Remember back in 2011, when Google linked the Google Plus profiles of journalists to Google News, and folks like Emily Bell, Erik Wemple, Amy Gahran, Megan Garber and I had a cross-platform conversation about it? (OK, probably not.) I thought then that Google integrating Plus with journalism online was probably inevitable. Here we are in 2013, where Google’s “Author Rank” is now putting journalists’ faces into search results and linking to their Google+ profiles.
If you focus on online marketing, journalism and SEO — and like it or not, if you publish on the Internet, you need to keep an eye on these areas — this is a noteworthy development. It’s worth taking the time to understand Author Rank, learn how it works, why it matters to SEO, and think about how it might apply to what you do online. To learn more, check out Google’s Authorship page on Plus.
I’m far from the first to point this out. Denis Pinsky wrote in December 2012 that journalists should care about Author Rank a lot more than Amazon sales rank. Megan Garber, who teased apart some of the issues in a November 2011 post on Google+ at the Nieman Lab, noted Google ran a pilot that in the summer of 2011 that put profiles into search engine results. The article that caught my attention yesterday and prompted this post was by Erin Griffith at Pando Daily, who looked at how Author Rank changes marketing and journalism.
As Griffith suggests, the addition of Author Rank is likely related to the quality of search results. By prioritizing posts written by verified authors who have authority in a given topic in search, Google users will be exposed to better results — and posts created by spammers and link factories will be deprecated. Or so the thinking goes.
According to an SEO agency president cited in a PandoDaily article about the shift, “bylined stories rank higher, and they get more real estate. Most importantly, they return clickthrough rates that are 40 percent greater than normal.”
If accurate, that’s quite a carrot for Google to dangle in front of SEO-obsessed media organizations and freelancers alike, which will lead to influence that may well call for renewed caution about the power the search engine giant holds to organize the world’s information. There are reasonable concerns about how Google has proceeded here. For instance, Google could have given journalists the option to link to a profile on another social network, or to a page on their masthead’s website. Instead, Google Plus is being put forward.
The road ahead
Is linking a Google+ profile to search results a negative for journalists? Given what I’ve seen since 2011, on the whole, I still don’t think so. I’m willing to be proven wrong, as always. As I wrote then (self-plagiarism alert!) Edd Dumbill opened my eyes to the transition ahead of us some time ago in his post about why he thinks Google Plus is the social backbone for the Internet.
I highly recommend reading Edd’s post and thinking through what else might be tied together beyond journalists and their articles. It could be connecting people and places. Or teachers to schools, bartenders to pubs, managers to stores. Or other makers or creators, like musicians to tracks, filmmakers to videos, or photographers to their photos. Connecting coders to their code would be a natural fit for Google. Communities could advance those signals.
Facebook has followed much the same sort of thinking in extending the semantics of its social graph within its network — and has more than 1 billion users at present. Given this shift, I have to wonder whether we’ll eventually see the public Facebook profiles of journalists associated with bylines and stories in Bing search results — and how quickly publishers and journalists will move to associate themselves with Google search engine results.
Media now have a clear choice before them: join Plus to connect profiles with their stories or stay out of the social fray. It will be a different decision than joining Twitter or Facebook was in years past, before it was clear to the general public that social networking would not be a passing fad. There will be more pressure for journalists to join Google Plus now, given the rewards in traffic and profile visibility that will accrue to having your face in Google News and search results.
I chose to tie my profile to my bylines in the summer of 2011, in that pilot, so that people looking for information would see my face in search results and connect to me. New readers are now finding me through many social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Plus and others) and search. Given what I do, it made sense for me.
It will likely not be the right choice for investigative journalists who cover organized crime or government corruption, or for those who operate from conflict zones or under autocratic regimes. For many others, however, being “discoverable” to their communities, beats and colleagues on Plus now looks as professionally relevant as participating on Twitter or Facebook.