The Broken Follower Counts & Confusing Buttons Of Google+

How popular is a social media account? Buttons from Facebook and Twitter allow publishers to share an easy-to-understand figure, the number of followers they have. In contrast, the Google+ button reports a strange hybrid figure that can massively undercount how popular a Google+ page is.

Twitter Follower Count = Number Of Followers

Consider this button provided by Twitter, shown on our Search Engine Land sister site:

The “Follow” button invites people to follow our @sengineland account on Twitter, along with a message that we have 79.2K (79,200) followers there.

Push the button, and you’re automatically subscribed to our Twitter account without leaving Search Engine Land itself. But if you did leave to to view the account, you’d again see a clear figure showing the number who follow it:

Facebook Like Count = Number Of Followers

Now consider this similar button from Facebook, also on our Search Engine Land site:

In addition to the button, we also have a Like Box from Facebook:

In either case, both have a “Like” button that invites people to like our Search Engine Land page on Facebook, along with a message that we have 30,825 total likes of that page.

Push the button, and you’re automatically subscribed to our Facebook page without leaving Search Engine Land. But if you did go to view our page on Facebook, you’d see a clear figure showing the total number who liked it:

Google +1 Count < Number Of Followers

Now consider this badge from Google+ that’s on our Search Engine Land site:

Having seen how Twitter and Facebook do things, you might assume that the number shown — 3,073 — is the number of people who follow our Search Engine Land page on Google+. That’s not the case. Let’s go to that page:

As you can see, the arrow pointing to the number of people who follow the Search Engine Land page — who have it in circles, to use the Google+ vernacular — is 13,942. That’s 4.5 times as many people as the Google+ badge is showing on the site.

Two Buttons, Two Numbers, Too Confusing

What’s going on?

Google+ Pages actually have two numbers. The first, as you can see above, is the number of people who follow that page.

The second, which is not visible unless you’re logged into Google+, is the total number of +1s that Google credits to the brand that owns the page.

Let’s look again at that Google+ badge on Search Engine Land:

The badge actually contains two separate buttons. The “Add to circles” button, if pushed, allows you to follow a Google+ page without leaving the web site you’re at. People who follow pages like this all get totalled up into the aforementioned follower count.

The second button allows you to +1 the brand’s Google+ page without actually following it. It’s a way to indicate you like the page without having to subscribe to it.

As for the number shown, that’s NOT the total number of people who have +1′d the brand’s Google+ page. Instead, it’s the total number of +1′s that Google has decided a “brand” has accrued in a variety of ways.

The +1 Count & Google+ Pages

We’ll get back to how the +1 figure for a brand is calculated in a moment. But first, look over there to the right.

The first arrow shows how, if someone is logged into Google+, a +1 count appears on the Google+ page they visit. This count only appears for people who are logged in. It always appears and cannot be turned off by the page owner.

You might have spotted that the count is 3,115 +1′s for our Search Engine Land page, even though the badge I showed earlier had a 3,073 count. It’s a small but noticeable difference.

It’s not because I did the two screenshots at different times, so that more +1′s somehow accrued. They were made at the same time.

Instead, the badge above is for when I was logged out of Google+ and visiting Search Engine Land. When logged in, the badge showed a more accurate 3,115 count, for some reason:

Further down, the second arrow shows the follower count. If you don’t see this on some pages, it’s because the page owner has disabled showing it, something they’re allowed to do.

Counting +1′s For Brands

While it looks like Google is showing that our page has 3,115 +1′s, that’s not accurate. What Google is really showing is that our brand has accrued that many +1′s.

A brand accrues +1′s in a variety of ways:

  • +1′s of the brand’s Google+ page
  • +1′s of ads that the brand runs
  • +1′s of the brand’s web site home page

I’ll drill into each of these areas next. Be prepared for your head to hurt.

+1′s & Google+ Pages

The first one is pretty easy to understand. If you go to a Google+ page, you can click on the +1 button on the page to say that you like it. You can do the same using the Google+ badge on a web site.

