Goodbye Authorship – Long Live Google Plus

Google Authorship R.I.P. on TombstoneMuch to my chagrin Google pulled the plug on the Authorship initiative at the end of August. In an exclusive interview with Google’s John Mueller, Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen revealed the news in their article, It’s Over: The Rise & Fall Of Google Authorship For Search Results

Over the past couple of years I’ve written a lot about Google Authorship and the benefits that were associated with it. How cool was it to see your picture show up next to a link for an article you wrote, talk about an ego boost!

Rich Snippet For Authorship Displayed_title search public results two articles

 The True Value of the Authorship Concept

While it was cool to see my profile picture and name on a Search Engine Results page, that wasn’t really the true value. One of the most commonly misunderstood things about Google Authorship was that it was a ranking factor, in other words, people thought that Authorship would help them show up higher in the search results.

Authorship wasn’t a ranking factor, it was a way to link the identity of a “real person” to a piece of content. The theory was that displaying an image next to the results would increase the click-through rate.  That turned out not to be the case.

At the end of the day, the true value of Authorship wasn’t about seeing your face on Google, it was much bigger than that and the value hasn’t gone away even though authorship has. People who took the concept seriously understood that it presented an opportunity to establish your identity and to build authority through your content and online networking. 

To me one of most interesting and perhaps the most game changing factor that arose during the Google Authorship era was the concept of Author Rank.  Author Rank is separate from Google Authorship and could be a way for Google to gauge the credibility and trustworthiness of an author and the content they are creating and sharing. 

Author Rank is not a Google term, that’s what the SEO community calls it.  The Google term is Agent Rank, which was patented in 2007 and is described as a way to connect content with a digital signature that represents an agent, aka, author. For more detailed information on the patent check out Bill Slawski’sreview of Agent Rank.

I believe the Authorship era raised the bar for content and helped people understand that it’s not enough to throw 300 words on a blog post and publish it. Google Plus and the initiative increased awareness and amplified the message that people want to do business with people, not logos and brands. 

One of the hopes for Authorship was that it would help Google do a better job of identifying people. My theory is that is one of the reasons they held out so long before allowing people to create fake profiles

Google’s mission mission statement is to “organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful.” In order to do that, they need to be able to understand and accurately identify entities such as people, places, and things. Establishing the identity of an individual person is an incredibly complex proposition.

Why did Google End Authorship?

After three years and a lot of hype, many of us were left a bit speechless when the announcement was made.  There were two major areas in which Authorship fell short of Google’s expectations and ultimately resulted in it’s demise.

  1. Authors and webmasters were slow to adopt – according to a study by Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen 70% of the authors across major media websites did not connect their authorship with the content they published on the major websites.
  2. Rich Snippets did not change user behavior – after three years of collecting data, John Mueller reported that Google saw little difference in click through behavior with or without the author photo.

What remains to be seen is whether or not we will continue to see author photos for Google Plus posts in personalized search results.

Google Plus Post with Profile image

Is Google Plus Still Important?

 In a word, Yes.

Contrary to popular belief Google is not a ghost town and it’s population is filled with people from a variety of professions and personal interests, and yes a ton of people still give me a blank stare when I ask them if they are on the platform.

Google Plus does have a lot of people who are from the marketing area, but I am seeing Realtor, attorneys, Dentists, and other professions join Google Plus and actively participate. My personal network includes a lot of people who are not marketers. People might be surprised also how many artists, photographers, and musicians are very active.

Do I think Google Plus will ever replace Facebook? nope – I also think it’s a totally different animal. From everything I’ve read – Google Plus is outpacing Twitter for both users and engagement. Of course you can find statistics that will support almost any point of view. 🙂

While it’s true that a lot of people still give a blank stare when you say “Google +” (most do) – that also doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t indirectly drive business and leads. Google Plus posts are indexed and will show up in personalized search results. While your customer may not be on Google Plus, there’s a growing chance that someone they know is. I have first hand experience with a relationship on Google Plus leading to a business opportunity with someone who had never heard of it.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t say that Google+ is absolutely right for everyone, but I also find that people get very enthused about it once they understand how it works and that there is real value to the relationships that can be made.

What’s your take on it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.