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How Being “Friends” On Google+ Leads To Better Rankings

Want to rank better on Google? Get people to add you to their Google+ Circles, and that seems to be a potentially huge boost, based on a search I just did.

I’m Friends With Ford

When I looked for cars about an hour ago, I found a listing for Ford at the bottom of the first page of results, in the 10th position. In addition, there was an enhancement telling me that Ford had shared this link:
Interesting. Why is Ford showing up and with that enhancement in my results? Hovering my mouse over the Ford Motor Company link displayed this:
Indeed, I am connected to Ford through Google Plus. Ford is one of the very few brands that Google has allowed to maintain a brand page on the new Google social network. That connection is allowing Ford to rank better in my search results.

Content From Friends Has Long Ranked Better

In many ways, there’s nothing new here. Google’s Social Search results have, since October 2009, allowed content from people you know to rank higher, if you’re logged in.
That’s what’s happening here. I “know” Ford, which is why Ford’s page is showing up in the top results. When I’m logged out, and Google can’t tell that I know Ford, the page doesn’t appear in the first 50 search results that I reviewed, which means it’s effectively invisible.

Side Note: Social Search Seems Sort Of Screwy

As an aside, Google Social Search’s connections seem to be radically screwed up, at the moment. Consider:
In the first example, you can see that I’m told that Jason Kincaid shared a link, but then I’m also told he’s Michael Arrington. In the second, Matt Cutts is also apparently Google Webmaster Central. My favorite, found by Andrew Bleakley, is where David Harry is apparently me.
I think what’s happening is that the indirect “friend of a friend” connections are being shown. I might be connected to Mike from TechCrunch, which is why I see in turn something Jason shared, for example. Or maybe things are just broken.

Brands Are Newish To Social Search

Back to the Ford result. Why did it surprise me so much to see it today, when Google Social Search has long worked to boost content from your social connections?
Until recently, the social connections that Google Social Search uses have been mostly actual people. While brands were allowed to have Google Profiles until March of this year, few of them did. That meant relatively few brands were available for direct connections through Google.
It was possible to connect with brands in Google Social Search if you followed brand profiles on Twitter, Facebook or some other ways. However, it was fairly unusual for me to spot that something was getting a boost in Google’s search results through that type of connection.

Coming: The Google+ Brand Boost

Bottom line: being a brand on Google+ will mean people can make a direct connection to you, and that’s going to result in an increased chance that you’ll rank better for those people, when they’re logged in.
Of course, right now you can’t be a brand on Google Plus. Only a tiny number of brands are being accepted, with the promise that everyone will be allowed to have brand pages around the third quarter of this year.
I’ve asked Google three times for a list of all the approved brands in Google Plus. So far, it still hasn’t provided one. But Ford carries a big “Test Account” label like this:
If you see a brand with “Test Account” label on it, then it’s likely part of the program. If not, then it’s likely hoping to stay under the radar but might get pulled at any time.

While Brands Wait, The +1 Button

While brands can’t be part of Google+, they can take part in the entirely separate Google +1 program, which allows for anyone — even if they’re not in Google+ — to indicate that they like a page directly to Google.
Google has previously said that gaining +1s can help improve your ranking for those who have directly +1ed your content, as well as for those they are connected to. In addition, it can show even those who aren’t connected or using +1 an overall count for your page, should it appear for them naturally.