In either case, the page’s +1 count will go up. In either case, if you want to follow the page, that has to be done using a separate button.

+1′s & Ads

In the second case, you can use use AdWords Social Extensions so that your ads, both search and display, can be +1′d and credited back to your linked Google+ page.

It doesn’t matter where the ads themselves lead to. They can point at your home page, custom landing pages, key sections of your web site or elsewhere. As long as they are your ads, linked to your Google+ page in the right way, your overall brand +1 count will gain.

+1′s & Home Pages

In the third case, the home page of your web site can accrue +1′s that will be credited to your brand total. It does this in two ways — through +1′s that happen in search results and through +1 buttons you might put on your web site.

When you search on Google, +1 buttons are supposed to show next to each listing, as the arrow shows below:

I say supposed to, but this no longer works for me (it used to — it’s an old screenshot I’m using above). I know others have reported similar problems. But the button is supposed to be there for non-paid listings, just as it appears for ads (I do see those).

Any clicks on this button, for when your site’s home page appears in search, goes to your overall total.

The other way is through +1 buttons on your web site. These are different from the Google+ badges that I mentioned above. These buttons only let people +1 web pages, not try to follow Google+ pages.

Only +1′s to your home page will get included, not all the +1′s that any of your inside pages have gained. I’ll return to this in a moment. But for now, let’s do some adding up.

Adding Up The +1′s…

Below are +1 stats from Google Webmaster Central for how many +1′s our home page has received according to Google

The first figure, 2,074 “from your site” means +1′s that have happened on the +1 button we’ve put on Search Engine Land. The second 347 figure “from other sites” are +1′s that have happened from within Google’s search listings. Both figures combined give the “All +1′s” total of 2,421.

That’s lower than 3,115 +1′s that were showing on our Google+ page. The missing 694 — as best I can tell — are people who have +1′d our Search Engine Land page itself.

At first, this might seem good. Google’s combining all these different +1′s earned in various ways to give you a bigger total. But looking another way, sites are being short-changed.

But Still Getting Short-Changed On +1′s

Remember, our Google+ page has about 14,000 people following it, but since Google shows a +1 count, it only seems like 3,000 people do.

This discrepancy is pretty common for pages I’ve viewed. Consider:

  • TechCrunch: 3,500 +1′s to 27,000 followers
  • NASA, 4,900 +1′s to 53,000 followers
  • Mashable: 5,900 +1′s to 64,000 followers

Pick a page, and you’re unlikely to find that the +1′s for that page come close to the number of followers that the page has.

Now consider these stats:

The earlier 3,000 figure for Search Engine Land used stats that were largely for +1′s only to our home page. These stats directly above show +1′s that all the pages within Search Engine Land have earned, 32,632 in total.

Why, Why, Why?

That’s a lot of +1′s earned. If Google’s trying to show the +1′s that a brand has earned in preference to the followers to a brand’s page, why not count these internal pages?

I’m still waiting for a formal statement from Google, but talking with them informally, it was explained that the Google felt that when people +1′d an internal page for a site, that wasn’t really something that reflected the endorsement of the site’s overall brand but rather just that someone liked a particular article or web page.

In contrast, if someone +1′d the home page itself, that was deemed a brand endorsement.

Similarly, Google feels that when people +1 an ad, they’re also endorsing a brand, even if that ad points inside someone’s web site and not to the home page.

Personally, it seems bizarre to me that someone can buy an ad to an internal page of their web site, get a +1 on that, and it counts toward the overall brand reputation — but a +1 to the same exact page outside of an ad doesn’t count.

It also seems confusing to me why Google just doesn’t use the follower count to a Google+ page. If it did that, then at least one set of numbers would be consistent and easy to understand.

