Google’s constant algorithm tweaks have made their way to Google Authorship – one of the most noticeable and popular SEO changes to arise in the past year. Google Authorship allows content creators to personalize their content by having their Google+ profile picture appear in search results. Profile pictures have led to a rise in click-through rates, and have helped reduce the overall importance of obtaining the absolute first position in search results – an often impossible task given the authority of sites that often own that top spot, such as Huffington Post or New York Times.
But as with all things Google, the inevitable algorithm tweak has reared its head, though we hope for the better. Setting up Google Authorship on your website is incredibly easy, and is still simply a no-brainer boost to your SEO in our opinion, but now, according to Search Engine Watch, Google has reduced the number of profile picture appearances by 15%. According to Google’s Matt Cutts, the higher the quality of the content, the more likely the content will show your picture in search results. Remember, that the picture is not guaranteed to appear in results, and only one of your pics can be displayed per page of results.
What’s worth focusing on is one key word in the Search Engine Watch article: Quality.
This is still a very nebulous term that invokes Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
I’ve written at some length about what constitutes quality in the content marketing world means today. The key to quality content writing still remains focusing on your prospective customer’s problems and providing valuable information that encourages conversation and sharing. I think a great rule of thumb is to write content that ignores that there’s this big, wonderful Google out there from which we all benefit when our content comes up first, and instead write content that is aimed at helping people either solve a problem or inform them about a problem. I’m not entirely surprised by Google’s reduction of Authorship profile pictures – it’s a reflection of their overall success. But because it is easy to do, there had to be a way to distinguish the truly GREAT content that earns the Google shout-out versus more average material. From Google’s standpoint, this remains their goal with search: Get people to the best content that matches their query.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few wrinkles to the story.
One of the more popular WordPress tools for SEO – Yoast SEO for WordPress – automatically adds the required rel=”author” tag to all content published for the website by default. As it turns out, Google’s recent changes make actual blog posts more likely to have the profile picture appear, as opposed to other types of content. This is easily correctable in the Yoast SEO settings by checking only blog posts to include the rel=”Author” tag. Anecdotally, it sounds like this has been the cause of some of the reported Authorship disappearing acts that many have reported, so it’s important to check these settings regardless of the tool that you’ve selected to manage SEO on your website.
One interesting observation was made by Mark Traphagen in this Google+ discussion:
“One other thing you should know. We’ve noticed that in some cases the Authorship snippet is much more query-dependent now. Try different keywords that bring up your content in search and see if you get different results.”
This also indicates that Google is getting a lot smarter about linking authors not just to quality content, but also that the author’s authority may be tied to certain keywords. Traphagen goes on to point out that change is still, er, changing. Google’s Authorship algorithm is still going being refined, and some folks who saw their Author pics disappear have seen them return.
In addition, Google has stated that social signals from Google+ will have an impact on whether or not profile pictures will appear in search results: the greater the participation on Google+ by measure of the number of circles you are in, and the number of shares your content and posts receive, the greater the chance that your picture will appear next to your content in search results. I’ve not always been kind to Google+ as a whole, and there’s been a lot of rumbling over the past couple of years about the degree to which Google forces users into adopting Google+, and making it a lynchpin of their online offerings.
The simple fact is SEO remains one heck of a bully stick for Google if you are seeking to promote yourself and expand your reach to customers, and you ignore the obvious benefits at your own risk.
Have questions about how to increase your traffic, leads and customers? Email me at BStoltz (at) AriadPartners (dot) com. We’re happy to help!