Google, minus Google+: how should the end of Authorship affect your SEO strategy?

Last night Google’s John Mueller announced that Google+ Authorship has been scrapped:

“I’ve been involved since we first started testing authorship markup and displaying it in search results. We’ve gotten lots of useful feedback from all kinds of webmasters and users, and we’ve tweaked, updated, and honed recognition and displaying of authorship information. Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.”

The inimitable AJ Kohn of Blind Five Year old suggested that the Authorship project had been shelved as early as October last year, but the first noted impact this had in organic search came around two months ago when Google removed author photos from search results.

Without authorship mark-up in its arsenal to enforce its values of expertise, authority and trust Google has surrendered its share of the B2B social market to LinkedIn. Now there is little to differentiate the network from its more popular counterparts, Google+ should fall further down the pecking order for social strategies.

Social isn’t for everyone

The biggest change that comes with the loss of Google+ Authorship is that there is no longer a social network every business has to be on. Authorship had meant that up until now every website that wanted to publish content had to have some kind of presence on Google+; whether they were B2B or B2C; in a ‘boring niche’ or something as exciting as fashion or travel.

Now Google+ has to stand on its own merits as a social network, which is a battle it can’t win. Whoever you are there’re almost certainly several social media sites that will work better for you.

There’s more traffic than ever available from Facebook’s excellent advertising platform; Pinterest has launched Analytics tools that will make experimentation on the site much more attractive; Twitter stock continues to soar. All three will compete more heavily for businesses’ budgets for one simple reason:

The separation of search and social

Google+ was a social network search marketers were happy to throw their budgets behind because of the obvious benefits it had for organic visibility; click through rates and Google real estate. There are still aspects of Google+ – namely Places – that will continue to be essential for search marketing campaigns…but Strategists are now able to cherry pick the features they want to utilise without fear of being left behind when the inevitable was enforced.

But the more things change…the more they stay the same.

Google+ as a social network has all but vanished from our thinking but this doesn’t affect how sites rank in Google search. It’s about expertise, authority, trust – authorship was one tactic we utilised to demonstrate this.

People still want to see real authors publishing the content we want them to consume – trust me when I say that Google will find new ways to police this in future.

…and as Mueller noted in his announcement:

“It’s also worth mentioning that Search users will still see Google+ posts from friends and pages when they’re relevant to the query — both in the main results, and on the right-hand side. Today’s authorship change doesn’t impact these social features.”

With this in mind it’s definitely not time to remove the +1 buttons from your content pages…and if you’re planning to continue maintaining your Google+ profile it’s still worth sharing your content there too.

While author photos were dropped from organic search in June they were still appearing in Google News – this looks to have changed too.

What went wrong?

The myriad problems with Google+ as a whole are well documented, but Mueller cited a lack of adoption as the real issue behind Authorship failing. This doesn’t mean a lack of adoption from the public (the numbers look good, though probably not good enough); it means a lack of adoption from the experts at whom Authorship mark-up was squarely levelled.

In the majority of industries (except SEO) there were few verified authors. It would probably be fair to say that the more important it is to be an expert in your niche, the lower the adoption of authorship mark-up in that niche was – a real problem for Google. It’s one of the reasons why Yahoo! Answers might outrank a medical journal despite the quality of advice on offer.

Worse for Authorship: in most industries those experts are somewhere else…LinkedIn. Growth on the network is accelerating according to the WSJ, and experts are clamouring to share their insights on the platform instead of on their own sites.

Takeaways

As implied by Singer’s article this should change little for most professionals utilising a content marketing strategy – it’s just one less form of mark-up you can utilise. Long form content is still best employed on your website (or strategically chosen partners). So what’s different?

Is it time to delete your Google+ profile? Probably not. Until we start to see otherwise Google+ will still occupy at least some real estate on the search engine results pages. The choice to weigh up is whether users will click on the link to your profile in search results. An empty or dormant page will present a bad user experience…but the downfall of Google+ came from the fact that people were unlikely to go there, so it’s probably worth keeping.

You can get some data to support this using the Connected Pages feature in Bing Webmaster Tools, which will show impressions and clicks for your Google+ page in Bing (not exactly a fair test, but as I noted in the linked post there was a strong correlation between where the social networks appeared in both Bing and Google – I also pointed out that Facebook and Twitter were showing up twice as often as Google+ in Google’s organic search results).

Is “authorship” still a good strategy? Yes. Pushing the knowledge of the people who work for your business plays right into the Google guidebook – remember: expertise, authority, trust.

…but even if you take everything Google says with a pinch of salt, employing experts – and demonstrating that on your site with author pages, author bios and author photos (and other sites through contributing thoughts/data/content) – is still among the best ways to acquire links. If people care what you have to say you can do it for free. And if you’re not trying to push the fact that you’re an expert author people won’t care what you’ve got to say.

Have we wasted our time? See above. If you’ve spent your time making a genuine attempt to build your profile (i.e., your position in your industry and not your actual Google+ profile) then that’s time well spent. Danny Sullivan, for example, shares a LOT on Google+. At the time of writing 1,738,777 people have added him to their circles – let’s not pretend that at least some of those almost 2 million people haven’t had their interest peaked enough to watch him speak at a conference or subscribe to his updates on Facebook/Twitter/Google+’s inevitable next attempt on social media.

By Stephen Kenwright. at 9:42AM on Friday, 29 Aug 2014

Stephen is our Head of Search in Leeds. Coming to Branded3 from an advertising background at FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing business Mitie, Stephen heads up our Strategy Team leads SEO and content marketing campaigns for some of the world's biggest brands. Follow Stephen Kenwright on Twitter.

comments