Stone Temple Consulting announced the results of a new study this morning that found Google +1's don't cause higher ranking. This latest finding takes conventional wisdom in the industry and stands it on its head.
These studies prompted Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts to find the politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1's lead to higher Google rankings.
This, in turn, prompted a serious discussion about the difference between correlation, causation, and coincidence.
And this is what prompted Stone Temple Consulting to conduct a study of the impact of Google+ shares on search rankings. This is not a correlation study, but an actual measurement of causation. And the most surprising finding was: "Google Plus Shares did not drive any material rankings changes that we could detect."
This means that Cutts was telling the truth. However, in this industry, even this finding will probably prompt yet another round of comments and debate.
Eric Enge, president of Stone Temple Consulting, provides the gory details of his new study in an article that appeared on his website this morning, "Measuring Google Plus Impact on Search Rankings."
In addition, Search Engine Watch interviewed Enge – under embargo – about his study, which had three major goals: to see if Google+ would drive discovery, indexing, and ranking.
In terms of discovery, Enge said, "In my opinion, it is highly likely that Google+ drove discovery of the content."
In terms of indexing, Enge found that Google+ shares probably drive indexing, as well. However, of the six articles tested (three test pages and three baseline pages), all six articles initially appeared in the Google index 10 days later.
"We saw no evidence of Google+ shares driving ranking," Enge said. "Once we saw that a page was indexed, we were immediately able to find search queries for which the page ranked. However, this does not mean that the shares were driving ranking. As per the original Sergey Brin - Larry Page thesis, each page on the web has a small amount of innate PageRank. This PageRank by itself might cause a page to rank for certain types of long tail queries, even in the absence of any other signals."
For example, one of the test pages had 10 search phrases. As the chart below shows, there is no pattern to the rankings since the page appeared in the Google index:
Here's my complete interview with Enge, which is available on the Search Engine Watch channel on YouTube:
In addition, Enge will be holding – appropriately – a Google+ Hangout on Air entitled "Documented Google Plus Impact on Search Rankings" this Thursday at 4 p.m. ET to discuss the study's findings. Joining him to discuss the study will be an all-star panel that includes Mark Traphagen of Virante, Pete Meyers from Moz, Joshua Berg of Google Plus SEO and SMO, and Marcus Tober of Searchmetrics.
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