Matt Cutts Says Google +1’s Have No Direct Impact On Search Rankings

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Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, refuted the latest Moz study that claimed to show a correlation between Google +1’s and high search engine rankings. According to Cutts, correlation does not equal causation.

Cutts responded on a Hacker News thread by saying:

Just trying to decide the politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings. Let’s start with correlation != causation.

Back in 2011 Matt Cutts debunked a similar study conducted by Moz that claimed to show a correlation between Facebook shares and high search engine rankings.

In this case, as it was in the case with the study on Facebook shares, Cutts says it all boils down to the quality of the content. Not the amount of +1’s or shares a piece of content has.

Cutts says high quality content naturally generates a lot of likes, shares, and +1’s, but we shouldn’t take that as an indication of having the ability to influence rankings.

Cutts concluded by saying:

If you make compelling content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc. But that doesn’t mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking. Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.

However, there are some valuable findings from the Moz study that still hold true. Google Plus does pass PageRank and allow anchor text, two things we know for sure are factors in Google’s algorithm.

Knowing this you can surmise that getting an article shared by a well known authority on Google Plus is like getting a high quality backlink.

The goal with Google Plus shouldn’t be to generate as many +1’s as you can, but to use it to build authority and connect with influencers.

What do you think about all of this? Does this change how you feel about the effects social signals have on search engine rankings?

Matt Southern
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing... Read Full Bio
Matt Southern
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  • Chandler

    I think +1s are far too easy to game to have an affect. My take of the study by MOZ was that the sites with more +1s are probably doing more to actively market their content, OR, simply have good content. Sigh… I agree with Mr. Cutts on this one. Ouch, that hurts to say.

  • Mark Traphagen

    Why don’t you try actually reading the Moz post. Cyrus Shepard never once says that +1’s cause higher rankings. Not once. And if you actually read all of Matt’s comments in the Hacker News thread, he is NOT “refuting” Shepard’s post. He is refuting the assumption that he saw many people making that Shepard was saying plusses cause ranking boosts.

    Cutts reiterated that several times. What he was refuting was the idea that there is a direct causation of search ranking increase by means of +1’s . Cyrus Shepard agrees with that 100%. What his post actually says is that it is possible that the reason their study shows a correlation between plusses and search rankings is that many plusses on a web page result in a share post on Google+ ,which creates a link back to the original post.

    Oh, and by the way, “correlation does not equal causation” is not “according to Matt Cutts. That’s a mathematical truth that existed before Cutts was born.

    Once again, shoddy writing and reporting from Search Engine Journal.

    • Marvin

      I was just about to read the responses to Cryus’ article back on Moz after reading this post. Very compelling response Mark. “Refuted” is one of those very strategically chosen words in journalism. Kind of like “slam”, as in “this person just slammed this person”.

      However, I don’t think Matt is way off by writing this article the way he did. Cyrus did say, “Now in 2013, there’s strong reason to suspect it’s different with Google+, and that the relationship between +1s and higher rankings goes beyond correlation into the territory of actual causation.” That is followed by…..”(Edit: This should say “posting on Google+” instead of Google +1s. It’s clear that Google doesn’t use the raw number of +1s directly in its search algorithm, but Google+ posts have SEO benefits unlike other social platforms.)”

      “…Not only is the correlation for +1s higher than that for Facebook activity, but the Google+ platform has qualities that make it a far superior platform for SEO. These qualities suggest sharing content on Google+ has the potential to influence search rankings in significant ways.”

      Just got a little confusing from my view. Now let’s all grab a beer 🙂

      • Mark Traphagen

        Matt, I definitely agree that the wording in the original, pre-updated post was confusing without a very careful read. Cyrus is a friend and I know he now regrets the title and some of the original wording.

        And on getting a beer? Never an argument there!

  • Travis Bliffen

    What everyone needs to realize is that while social media factors likely affect search engine ranking, the algorithms are much to advanced to be manipulated by getting a Fiverr gig that blasts your site with 1k plus ones.

  • Sandeep

    I want to highlight few line here in the post “Cutts says high quality content naturally generates a lot of likes, shares, and +1′s, but we shouldn’t take that as an indication of having the ability to influence rankings. Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.”

    It’s clearly state that +1s for a quality content is always matter and if you are trying to get more +1’s for a poor quality content through some smart piece of work than you are wasting your time, In that case, you must focus on quality of content and allow media to decide the actual no. of +1’s for your content.

  • Andy Calloway

    The original article on Moz went to great pains to explain that +1s didn’t mean great rankings but that being linked to from a Google+ post seemed to have a correlation (which of course brings in the cause/correlation argument). Cutt’s rebuke of the +1 thing also points to the probable reason : good content means lots of people will look at it.

    Of course, that’s what Matt wants us to think because that’s what Google would like to happen, but as with many things Google, it’s shrouds everything in secrecy and is never going to admit one way or another than any particular thing is going to help.

    If we were to take everything he says as true, we could conclude that there’s *nothing* that influences the search results and that they use a mystical algorithm handed down from the Mayans to make it all work.

    “Make great content” is a drum he keeps banging but it’s obvious that by making great content that it creates signals somewhere. If someone links to it then it’s obvious that it’s the link that’s creating the signal ergo, links are a signal and so can be manipulated somehow.

    I get a headache thinking about it sometimes.

    • Mark Traphagen

      Well said, Andy. You’re in the minority that seems to actually be able to read and understand! 😉

  • Thomas Smith

    I can definitely see why people are jumping to conclusions with Moz’s study, but I’ve heard of sites jumping places temporarily after receiving a couple of +1’s before dropping again. Now, that may just be correlation/causation issues but I think not. Why would Matt Cutts jump onto it so quick if it didn’t matter to rankings?

  • Kenny

    I love how he talks out of both faces at the same time. On the one hand +1’s do not correspond to improved rankings, but on the other hand social media attention (read as “+1ing'”) does.

    Forgive me for sounding cynical, but both statements cannot be possibly be true.

    The question AFAIC isn’t “do +1’s impact your rankings?” The question is “How much do +1’s impact your rankings”. I suspect they are given basically the same weight as Facebook likes and Tweets. On it’s surface this might seem fair and reasonable, until one considers the relative participation of G+ versus twitter and Facebook.

    Now, I understand the Google rationalization for this. “Facebook and Twitter are easy to Game and on G+ they can consider an accounts history and activity before weighing the value of the +1”. But I also understand the rationalization most alcoholics have for taking one last drink.

    We really need to stop looking at Matt as a Google expert. That’s never been his role. Matt is a Google spokesman. There is a big difference. If G+ is as heavily weighted as I believe it is this behavior borders on monopolistic. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that they are not admitting to it.

    • Mark Traphagen


      Don’t know if you saw my previous comments above. If not, you might want to read them for more detail on what I’m about to say.

      I don’t agree that when Cutts says +1’s don’t affect rankings he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. More like he’s not telling the whole story.

      I happen to believe he’s probably telling the truth about +1’s as a direct signal. When he says “social media attention” he’s talking about valuable attention that matters way more than someone plussing: real engagement, viral resharing of your content, comments, etc. All of those things involve actual commitment to the content. A plus (or a FB Like or Twitter Favorite) on the other hand is a very low value signal. It doesn’t take anything for someone to click a plus button, and there is no telling what they mean by it.

      Cutts said back last year that they removed plus buttons from showing beside search results (something they experimented with for a while) because they could see no discernible value in how people plussed things. He said many people would actually plus everything on the first page!

      So….why the correlation then between plusses and increased search rankings? See my major comment above.