I remember when Google introduced Google Plus all those years ago thinking they’d probably bitten off more than they could chew, and that the version of Google Plus I saw wasn’t up to much, certainly not up to the standards of Facebook, but I was up for giving it a try. Unfortunately, not a lot of other people where. Then a few years ago they introduce the Publisher and Authorship tags which required the user to point a website, or content back to a page on Google Plus in order Google gets an understanding of the “authorship” / authority of the content. Suddenly, I got more excited. Google has just announced this 3 year experiment has come to an end with failure and discontinuation. I’m not totally surprised, a little sad maybe, and more than a little curious about the implications for one of the most important tools in an online marketer’s arsenal: Content Marketing.
It’s fairly clear that in recent months Google has been moving away from Google Plus as it’s central unifying platform towards it’s being just a product in their suite. That’s probably part of the reason Vic left Google is some mystery earlier this year, that wasn’t part of the original vision for Google Plus. The reason they’ve gone down this route is people simply aren’t using Google Plus in the volume they need in order to get back the social signals they need. Sure there are hundreds of millions of active users, but how active they are is questionable and lots of them are from very specific industries – marketing being a key one of those from what I can see!
What Google’s John Mueller Did and Didn’t Say
Googler and Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller made the announcement in a Google+ post letting the world know Google is completely abandoning Authorship, they aren’t just stripping out the Google Plus images etc as they announce in July, they’re going the whole hog and are no longer treating authorship any differently than they would any other markup.
So is the concept of authorship completely dead? The answer is probably no. When asked that question Mueller cryptically said links are links – I take that to mean Google is now much better at understanding who is writing what and that as long as you’ve got a well balanced, well linked up online profile Google will know who’s writing what and who’s an expert in what subjects. But he didn’t actually go as far as saying that.
Fortunately “Publishership” doesn’t die – so you need to be clear that you’ve got a rel=publisher tag somewhere in your code letting Google know where the official Google Plus page of your site is and remember to include the links from the Google Plus page to all your other social profile pages (and just about anywhere else there’s official content about your website).
Remember if you’ve got into Authorship deeply over the last few years you need to keep your eye on rankings in the next few weeks because although Mueller says their data suggests traffic shouldn’t drop there will be some unlucky players out there who will get hit by this algo change. I’d also say this isn’t time to abandon Google Plus – probably quite the opposite, quality content from experts is still a key to Google’s strategy for working out what content should rank and they’re unlikely to have completely written out Google Plus from that equation.
AuthorRank without Authorship
Interestingly, Google’s Head of Spam Matt Cutts did say Google are working on a “Good Guy” algorithm which should make them much more aware if someone writes on one sites and also writes on a forum or another sites etc, it’s possible they’ve perfected that and that’s the reason they’ve decided to kill off authorship – that would make it much easier to swallow when you consider how much we’ve been banging on about AuthorRank over the years.
So where does this all leave Content Marketing? Well for one thing, those search marketing agencies playing the game of setting up fake Google Plus profiles to tailor authorship can probably stop that now and find something new to concentrate on. In theory there is no change to the content marketing strategy, I would still advocate that absolutely every business out there should be producing a ton of good quality content, in fact even if Google are completely dropping AuthorRank (which I’m certain they’re not) it may be that content marketers will get a boost as they won’t have to compete with those users of Google Plus who put the rest of us to shame. Ultimately this move suggests to me we need to work even harder at positioning ourselves as industry leaders and not just brand advocates.
Content marketing should still be the foundation of your organic and social media marketing strategies, this is how you are going to drag people to the site outside paid for advertising – so the more, the better. And expect there to be some disruption – Google will probably like it if some businesses stop content marketing because it will reduce the load on their servers and ultimately reduce their spend – but those that keep forging forward will no doubt reap the rewards in the future.
With publisher tags still worth their salt it’s possible they’ve shifted their emphasis onto the rank of the company / website rather that the individual that writes for it. It was always a bit of a bugbear of mine that an individual had so much weight, that’s great in a business were the owner or senior execs do all the writing but what about a business where writers come and go? Do they take the weight they’ve generated from working with a website with them? Does it damage the authority of the content they’ve written for a website when they become an expert in another field. Questions we don’t have to worry too much about any more I suppose. For now…
One last thing, if you’re still bothered about giving Google a clear indication of who you are and the authority of the content you’re producing it’s worth considering that before Authorship came into being, people put their name to content, and normally, they gave a brief summary of who they were and what made their opinion authoritative (this has been going on in journalism for decades. That’s not gone anywhere, so maybe a clear descriptive paragraph of content somewhere with a link back to somewhere where you regularly link to all your other activity, is as much as you need to think about?