There is an ongoing debate over the correlation and causation of +1s on Google search results. It is fueled by a number of studies released in recent years that suggest that there is a correlation between the number of +1s a post receives and its placement in search results.
Albeit I agree it is true to a limited extent, the other school of thought questions whether the +1s actually caused the website to return favorably in Google search results, or not.
Introducing Indirect Causation
During a short correlation v.s. causation debate with Mark Traphagen, Mark used the term Indirect Causation to describe the effect of the plus one on search results. I will explain it to you, as I have interpreted it.
causation: the act or process of causing something to happen or exist; the relationship between an event or situation and a possible reason or cause.
Let me first begin by saying that the simple action of pressing down on the +1 button, in itself will not cause your webpage to leap into the top of Google search results. It is the resounding “Ripples” that are generated from interaction on your post that will contribute to your climb up Google’s first page.
Understanding The Value of a +1
As with any time I am discussing +1s, I must refer to an early study on understanding the value of +1s, comments and shares. The key takeaways from this study are summed up here:
It has been brought to my attention that the first comment from an individual on a post is counted as another +1. So Each individual has the potential to add +3 per post by hitting the +1, re-sharing, and leaving a comment. It doesn’t matter how many comments are left, each commenter is only counted once. – Dustin W. Stout
Exposure, Visibility and Engagement
Applying the principles of the Indirect Causation theory introduced above, there are 3 possible beneficial actions that the audience can take on a Google+ Link post to increase the number of +1s a post receives. This could work in partnership to contribute to improving Google search rankings.
1) The +1 Increases Post Exposure And The Chances Your Webpage Will be Visited
When an audience member +1s a post, it can show up in the stream (news feed) of others. This result greatly improves exposure and increases the likelihood that the attached link will be clicked on and the webpage visited, by someone who is genuinely interested. However, this alone will not be enough to markedly increase your search ranking.
2) Re-shares Increase Post Visibility And (Possibly) The Number of Do-Follow Links
Each time the post is re-shared, a new webpage (with a unique URL) is created with your content; as well as another G+ DoFollow link for others to “do-follow” to your webpage. Considering this, in can be surmised that a re-shared Link post helps build quality inbound links and encourages more meaningful website traffic. As you can imagine, these are two important ingredients in any search engine marketing recipe.
TIP: (IMO) To derive the most benefit from this exercise, it is recommended that you use the Google+ Link sharing feature, to accommodate (and compliment) the narrative of your Link post. This has been proven to generate a do-follow link in Google+. However, because it has been established that Google+ links are not treated the same as Web links, this will require more in-depth review and study before their true value is realized.A re-shared Google+ post helps build quality inbound links and encourages more meaningful website traffic.Click To Tweet
3) Google+ Post Comments Signal Audience Engagement
According to Dustin W. Stout’s research, a Google+ post comment (one per user) is counted as a +1 on the post. To me, this means that the initial Google+ post comment sends an important signal to Google. But, what signal? IMO this signifies audience engagement, and places value on visitor participation and all-around socializing. This is more commonly referred to as social signals; and appear to be an increasingly important ingredient for Google’s search algorithm.
I use Google+, and I find the quality of the comments are very sophisticated because there is more trust inside of Google+ than there is inside of Twitter and Facebook, for example. – Eric Schmidt
However, just like the blog comments of old, hoards of irrelevant comments on your Google+ post are not going to catapult you onto Google’s first page.
Final Thoughts on The Indirect Causation Theory
With all things considered, did the correlating number of +1s on a post cause the webpages to appear more favorably in search results? Yes, IMO I believe they did … indirectly.
The Indirect Causation Theory suggests that by virtue of the fact that each of those +1 (very likely) resulted in more exposure and engagement on the post. That translated into more meaningful traffic to the webpage, which in-turn caused the webpage to appear more favorably in Google search results, based on the commonly known ingredients of its algorithm, namely inbound do-follow links, meaningful website traffic and genuine social signals.
All things considered, let me finish by saying that there is no substitute for good website/post content and meaningful interactions.
The Indirect Causation theory suggests that it is a culmination of several post actions/reactions that cannot be (easily) replicated to mimic true-life engagement. That said, you can +1, re-share, comment and follow the links on all your own posts if you want. Go ahead and create a handful of fake accounts too. But, believe me when I say you are wasting your time. You cannot fake it!