Google Authorship is a way to link content you create with a Google+ profile. Google announced the end of Google Authorship on August 28th. What do you do now???
- Scream like a little girl who just saw a 5-inch cockroach?
- Write a haiku about how frustrating Google can be?
- Fire that SEO who talked you into doing all that laborious authorship mark-up stuff?
- Read further to find out very little actually changed?
There are a couple of ways to approach your online strategy in relation to Google. The first is to understand Google’s rules so you can do EVERYTHING allowable within the rules. The second is to understand Google’s intent behind the rules and seek to fulfill their intent.
The whole story of Google Authorship provides a great lesson in understanding the difference between these two approaches. Those who pursued the first – focusing on the letter of the law – experienced many disappointments through the evolution of Google Authorship. Those who set their strategy on fulfilling the intent of Google’s guidance are behaving largely the same as they did before authorship markup got killed.
Ok, what exactly is (was) authorship markup?
Google rolled out a program where authors could get specific attribution for their articles by adding a hidden tag in their html code. This hidden tag included a term, rel=”author”, with a link pointed to the author’s Google+ profile page. There were a number of steps following that to verify that authorship was properly attributed. This allowed Google to clearly differentiate between authors with the same name. (HINT: We just identified Google’s intent)
That makes sense – why did they kill it?
Google’s idea for authorship attribution was good, but very few authors were using it. One study showed that less than 1 in 3 authors were properly using markup. Only about half of authors actually had a Google+ profile. The bottom line: it wasn’t adopted and wasn’t a reliable way for Google to achieve their intent – to clearly identify authors and attribute knowledge and authority to subjects they regularly wrote about. As someone who regularly implemented authorship markup, I can tell you that they made it too hard!
Google’s Intent Remains Unchanged
Google’s focus to understand how the world interconnects – and serve up relevant search results based on that interconnection – remains unchanged. Google just realized that, based on data, the authorship markup process was not a reliable means to the end.
According to Google’s Danny Bernstein, there are 4 main purposes for Google+.
- Stream – focusing on content
- Communication – Google hangouts
- Identity – This is what we are talking about
As anyone who does Local SEO will tell you, Google+ is a very important element in the Local SEO strategy. It is where you clearly identify yourself as a local business and tell Google your name, address, phone number and services provided. Google+ is also where the user reviews are stored for your local business. Here is where Google’s intent becomes even clearer. The only way to leave a user review for a local business listed by Google is to be logged into your Gmail account – which automatically gives you a Google+ account. Yes, one purpose of being signed in is to maintain the credibility of reviews. But look at Google’s greater vision – Identity! With that user review, they have clearly established the identity of both the store and the person leaving the review. Now they know there is a relationship and an interest in what the store offers. Now, Google has more information to offer personalized search results based on the clarity of identity achieved in this transaction.
Looking only at the identity aspect of Google+, you see the brilliance of their move. SEOs worldwide work diligently to perfect the accuracy of Google’s database so their clients will rank well with Google. Google doesn’t have to call them, beg them or remind them to do it. They do it because it benefits their clients and Google gets access to a large unpaid workforce to perfect their data.
Authorship is about identity – both before August 28th and now
Google’s intent to map identity remains. They just realized that the processing power allocated to a scarcely-used markup was a bad investment of their resources. Former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, is on record stressing the importance of identity.
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.” – Eric Schmidt, Former CEO of Google, Feb 2013
Google’s John Mueller announced the end of the use of the authorship tag on August 28th. But Mueller said much more. Mueller made it clear that Google is not abandoning their effort to properly identify authors and that authoritative authors may be a ranking signal in the future. Mueller is continuing the same strategy that Schmidt laid out 18 months earlier.
Eighteen months after Schmidt talked about the importance of verified online profiles, Google is continuing to communicate the importance of it – even as they quit using the authorship tag. Their tactics are evolving to target methods that work.
What you should do moving forward
Now that we understand Google’s intent, what do you do about Google taking away the authorship markup? You should follow the following steps when publishing an article:
- Set up the author’s Google+ page & add the publishing domain to the “contributor to” section
- Tag the article with rel=”author” tag schema.org markup <spanitemprop=”author”>
- Make sure the name in the byline matches the name on the Google+ profile
- If the author doesn’t have an email with the publisher’s domain, add a properly formatted link in the article to the Google+ profile
- Verify the semantic markup using Google’s Structured Data Testing tool
If you have worked with allies4me, you have seen steps 1-4. (We always did step 5.) Our advice moving forward is to modify step 2, remove step 4, and we will eliminate step 5. When Google announced the cessation of authorship markup, they simultaneously affirmed their commitment to schema.org In the context of their post. We take that as a clear indication they want authors to switch to the schema.org author markup.
Our advice remains mostly unchanged because we are focusing on Google’s intent. Authorship, purely as a strategy to drive search rankings, was never a good plan. Helping Google understand how you connect in the world, and providing instructions so they can clearly identify you among other authors, is a good plan.
We have found that companies which pursue the intent of Google’s rules, as opposed to trying to exploit Google’s rules, have the best search strategy and can mostly ignore the latest algorithm change. They will likely even benefit from algorithm changes. Google’s intent remains unchanged. They want to be able to map the identity of authors across the internet. You can either help them map your identity, or you can fight them. We highly recommend helping them.