Yesterday I came across a guest post on HubSpot’s blog called “How to Hack Google+ for SEO Value.” Although this title is likely to catch the eye of every green Inbound Marketer who stumbles across it, I think the overall message of the post is completely off-base.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that HubSpot was wrong in publishing this post — I’m sure it drew a good amount of traffic to their blog. That said, I really, truly have a problem with the habits that they are endorsing with this type of post.
In this particular article, the author cites a 2010 quote from Matt Cutts, as well as two studies by Moz and Searchmetrics that insist that there is a correlation between Google+ shares and higher SERP. What the author also mentions, but seems to completely disregard, is what Cutts had to say about the topic two months ago:
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.
But it would probably be better to point to this 2011 post (also from SEOMoz/Moz) from two years ago in which a similar claim was made about Facebook shares. From that blog post from two years ago: “One of the most interesting findings from our 2011 Ranking Factors analysis was the high correlation between Facebook shares and Google US search position.”
This all came to a head at the SMX Advanced search conference in 2011 where Rand Fishkin presented his claims. I did a polite debunk of the idea that Google used Facebook shares in our web ranking at the conference, leading to this section in the 2011 blog post: “Rand pointed out that Google does have some access to Facebook data overall and set up a small-scale test to determine if Google would index content that was solely shared on Facebook. To date, that page has not been indexed, despite having quite a few shares (64 according to the OpenGraph).”
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.
Now, really, the point isn’t whether you believe Matt Cutts or Moz and Searchmetrics.
The point is that these short-term fixes, whether you want to call them “hacks” or not, aren’t worth your time and energy. In the end, it’s not about finding the social media outlet that will give you a slight edge. It’s not about finding some other cheap trick to give your blog posts a boost in organic searches. Neither of these are long-term solutions for your site’s SEO; just ask all the people who spent days and days building thousands of links to their sites and were later penalized for over-optimization.
Eventually, Google always catches up to these little “hacks” or “scams” (as the author of the HubSpot article refers to in the next to last sentence of his post). And when they do, they penalize sites that took advantage of such tricks. Whether or not Google +1s have any extra influence today, if you start putting extra focus on them in the short-term, it will likely hurt you in the long-term because it will take your attention off of what is truly important: creating great content.
Did Rand Fishkin become an SEO icon by relying on a few simple tricks? Did HubSpot become quintessential Inbound Marketing machine by cutting corners? Of course they didn’t. Both of these companies became thought leaders by creating innovative and informative content. So let’s take lessons from their actions, rather than their words.
When all is said and done, the author of this HubSpot post most likely isn’t wrong about the correlation. However, what he was wrong about – along with far too many other Inbound Marketers – is the core problem we’re all trying to solve. Your focus shouldn’t be on finding every short-term trick to improve SERP. Your focus can’t be on gathering “hacks” to gain a leg up on the Google algorithm. The focus should be on starting a discussion that thousands of people will want to join in on. That, above all else, is what will give you the premium SERP you are looking for.
Matt Cutts put it best when he said, “Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.”
What do you think? Am I overreacting to someone who was just trying to give a tip to up-and-coming marketers, or does also annoy you when people claim that they have “hacks” that will give your content an extra boost? Whether you agree or disagree, let me know what you think by commenting below.