Google Authorship: An Often Overlooked SEO Strategy

In the SEO world, quick and simple opportunities to boost performance are about as common as a cactus in Siberia.  The reality is that successful SEO strategies are dependent on intensive content development efforts, carefully optimized on-page tags, and a thorough attention to detail with your site’s technical health.  Those tasks don’t come easily, so when an opportunity as simple and impactful as Google Authorship comes along, SEO professionals should take notice.

Despite its low-hanging benefits, Google Authorship has surprisingly gone overlooked by many marketers.  In this post we’ll discuss the key benefits of the program and why you should spend the minimal time required to enroll.

The most tangible benefit of Google Authorship is its ability to differentiate your search engine listings and ultimately increase click-through rate.  When content on your site is written by authors enrolled in Google Authorship, the ranking page is eligible to appear with a headshot from the author’s Google Plus profile.  In addition, the listing will appear with a byline giving credit to the individual author.  Consider the results that appear for the Google search on the term “Bid Op Tool:”

These two factors increase the real estate of your listing and add visual appeal, both of which are likely to positively influence your click-through-rate.  Google recently completed an eye tracking study to measure the impact of Authorship Tags on user behavior.  According to their study, they found that users had a “60% chance of fixating on the annotation when placed at the top of the snippet block.”  In plain English, search results with an Authorship tag are likely to get clicked more than standard results.

It is still unconfirmed whether Google Authorship is an active signal in Google’s algorithm, but many SEO professionals feel that strong “Author Rank” will be an important ranking factor in the future.  Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, stated in his book that “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.”  If this is true, we can also suspect that domains are likely to benefit if Google sees “expert” authors regularly publishing on their site.  This would give organizations the incentive to build in-house content development teams focused on creating unique and valuable content.

These are obviously less tangible benefits that are harder to measure, but it is clear that Google values credibility and expertise.  With increasingly more quantifiable metrics to support these qualities, it would be prudent to anticipate their inevitable impact on rankings.

Writers can sign up for Google’s Authorship Program in just a few minutes.  You’ll need to create a Google Plus profile (if you don’t already have one) with a recognizable headshot, and a work email linked to the domain(s) on which you regularly publish.

For such a simple process, Google Authorship can have a strong impact on your SEO strategies.  To learn more about building a Google Authorship strategy visit Google’s Inside Search Feature or contact us today.

Guest Blogging is Alive and Well

In a recent blog post, Google’s Matt Cutts discusses the pervasiveness of spammy guest blogging activities.  The head of Google’s Webspam team goes so far as to state, “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”  The purpose of this article is to clarify Cutt’s statements and help marketers decide how to leverage guest blogging efforts moving forward.

Clarifying the Details
The main point of clarification is that guest blogging is still alive and well.  Cutt’s article and prior videos on the topic were specifically targeting two audiences: blog owners and companies using guest blogs in ways that violate Google’s quality guidelines.  Best practices related to guest blogging are summarized below for each audience.

Blog owners: Historically, numerous blog owners have accepted guest blog posts from various sources, including businesses with which they had no prior relationship.  Google is simply encouraging these websites to properly scrutinize submissions to ensure they are original and high quality and offer relevant content to their blog readers.  This suggestion is given to website owners to help them avoid damaging the reputation of their blog.  For blog owners the premise is simple: offer your readers high-quality content and we’ll consider your blog high-quality, but offer them low-quality content and we’ll consider your blog low-quality.  Of course, higher quality blogs will rank better than lower quality blogs.
Guest Bloggers violating Google’s quality guidelines: Websites can violate Google’s quality guidelines in several ways.  Cutt’s article specifically brings to attention the following violations:

  • Buying links: This one is pretty cut and dry.  You shouldn’t pay for links.
  • Requesting followed links: Google doesn’t like it if you specifically ask for a followed link.  Followed links should be a natural result of other efforts, including your content marketing initiatives.
  • Spinning articles: Article spinning (the practice of syndicating the same article or similar iterations of the same article to multiple websites) is frowned upon.  After all, how can you provide unique content if you’re syndicating the same content to multiple outlets?

In terms of link building, guest blogging should only be used as a means to acquire high quality links (as opposed to a large quantity of links).  Additionally, companies shouldn’t use guest blogs as a primary, or even secondary, method for acquiring links.  The issue that Google identifies is that many companies realized that they could drive significant inbound link volume by mass producing guest blogs. When you’re after volume, your content development efforts will inevitably yield lower quality, less unique content.  When this effort is multiplied by the thousands of companies engaged in guest blogging, the product is a sea of low quality, or even spammy, content that damages the integrity of search results.  Clearly, this is something Google would like to minimize or stop altogether.

Dos and Don’ts of Future Guest Blogging
To ensure your guest blogging efforts are providing value and are not violating any of Google’s quality guidelines, we recommend you follow the following dos and don’ts of guest blogging.

Focus on quality, not quantity: This should hold true for all of your content development efforts.  High quality, unique and compelling content is far more valuable than stale, mediocre content.  Strong content helps build links naturally, improves brand equity and can be used more effectively as part of an overall content marketing strategy (see #4 below).
Target the right audience: Your content is only valuable if it’s seen by the right audience: your target market.  Focus on outlets that allow you to gain visibility among your customers.
Build relationships with 3rd party websites: Once you find specific outlets that help you access your customers, build a strong relationship with them so you have the opportunity to promote content with them on an on-going basis.  Frequency is an important metric in the context of content marketing and brand equity.
Think holistically: Your content should be developed as part of an overall content marketing strategy designed to help you generate more business.  Don’t spend your time writing content simply to get a link; the link alone is rarely worth it.
If you’re a blog owner, have a solid review and submission policy for all guest posts: If you’re accepting guest blog post submissions, make sure you review the articles prior to publishing them. You should be looking for high quality, unique content that provides value to your readers.

Don’t pay for links: This is the most obvious violation.  Google has been pretty adamant about this for years.  Never pay for links.
Don’t request followed links: This is almost as obvious as #1.  Followed links should happen naturally, but requesting them is a red flag to Google and should be a red flag to blog owners as well.
Don’t engage in article spinning: Repurposing the same article and submitting to multiple blogs is a clear violation to Google’s quality guidelines.  If you’re even considering doing this, then you should rethink your entire content development strategy.
Don’t overreact: Google does not take kindly to “black hat” SEO practices and guest blogging is no exception.  However, if you are developing and syndicating content the right way (as discussed above), you should have no concerns regarding your guest blogging efforts.  Companies should be able and willing to collaborate with 3rd parties to develop unique, interesting and original content to share with their customers and other interested readers.

Keep in mind that Google’s ultimate goal is to provide the most relevant search results possible.  Over time, guest blogging has been abused so much for ranking purposes by certain marketers (for some that term is far too complimentary) that a shadow has been cast over the entire guest blogging community.  If you’ve been using guest blogging properly as part of an overall content marketing strategy, then you should have nothing to worry about.  If you’ve been using guest blogs in an effort to manipulate search results, then you should stop immediately and rethink your strategy.  Guest blogging isn’t dead; in fact, it’s more alive now than ever for those who choose to utilize it properly.
If you need help developing a comprehensive content marketing strategy, or if you’re interested in learning more about how guest blogging should be leveraged moving forward, please don’t hesitate to contact us.