Google Plus Posts in Search Results: What Causes Ranking?

How and why do certain Google+ Plus posts in search results do better than others?

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.

Google Plus Post in Search Results

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).

Google Plus reshare post example

Martin Shervington could rank in search for the “Picasa for Photos” title in Google+ Helper’s original post.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

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Google Plus Posts in Search Results: What Causes Ranking? by

Mark is Director of Digital Outreach for Virante Inc. Mark helps businesses build strategies to increase brand influence and attract natural links and social signals. He has a special reputation as an expert on Google+ and Google Authorship. A former teacher, Mark has worked directly in Internet marketing since 2005, but has been involved in social media and online community formation since the mid 1990s. When not helping Virante clients improve their online presence, Mark participates in competitive storytelling, plays with a Dixieland street band, and (surprise) spends more time on the web.

Comments

  1. Mark,

    The delay likely has a lot to do with the time it took for everything to actually become indexed and processed …

    Awesome article,
    Gregory Smith

  2. Great article @Mark, really insightful. I have personally seen some of these aspects but your experiment says a lot and gets thing more clear. Thanks again

  3. I’ll just take a stab here and also add in the fact you’re using WordPress helps a lot in the rankings. My blogs with some tagging love, ranks high in Google and I have some out there competing with CenturyLink, Comcast and Charter. Great post!

  4. Mark,

    I randomly stumbled upon this blog post….funny thing is I saw your experiment unfold on Google +. I was actually looking for this blog post to reference it in a recent blog post I published. Now that I’ve found it I’ll be sure to mention your experiment. Really interesting. Keep creating tests like this. Great content.

    Josh

  5. Great post, Mark. This is the first post I’ve read that actually comes out and says what many of us have been thinking – that PageRank could influence post visibility in personalized search. I, like many others, check my Author stats on a daily basis and try to reverse engineer why some posts receive impressions and clicks and others never make it to the SERPs. To me, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I’ve had posts with great engagement (300 +1′s) that don’t get impressions, and others with 17 +1s that consistently get clicks… go figure. I think one thing all marketers can agree upon is the importance of establishing a solid footprint on the network.

  6. Great post. And it really did forced me to feature this post on my new article.
    Take a look into it please – http://www.bloggerdoc.com/brilliant-seo-strategies/

    Thanks and Cheers!

Trackbacks

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