation: what I described in my first comment.

  • Colin Guidi

    I do believe we’re on the same page here

  • Abdul Wahab

    Either +1s affect directly or indirectly… at the end it helps in ranking. G+ gonna be most important part of Off-Page SEO…

  • http://www.orzilberman.com/ or zilberman

    Google also doesn’t use Links, Twitter, Citations or even text written on the website…

  • http://www.redmudmedia.com/ Ralph du Plessis

    For me the social signals, at the very least, help Google determine whether the links are valid. If a page has a ton of links, but no social signals, then it looks off balance and raises a dodgy link profile flag. So they might not have a direct impact, but they must use them to sniff out naughty links.

  • http://www.ematters.nl/ Arjan Bakker

    This is only to prevent massive and massive abuse by Blackhat spammers in selling millions of +1′s for good money. But they will always find someone who pays for those +1′s….and try to obtain higher rankings.

  • http://blog.paulnshapiro.com/ Paul Shapiro

    It seems everyone is evading this and I’m not certain as to the reason.

  • RyanMJones

    Can we quit saying “prove?” The moz study, just like the searchmetrics one before it all have flaws and don’t really prove anything about what causes rankings. All they “prove” is that sites which rank higher get more pluses. That makes perfect sense since they also get more traffic.

    Somebody said it below and I have to correct it: The study does NOT show a clear correlation. it shows a very very weak correlation. If you plotted the points on an axis, you’d have a rounded blob that’s slightly elliptical. When it comes to correlation, anything under .7 is very weak, almost no correlation. The 3 major agencies that did studies, none of them had anything over .5

    We as an industry have a hard time with what correlation actually means. My carrying an umbrella is highly correlated to it raining. But it doesn’t rain because I carry an umbrella. Global warming has gone up as the number of pirates in the world has decreased. Did pirates prevent global warming?

    plus ones / likes / comments don’t cause rankings. People can’t like/comment/plusone something if they dont’ find it. Thus, the sites that get more traffic get more likes/comments/plusones. Why do they get more traffic? because they rank. The ORDER is like this:
    Quality SIte ->Rankings->Traffic->plusses/likes/comments

    Sure, they may impact personalized search click through rates, but that’s not what any of these studies is claiming so let’s leave that out for now.

    Too many of these correlation studies set out to prove something and then (often unintentionally) skew their “experiment” to prove it. Example: if I want to prove that shoe size is correlated to vocabulary I could study children aged 0 – 12. I’d find a very very strong correlation there, but that doesn’t make it meaningful.

    We need to stop with the correlation crap because it’s clear that most of our industry doesn’t understand it. We’re doing more harm than good.

    Also, let’s think about it logically. Nobody really uses google+ we know that. Google can talk about the numbers, but until my mom and aunts and young cousins have accounts (like they do on facebook and twitter) I won’t believe them. If pluses DID affect rankings, don’t you think Matt and team would come out and say that? They’d be shouting it from the roof tops in an effort to get us to start using the product.

  • RyanMJones

    When Matt refutes the title and main theme of the article, most people don’t read the rest….

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    Which may have been his intentional strategy ;-)

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    Ice cream does not cause my rankings to go up, but it’s still delicious. When I enjoy ice cream, I am happier and a study might prove that I’m more productive and thus produce content with higher rankings.

    The ice cream did not cause the increase in rankings, but nothing you say will stop me from eating it

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Create great content AND share it on Google+…

  • David Faltz

    I am with you Ryan. The MOZ study showed and proved nothing IMO, except many of the sites ranking on the 1st page of their particular SERP have +1′s. That does not mean the +1 helped to achieve the rank.

    You can not find correlation or even causation by looking at it after the fact. You need to study it as it happens to find out what metrics are truly affecting rank.

    It would be more responsible to say what characteristics do sites with high ranking share.

    Also there is no way to know how many of the +1′s attached to a page or post actually even resulted in a share, so how can you correlate the benefit of the links created by the share if you can not really deduce that number?

    +1′s and shares are easy to manipulate and take very little effort, so I highly doubt they would carry much weight (at least right now).

    I have also read a few posts in regards to proper ways to get followed links from G+ and I believe you need to +mention the author when you share or use the add the link button to pass link equity (see link to Slideshare created by Jo Barnes below)

    http://www.slideshare.net/jobarnesonline/does-google-really-help-your-seo-efforts-copy

    If you look at the backlink profile of a post in Ahrefs with high +1′s like Mark’s posts on authorship that has 653 +1′s. You see he has 311 total backlinks, but only 4 are from G+ profiles. I know this is crawl is not as deep as Google’s, but you would still figure there would be many more referring URL’s coming from G+ if this had more merit.

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    Thanks for the pushback David. A few clarifications.

    First, the only link that is followed in a Google+ post is what I call the “featured link.” This is the link that is in the rich snippet (image + page title) shown below a Google+ post. That link is created in one of three ways:

    1) Someone pastes a URL into the Link box on a post.

    2) The first link pasted into a post (if the post is not a photo post) gets turned into a featured link.

    3) The post is shared directly from a +1 button on a web page.

    All other links in the body of a G+ post or in comments are no-follow.

