That’s been a question at the front of my attention for almost two years now. Google obviuosly treats public Google+ posts differently from other social network posts. You may occasionally see the odd Tweet or Facebook status in Google search, but rarely are they ranking high for their titles or main keywords, and if they do it’s usually because of QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) and the ranking doesn’t last long.
But I’ve had quite a few of my Google+ posts not only rank well for keywords of medium significance, but retain those rankings as well as any well-linked web page.
For example, try a logged-out Google search for “google+ page analytics.” Admittedly that’s not exactly “mesothelioma lawyer” level in search traffic, but it does come up in Google’s auto-suggest, which means it has some regular search volume.
My Google+ post for that keyword has been at #1 through #3 since February 6, 2012. That’s 2012.
What Causes Google+ Posts to Rank High?
I’ve been observing and testing this for some time now, as I said, and one thing I can tell you: it is not the amount of engagement on the post. At least, that’s not a primary factor. Nor is it the number of followers the poster has.
Don’t forget personalization! One thing that’s very important to note right at the outset is that the increasing personalization of search affects this greatly in the real world. More and more people are using Google search while logged in to a Google account, and for those people, content authored, shared, or recommended by people in their Google network is going to be pumped up high in Google when their search query is relevant.
So we should say that the first factor that causes a Google+ post to rank highly is relationship to the searcher. But that doesn’t give us much useful or testable data about how Google+ posts perform relative to each other outside of personalized search.
Google+ post ranking in non-personalized search. I know that because there have been numerous examples where I have reshared someone else’s post and outranked them for the title of their original post. If you reshare a post on Google+, Google+ embeds the entire original post in your new post, and indexes the content as part of your post. Thus you can rank for the title of the original post (which Google treats like a title meta tag on a regular web page).
Here’s the thing: I have often outranked someone for their own post even though they had way more followers and/or their post had way more engagement!
So I’m pretty sure neither of those are major factors in determining whose Google+ post will rank highest in search for a given keyword.
So what is the chief factor?
I won’t claim to know then all, but I’m convinced now that one primary factor is the authority level of the profile. While we don’t know everything about how Google assesses relative authority of profiles and pages on Google+, we do have some clue: Profiles and Pages have Google PageRank.
Even though the brand new study released by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting casts some serious doubt on how much influence that PageRank has on influencing the rankings of linked-to web pages, that PageRank has to have some purpose. It looks to me like at the very least it factors into two areas:
- How much influence a profile’s shares and recommendations (+1′s) have on the personalized Google search of people in the user’s Google network.
- How much influence that profile has in ranking its posts in both Google+ internal search and Google search.
A Current Test with Interesting Results
Below you’ll find my first use of the newest feature on Google+, the ability to embed posts in web pages.
As cool as that is, I’m sharing the post here to call attention to an interesting phenomenon I observed.
See the embedded post below for details, but here’s the tl;dr – A G+ post I created for a specific keyword and then asked people to engage the crap out of eventually did rank high for that keyword, but 20 days after the post creation and engagement occurred!
Why did this post suddenly leap up to #2 in the rankings after barely ranking at all, and why almost 3 weeks after it was posted?
Is Google just delaying rankings of Google+ posts in some cases? Throwing us off the trail of what makes a G+ post rank? Is this evidence of my subject authority kicking in (“author rank”)?
Read the comments in the post below to get our various theories on this. Better yet, follow the thread on Google+ to keep up to date with developments in this test.