A while back I decided that I really wanted to dig deep into the effect of social activity on Google+ and how it relates to shared links. Social proof is a hot topic in social media and online authority, so the end goal is to discover the best ways to share links to your website or blog on Google+.
The end result of this study changed everything about how I share links on Google+, and reveals how much more powerful it can be when compared to other social networks.
I created a series of experiments to test out how sharing links on Google+ affects social signals on the link destinations. I started with a team of testers who agreed to help by following a series of experiments with specific instructions.
Each of these experiments were informative, and each one led to the next. But if you really want to get to the big discovery, you can skip ahead to Experiment 5.
Experiment 1: The +1 Button
Using the +1 button on a new blog post, I shared the link asking my team to only +1 the post from within Google+. This experiment was first to see if a link post on Google+ would transfer the +1 count to the designated link. In other words, do the +1s on the Google+ post show up on the actual web page that is linked?
In simpler terms, if someone +1′d the linked post on Google+, does it show up in the +1 count on the actual web page that is linked?
The result was affirmative. All +1s that happened on the Google+ post linking to the blog post were counted on the blog post I shared. Additionally, the count was +1 higher on the actual blog post. The Google+ post received +21 and at the time, the blog post itself reflected +22.
This result led me to believe that the +1 count on the web page is also factoring in the sharing of the post on Google+ into account. This led me to the next experiment.
Experiment 2: The Reshare Button
Again, using the +1 button on a new blog post I shared the link to Google+ and asked my team to only use the reshare button on the Google+ post. The question to be answered was, do reshares on the Google+ link post get attributed as +1s on the actual blog post?
The result, again, was affirmative. However, this time the number reflected on the blog post was +3 higher than the number of shares the Google+ link post received. I’m not quite sure why this was. Unless one of my team members accidentally hit the +1 on the blog post, I’m not sure why the numbers would be higher.
UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the first comment from an individual on a post is counted as another +1. So Each individual has the potential to add +3 per post by hitting the +1, resharing, and leaving a comment. It doesn’t matter how many comments are left, each commenter is only counted once.
Experiment 3: The +1 and Reshare Combined
This experiment was a bit more complex. Team members were asked to both +1 and reshare the original Google+ link post and then find a few other reshares of the same post from other team members and +1 and reshare a few of those.
This was very tricky to quantify. My original Google+ post had +20 and 25 reshares. Currently the blog post reflects +128. So my closest hypothesis in this case is that it is counting all activity from all posts into the one blog post. Pretty powerful social signal attribution.
This leads me to believe that Google is trying really hard to give your shared links all the social credit they deserve. Something that the other networks are definitely not doing.
Experiment 4: Sharing From Google+ Rather Than The Original Blog Post
On all previous experiments I used the +1 button on the blog post to share to Google+. What I wanted to do for this experiment is begin the link post on Google+ and see if it still effectively linked the activity on the Google+ post to the blog post.
The results, again, were affirmative.
I gave my team a string of text to copy/paste into a new Google+ post from Google+ on their own which contained a link to the blog post. Nobody +1′d or shared anyone else’s post, only original shares of the link were performed. Each one of those shares was attributed to the +1 button count on the blog post.
Are you starting to see the power in this yet?
Experiment 5: Image Post With 1 Link
This was really the kicker, and completely changed the way I share blog posts on Google+.
It has been clear for quite some time that images perform much better than link posts on most social networks. This is why Pinterest has become so popular. I had always wished that the social networks would allow for sharing of blog posts (or any web page) in a way that would pull in a full-sized image rather than just a tiny thumbnail.
In this experiment I wanted to see if I could share an image post on Google+ that contained one link to a blog post and have all the +1/reshares attributed to the blog post as in the previous experiments. I didn’t really expect this to work.
To my great surprise, it worked!
This means that you don’t have to use the link post format on Google+ to have the social activity attributed to your blog post. If you use an image and have one link within the body of the post, all the +1s and reshares (as well as the +1s and reshares of the reshares) will be attributed and reflected on the original blog post (or web page) that is linked in the body.
Do you understand how huge that is? I know you might feel like you’re in the movie Inception and your brain is spinning, but let it sit for a second and it will eventually click.
Why does this matter?
Social signals are one of the factors that human beings use to gauge authority, trustworthiness, and importance. A web page that shows a lot of social shares appears more important or authoritative than a web page with very few social shares.
Think about it, if you see a website that shows that 40 Million people have ‘Liked’ it and compare it to a web page that shows only a few ‘Likes’, which one would you think is more relevant/important/legitimate? Likewise, for blog posts, the more social signals, the better.
But that’s not all.
Social proof is now being factored into search engine rankings. There are various studies that have been done on this, but all of them agree that the more social shares a website or blog post has, the better it is likely to rank. And with Google+ giving more and more weight to the +1 button and social recommendations, this knowledge could be huge if you understand how to use it well.
With this knowledge, we now know that you can effectively post an image and ,within the body of the post, add one link to a blog post or web page and all +1 and share activity will be successfully transferred and reflected on the +1 count on the linked page.
Note that if there are any other links in the body of the post,
including if you +mention someone, the link connection is broken, and the activity isn’t transferred. Hashtags are fine to include, but no other links or +mentions can be included.
UPDATE: After doing some more testing, I have confirmed through multiple sources that +mentioning does not break the linkage! We’ve only tested with one +mention per post though, so it has yet to be seen if there is a +mention limit. But for all intents and purposes, feel free to +mention in your image posts!
After making this discovery I now share an image post for every new blog post I write. In fact, it’s likely that you have followed an image post with a link in it to find yourself here reading this blog post!
Image posts stand out more in the stream and always elicit more activity than just a standard link post.
If you want your posts to really stand out from the crowd use the image post format as outlined above. In a follow-up post I’ll cover a formula that I’ve seen work time and time again. Until then though, this should give you plenty to experiment with yourself.
A very special ‘Thank You’ to all those who participated as part of my Experiment Group:
Parris Payden - Stephen Uchacz - Matt Hooper - Roger Høyem - Chris Wilson - Chris Sehorn - Nathan Roten - Kenneth Manesse Sr. - Stephanie Calahan - Adam Smith - Ray Flores - Dave Knepper - Matthew Snider - Jonny Kirk - Shannon Reece - Alicia Feliz - Robert Warren - Jeff Schultz - Marianne Sansum - Jo Anne Thomas - Alexandra Ostrow - David Tonen - Ken Harkey - Ayoub Habchi - Kalynn Amadio - Tina Jones - Jeremy Smith
For further reading, my friend Ben Fisher did a series of similar, more controlled experiments. You can read his conclusions here.
If you have any questions, throw them in the comments below!