    Second, the post you mention of mine had 102 public shares on Google+ according to Google+ ripples (https://plus.google.com/ripple/details?url=http://www.virante.org/blog/2013/08/04/google-authorship-update-where-is-google-going-with-relauthor/) so Ahrefs is way under-representing the number of links created. So in this case, we can say that at least 16% of the +1′s for that post resulted in shares with links.

    But I fundamentally agree with you on the cautions about correlations studies. Cyrus’s post could have been more carefully worded. I think how I would say it now is: there appears to be a correlation between sites that rank well and the number of Google+ +1′s they get. We don’t know why that is, or even for certain that there is any connection at all. But here’s one possibility…” and then on to explain how plusses can end up generating links to your page.

  • David Faltz

    Thanks for the reply Mark, and the update in data. That makes at least a little more sense. It is sure making for a great debate :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    On that, we are most certainly agreed ;-)

  • Durant Imboden

    1) Maybe he’s just trying to be helpful.

    2) By pointing out that +1s don’t directly influence Google rankings, he may help to discourage idiots and spammers from going crazy with SEO-inspired +1s.

  • Helge Sverre

    No DIRECT impact… so it DOES have an impact ;D
    Read between the lines hehe

  • http://www.avainfotechseo.com/ Ashish Ahuja

    +1 certainly has an indirect effect like showing up in search for related people to the person who +1 the post and may have other indirect effects like ranking for related niches, related locations etc.

  • http://www.farcasgelu.eu/ Fărcaş Gelu Dănuţ

    Yes, indirect effect!

  • SEO GROUP

    I’m glad Matt clarified this because the Moz article Cryrus wrote was mentally challenging the reader to think at a possible causation. Hence, all the controversy.

    Either way, I’m now one step close to getting my PHD (correlation != causation) Got It!

  • SEO GROUP

    Mark,

    You don’t think there was a indirect suggestion of possible causation made from Cyrus in that article?

  • Piyush Ranjan

    yes, you right It’s very amazing fact. Hence we all known about the meaning of google+ thanks to Matt cutts

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    As Cyrus himself tried to make clear in his updates to the post and comments, he now regrets the title and some of the wording in the article. If there is any “indirect suggestion of possible causation” it wasn’t what he intended.

    For me, as I’ve already stated, carefully reading the rest of the post made that clear. There IS a causation, but it is INDIRECT.

  • SEO GROUP

    You’ve made a lot of valid arguments about Cyrus’ post. I just started following you on Twitter :)

    KIT

  • An0nym0usC0ward

    Maybe an explanation of how links created by +1 differ from the actual +1 value will help some people understand the difference.

    The basic idea is that all +1′s are equally relevant, but each backlink has a different relevance. It’s easy to pump up the +1 count, but hard to get many highly relevant backlinks to your content, if your content isn’t valuable, and highly irrelevant backlinks don’t help at all. (I don’t know how Google does this in detail, but if I was Google, I’d actually punish content linked to from spam sites by decreasing its ranking.)

    Say you maintain a farm of 100 G+ accounts and +1 a blog post of your’s from all of them. You’ll now have 100 +1′s. However, if Google has already ranked your 100 G+ accounts as mostly irrelevant for just about anything, the 100 backlinks created will do little to improve your post’s ranking. If, however, you get just 10 +1′s from 10 accounts which Google has classified as highly relevant for a particular subject, your ranking will skyrocket, for searches related to that subject, even if your +1 count will be ten times less. That’s why the backlinks created by +1 and the +1 values themselves will mostly correlate for legitimate content (i.e. content not using spam sites to push up ranking).

  • http://profiles.google.com/trappermark Mark Traphagen

    Pretty much what I explained in my comment, with some valuable extra perspective.

  • beulah752

    like Linda answered I am surprised that anybody able to make $7295 in one month on the computer. did you read this link w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • http://www.webbizz.net/ Hadi Nugraha

    Matt said, “rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.”
    But Matt, I often read low quality contents stand on the higher ranking, and out-ranked great contents with deep analyses (and rich contents with some video, infographic and link to credible sources). Doesn’t make sense. Seems that blackhat techniques still win against google

  • osman musa

    How do we even know Matt Cutts knows everything about ranking factors? It could be that Google engineers above him know things he doesn’t. Regarding the correlation, yes it does affect it because I have personally experienced it myself. Plus 1 does make a different, I almost always land on first or 2nd page with it.

  • Plumbers Manchester

    i think this blog is so true i have never seen improvement in my seo rankings for more google+1s so i would say read the message good content is king.
    http://www.local-manchester-plumbers.co.uk

  • http://www.viralseoservices.com/ MOS SEO Services

    I haven’t seen any improvement with my search engine position with Goggle +

  • Catalin Nichita

    It’s weird that Matt Cutts insists so much with this subject. Usually he said nothing or said something very unclear. Now, he insists that Google pluses have no value. So which is the reason because this platform exists?

    I simply believe they want to control the spam level on their network…

  • Catalin Nichita

    It’s weird that Matt Cutts insists so much with this subject. Usually he said nothing or said something very unclear. Now, he insists that Google pluses have no value. So which is the reason because this platform exists?

    I simply believe they want to control the spam level on their network…

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