6 Ways to Adjust to Google’s Emphasis on Authors in Revised Search Guidelines
OK, fellow publishers, Google is on to us. And that probably means readers are on to us as well.
As I’ve noted before, Google has generally been kind to magazine media publishers, tweaking its search engine to favor results from respected web sites, especially those with storied print brands.
But the latest version of Google’s guidelines for its search quality raters includes a new twist: “Google is placing a brand new emphasis on the creator or author of the main content of the page, whereas before the emphasis was entirely on the website reputation,” writes Jennifer Slegg at The SEM Post.
When evaluating a web page, the raters are encouraged to look for the author’s biographical data and to consider the author’s expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. A rater’s evaluation of a page doesn’t directly influence how the page performs in search results but is used to tweak Google’s search algorithms so they deliver better results.
Perhaps Google has noticed that the same reputable website may publish articles by Pulitzer-winning staff writers, wet-behind-the-ears interns, freelancers of unknown expertise and outside contributors with their own hidden agendas. Google has concluded that a publisher’s good reputation doesn’t mean that everything it publishes is of high quality.
Google’s latest move goes against the grain of traditional magazine publishing, where writers tend to be viewed as interchangeable parts while the editor is the only public face of the brand. Brand building of individual authors is avoided, lest they demand more money or switch to a competitor.
Here are six ways publishers can adjust to Google’s new regard for authorship in search results:
Bylines and Bios
Search experts recommend putting writers’ bylines on articles and other content whenever possible and including biographical information that indicates the authors’ experience and expertise. “Magazine staff” and similar generic bylines don’t count; it needs to be actual people’s names. (Besides, Google’s algorithms have probably figured out that “From staff reports” is sometimes a euphemism for “copied word for word from a press release.”)
Link each byline to a web page about the author, with summaries of and links to the writer’s other articles. (Click on my byline for this article and you’ll see how Publishing Executive already does this.)
Author Pages on Steroids
Consider beefing up your staff writers’ author pages with author photos (unless the author is an anonymous blogger or a senior White House staffer), social-media feeds and follow buttons, and “greatest hits” -- awards, popular articles, speaking engagements, quotes in other media, etc. I can’t promise this will do much for search-engine optimization, but it’s a way to attract more loyal followers and to build credibility for your brand.
Google’s announcement should spur a much-needed re-examination of how magazine media companies establish and reinforce the credibility of our brands and content in this age of fake news and attacks on the media. After all, one of the country’s leading magazine publishers was recently outed for paying to prevent the public from learning embarrassing information about a prominent political figure, while simultaneously publishing blatant lies about his opponent. And another backed the launch of a magazine associated with a web site infamous for its goofy and sometimes unsafe health tips. Readers have become savvy about promotions that masquerade as editorial content -- so we can’t expect people to trust what we publish solely because we have a print product or a famous brand.
New Business Models
Google may have done us a favor by pushing us toward practices that are more aligned with where our businesses are heading. The old print model relied on people subscribing to our titles and sponsors advertising in those titles. But the new multi-media model exposes our content to people who don’t know our brands, meaning that every web page must make a case for its own credibility. And increasingly, we’re relying on webinars, live events, niche audiences, videos and other media in which we need our staffers to be stars rather than just faceless bylines.
Goodbye to Google Plus
SEO experts used to advise publishers to be sure their writers had up-to-date Google Plus accounts (and participate in their Google Authorship program) so that Google’s algorithms could see an author’s track record and expertise. Now that’s probably not worth the effort; Google’s algorithms should be able to get all the “authorship” information they need right from your web site. Even Google seems to be acknowledging that its cumbersome foray into social media is pretty much dead.