Postscript: Google’s now sent me an official statement:

The current method of tallying a brand’s +1′s reflects how we see consumers using the +1 button. We’ve found that people +1 different types of content with different intentions. For example, when someone +1′s an ad for running shoes, they are usually recommending that brand, as much as the ad itself. So we’ve made it possible for a business to link +1′s on their ads, as well as +1′s on their homepage, to +1′s on their Google+ Page, giving them an overall +1 total for their brand. However, when someone +1′s a pair of shoes, they are usually looking to share those specific shoes with their friends. In that case, their +1 would count towards the pair of shoes, rather than the shoe brand.

Sharing Versus Following

I get the overall goal. With Facebook, there’s the ability to like content such as a web page (for purposes of sharing with those in your network) with the ability to like a brand’s Facebook page (so that you can keep up with the brand within Facebook).

Similarly, with Twitter, there’s the ability to tweet content as well as follow the account from someone who creates that content.

Indeed, that’s why at the bottom of our stories, we provide options for both types of behaviors with the major social networks, to share content or to follow us on one those networks:

But only Google is mixing up the numbers. Facebook and Twitter keep share figures separate from follow figures. Google’s confusingly combining the two, and that should stop.

Hopefully this will change. But assuming it doesn’t, an important tip. Be sure that you’ve linked your Google+ page properly, as explained here. It’s cruicial that:

  • You link from your Google+ page to your web site’s home page
  • You link from your web site’s home page to your Google+ page
  • You use your most common domain (IE, don’t link your Google+ page to if, when people go there, the domain changes to drop the www prefix. In that case, link to without the prefix)

Also be sure to check in Google Webmaster Central to see how many +1′s your home page has earned to date. If your Google+ page is showing a figure below this, chances are you haven’t linked your page up properly.

Alternatively, Google+ could be having problems. When I first started exploring this issue three weeks ago, several sites had +1 counts below what they should have. Slowly, those problem seemed to be working themselves out.

Postscript: See our follow-up story, Google+ Simplifies Follower Counts, But Confusion Remains.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Features & Analysis | Google: Google+ | Social Media Marketing | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn

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  • Julien Guiss

    Webmaster have too much button to include on website nowadays…

  • William Tatum

    or maybe the reason for having two buttons is because so many people circle share and this prevents brand pages from over inflating their numbers by getting into the right Scoble circle share. Having the two points of interest allows for more objective measurement of your impact on social media. Are you just being added via shared circles, or are people actually engaging. I think the reason you see the discrepancy is that a lot of brand pages were scobalized but people didn’t actually go to the pages and interact. Having both the circles numbers and +1 numbers lets you know how many people you could possibly reach(circles) and ruffly what percentage you are(+1s). Its like now you can draw a line because you have two data points, ideally you want three but at least with two you can draw a line. FB and twitter only give you one metric, G+ is doubling the amount of data you get.

  • Joshua Ma

    Get over yourself, one number means the number of followers, the other means the number of +1′s. It’s pretty damn straightforward, nobody’s being misleading about anything – you just choose to make your own assumptions about how things should be and complain when it isn’t so. Why should I have to “like” something publicly to follow something? /rant

  • Anonymous

    Joshua, someone new to Google+ visiting a web site sees a box for the site’s Google+ page listing “3,000″ people who apparently like that page. They go over to the Google+ page itself, and if they’re not signed-in, that figure is nowhere to be seen. That’s confusing.

    If they actually sign-up, then they finally get to see that original 3,000 figure — which isn’t the number of people who follow the page. Nor is it the number of people who even like the page. It’s the number of people who like the page, like the web site home page or like some of the ads that the web site has run.

    That’s anything but straight-forward.

  • Benjamin DeLillo

    Just because I like some content doesn’t mean I want all the content they’ll ever make, and just because I want to see their content doesn’t mean I automatically like all of it. G+ is doing it right by not having the two combined. 

  • Jaswant kaur

    Vinyl Banners
    Thanks for sharing such a valuable information

  • CT SEO

    great post, thanks for sharing.

  • How to get more Facebook Likes

    google plus is an amazing intro from google. thanks fo posting it.

  • Z78


  • Aakar

    Yeah! I agree Google+ has the most confusing follower counts button. Confused with +1 and followers. And thanks for making it bit clear.

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