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How to analyse Google plus one impact

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It’s no secret that Google wants to use ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ in its algorithm, which historically has been heavily slanted towards technical, content and link based metrics. They believe that moving sites around the results pages, depending on whether a human views them favourably or not, will improve the quality of results.

Their simple theory is something I completely agree with, but it’s important to remember that this is not something new for 2011. Google has been using other ways of determining if a site is ‘good’ or not (for example the speed of the site, the bounce rate, the number of errors on it), but this is the first time that they’re really pushing social metrics.

Social metrics affect rankings in two ways: firstly, the ranking of a website across all searches, and secondly, the order in which websites are returned when you or your circle of contacts have engaged with the site before. The latter is in effect right now, and it’s highly visible, while the global impact of a site being ‘liked’ is as invisible as the impact of a link, or a piece of content. We know they help rankings, but the algorithm is subject to change so their individual effect may go up or down in the future. (For the record, I believe the impact of social metrics – especially likes and dislikes – will become more and more important).

The introduction of Google+1, a mechanism similar to a Facebook Like, is a clear and obvious system where users can reward pages or adverts that they like. There are two ways in which a user can stamp their mark:

  1. When you’re logged in to your Google account and you carry out a Google search, you should see a +1 button next to both the natural results and the paid adverts. Press it and you’re passing some kudos over to that site or advert.
  2. Website owners can place the same Google+1 button on their web pages, which allows users to click the +1 when they’ve absorbed the content and enjoyed it. This is a much more natural process; rewarding a site or paid advert prior to seeing it in action it is questionable. I’d expect Google to place far more weight on these +1 clicks than on those done in the SERPS.

How will this impact on you, the website owner?

Firstly, if you don’t absorb the way that Google is changing its algorithm, or employ an agency to steer your campaign for you, then you could get left behind.

If you haven’t been focused on a great user experience and quality content, then now really is the time to do it. A basic site that is hard to navigate, and ultimately enjoy, will not excite the user, and you’re far less likely to get natural +1s. Poor quality content that neither informs nor engages won’t be getting a +1 either. Of course, both of those factors were hugely important way before Google+1 was launched.

What Google is doing is forcing the hands of businesses; get your act together and make your site the best you can in order to keep your rankings (and your visitor numbers) high. This is not dissimilar to the mantra of ‘speed’ last year, when Google talked about rewarding websites that were on fast servers, had tight code and were generally quicker for a user to view. The faster a website loads, the more users will stay on it, and the higher the success rate. There is a direct connection between web best practice – the things you should be doing as a website owner in order to give your visitors a good experience – and what Google is telling you to do in order to get strong rankings.

I’ve been preaching the importance of an exciting, engaging website to clients for years now, before these social metrics were revealed, for two reasons:

  1. Google loves great content. Big, expanding sites with lots of engaging text show that this is a business that’s passionate about a subject.
    People turn to knowledgeable sites because they believe they’re run by smart people who will give them a great service.
  2. A great site will lead to a greater conversion rate (the percentage of visitors who end up engaging with your business).
    People buy from sites that provide them with answers to their questions. What does a product look like? How does this service work? Help the user and they’ll stay on your site and do business with you.

I’m engaging, so how much will my sales go up?

Natural search is one of the most easily-tracked sales channels that any business can engage in, but there’s one great big unknown: if I create a tonne of good content, and work hard to build links, where will I end up in Google? A good agency can analyse the market, look at your competitors and apply their own data from their client base to give you an approximation, but there is no way of absolutely understanding the relationship between effort and ranking.

Google+1 is different – using Webmaster Tools (a free website from Google that gives you a window into how it views your site) there’s a whole new section on +1 metrics. If you’ve used Webmaster Tools before then this is a fairly big change, as they usually drop new ideas into the Labs section; they’re clearly serious about showing how +1 can help your rankings.

In the screenshot below I’ve marked the +1 metrics section in red, and as this is a live account I’ve masked off some sensitive data with a green box. Notice at the top that Google has included a +1 button on their own site, with over 45,000 people hitting that +1 button. We’ve taken the view that +1 should be on content pages, in our case particularly on the interesting news pages. You can be more aggressive and have it in the header next to your logo to capture as many +1s as possible.

Monitoring Google+1 Activity

Use the Activity section to find out how many +1s your site has received, broken down by page and also by source. “+1’s from your site” covers people who’ve hit a page of content, liked it and clicked the +1 button. “+1’s from other sites” includes other sources, such as Google itself. You can see for our site we’ve had ten times more from people who actually visited and engaged with the content, than who have liked it prior to visiting the site. I would expect the difference between these two figures to widen over time.

If you’ve used Google Analytics before, then you may be used to zoning in on spikes to determine where an increase came from. On this chart we had a big jump in mid-June, so I can change the date range to find out what was the most popular liked page in that period. That could influence the stories we write about in future, as it was a good source of +1s.

Unique +1s and watching growth

You can keep an eye on the unique number of users who are clicking +1 through the Audience tab – for our site we haven’t yet had enough volume to show characteristics, but on our clients’ accounts we’re seeing anonymised age, gender and place information. Just like in the last section where I can pick out content that’s getting a lot of +1s and produce more on a similar theme, I can use this audience data to focus the tone of my writing. It’s also useful in highlighting potential issues; if you’re marketing across multiple countries, why are you getting a lower rate of +1s from one than from another? How come your content is liked by more males than females? Drilling down to this level and really absorbing what the +1s are telling you is very useful for shaping what you do in the future.

The impact of a +1 on your traffic

The final section in Webmaster Tools is the Search Impact page, which gives you a fantastic overview of the impact your +1s have had on your CTR (click-through rate). It gives you the percentage of people who carried out a search and clicked on your website, both as a global figure of all searchers, and as a second figure of searchers who had liked, or were connected to people who had liked your site. What you should see is that +1 has increased your CTR, as you’ll appear in a higher position, and the weight of a visitor seeing that one of their contacts likes a particular site means that they’re more likely to click on your site.

For our clients we’re seeing a significant increase in CTRs; a reward for working hard on content and for trying to get as many +1s as we can, in the most natural way.


We’re still analysing less than a month of data on most of our clients’ accounts, but it’s clear that +1 is having a positive impact on the volumes of traffic coming through. More time is needed to analyse the data that we’re getting back, and start to tweak the strategy (particularly content) to aim for more +1s.

One final thing to note is that you should align your content creation plans with your sales data. If you start to produce content for one audience, but your website or product is really suited to another, then you’re driving low quality traffic to your site. It’s still vital that you keep your eyes on who your target market is.

Related links:

Google Webmaster Tools

Google +1 Button

Google Recommending Tool (theEword)

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