As those of you who follow my writing on online marketing or have attended one of my training courses, I have been an enthusiastic advocate of Google and, in particular, Google+ for online marketing purposes.
One of the many reasons for this was Google Authorship, which I have described in detail for The Proofreader’s Parlour. Unfortunately, Google have now seemingly given up on this feature.
For those of you who are not familiar with Google Authorship, it was a means by which an author could be visibly credited for their online content within Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Between the heading and the meta-description, you had a thumbnail picture of the author, their name and a link to their Google+ profile, as you can see in the example screenshot image below:
Why was Google Authorship so beneficial? I won’t reiterate the case in full here as I have already done so over at The Proofreader’s Parlour, but in short it allowed creators to be publicly credited for their within SERPs. This allowed writers to build up their own personal brand while it also acted as indication to a person searching the web that certain content had clear ownership, and that it’s not just yet another generic piece of content marketing.
The last point may be a little quixotic (just because a person is willing to be publicly identified with their work doesn’t necessarily mean that their work will automatically be of a high quality), but I believed that Google Authorship acted as inducement to online content creators to raise their game. It was also a means to advertise the benefits of being on Google+.
So what has happened?
Not being on the inside track of Google, I am not entirely sure but in June 2014, Google stopped displaying the thumbnail images of authors in Google SERPs. This is because Google claimed tests showed improved click-through rates on pages that did not display the author’s image. However, the byline itself was still visible at this point, and it still acted as hyperlink to that author’s Google+ profile.
However, the changes did not stop there. Towards the end of August 2014, Google stopped showing Google Authorship profiles within Google SERPs altogether. Overnight, the plug was pulled without any forewarning (bar the removal of the author’s image in June).
Indeed, if you look on Google’s own support pages for information about Google Authorship, all you now get is the terse statement “Authorship markup is no longer supported in web search.”
Why has this happened?
In an in-depth Search Engine Land article, John Mueller of Google Webmaster Tools was quoted as stating that three years’ of Google Authorship test data convinced Google that showing Authorship in SERPs was not returning enough value compared to the resources it took to process the data.
In other words, not enough people were using it to make it valuable to Google, and that people using Google’s Search Engine were not finding it a useful feature within the search results generated. The latter point we have to take on Google’s own word, as it was received wisdom that Google Authorship did have an impact on click-through rates and pages ranking within SERPs.
Other factors may have been at play, and I don’t have the technological know-how or resources to investigate retrospectively, but I certainly noticed a big improvement on Nick Lewis Communications’ organic search click-through rates once my Google Authorship profile went live; I also know of others who had a similar experience.
This is just ultimately anecdotal however; I suppose we must take on face value that Google’s own research genuinely showed that Google Authorship was actually not that beneficial or successful as a function or feature.
What are the consequences of this?
First of all, I think it will dampen the enthusiasm of Google+ advocates such as myself. Google have done a miserable job of selling Google+ to a wider audience beyond the technologically alert and online marketers. After all, when’s the last time you heard anyone in pub asking someone else if they can add them to their Google+ circles?
The task has fallen to people such as myself to present Google+ as a viable and attractive alternative to the other social networks, and I found that along with Google Hangouts (online video conferencing that you can broadcast and record), Google Authorship was the feature that appealed most to those new to Google+.
In part Google Authorship’s appeal was that it straddled Google Search (the most ubiquitous of Google’s products) as well as Google+ (Google’s least popular?), and this incentivised people to get on the platform and to populate their Google+ profiles.
Now this unique selling point to proactively use Google+ has gone.
Not only that, it will now make people wary of embracing any new feature that Google or Google+ will roll out in the future. What is the point of investing time, energy and faith in a product if the people responsible for it are known to drop support for a product overnight?
I for one will be far more circumspect and cautious when extolling the benefits of Google products to others in the future, as how can I now say with any confidence or authority that using them is a long-term investment?
It would be foolish, however, to expect any social network to stay static or for its functionality to remain the same. Indeed, social networks have to continually evolve to keep pace with new emerging technology and users’ changing habits. It just seems that Google have a habit of brutally killing off products used by a sizeable minority (remember Google Reader?) while not really making much of a proactive effort in selling the benefits of its products (beyond Google Search, YouTube and Google Drive) in the first place.
If Google is not willing to cultivate goodwill amongst its established users, what hope has it in converting those who don’t currently use its products? Trust me when I say Google+ is a hard sell at the best of times; people just find the whole range of products and their complex functionality overwhelming and difficult to grasp.
Of course, one should never put all your eggs into one basket, and if your own marketing strategy was entirely reliant on either Google Authorship or Google+, more fool you! However, we all do put eggs into different baskets (to tortuously extend the metaphor), and the question will now be do we bother with the Google baskets at all?
Should people still use Google+ and other Google products?
Give the size and clout of Google, it would be foolish for anybody involved with online marketing to distance themselves from Google products. I am quite happy to still support the majority of what I argue in that article, as the other Google products with which Google+ intersects are still very, quantifiably popular. YouTube is not going anywhere, just to take one example.
However, the removal of Google Authorship has considerably dampened my ardour for Google+ as an effective social network, and this new equivocacy will now be both consciously and subconsciously conveyed to my clients and all those I meet in digital circles.
It would be great if someone from Google would comment on this article to set their side of the story straight (they are welcome to do so in the comments section below), but I would welcome feedback from other Google+ users as well.
How important is the removal of Google Authorship to you and your relationship with Google+? Please have your say via the below.