By: Richard Hopkins
The purpose of this article is to look at what could possibly go wrong with Google Authorship to help you draw up your Content Agreements in the best way possible. In an earlier article I looked at Google Authorship, which uses the new schema.org system of attaching hidden code (a markup) to an article to tell search engines more about the article. Google enhance this by adding the Author's Google+ "identity", of course requiring every Author to actually have a Google+ page.(earlier article is here)
By: Richard Hopkins
The purpose of this article is to look at what could possibly go wrong with Google Authorship to help you draw up your Content Agreements in the best way possible.
In an earlier article I looked at Google Authorship, which uses the new schema.org system of attaching hidden code (a markup) to an article to tell search engines more about the article. Google enhance this by adding the Author's Google+ "identity", of course requiring every Author to actually have a Google+ page. Here is a reminder of what an authorship article looks like (earlier article is here)
Articles that are marked up with a photo have a 40% increased chance of being clicked on, which is a lot of extra traffic. So on the face of it Authorship is great - the Author gets due credit, the publisher gets increased traffic and Google gets to index the article accurately. Everyone wins....right.......right???
Well not exactly! The best use for Authorship is the one-person website where Author and publisher are the same person. Where a website is large enough to employ authors then the game changes. Content agreements become essential to cover the Pandoras Box of possibilities that has been opened. Like these:
1 Curating old articles. Articles used to go onto the net, get indexed under the title, show under searches for a while before dropping back with age and irrelevance. Now older articles by that Author will be much more easily discovered and of course carry the Authors latest photo and Google+ link so even old articles may feel current. This introduces a new consideration - the Author's reputation management. This is an established concept for Corporations that now applies to any Author. Authors will and should be much more concerned about their reputation management, so that Content Agreements now have to work both ways, and this is a big change. Authors will need to ask for provisions to allow them to correct mistakes (most likely something was right when written but the web changes so quickly), pull old articles from websites that suddenly start monetising with undesirable advertising or start promoting a cause the Author objects to. Do you have to specify access to update old articles so your reputation is not degraded? What about if someone makes a horrible comment - do you need to write moderating into your agreement?
2 Authorship creates value. Authorship elevates the status of the Author much more than when the Author was literally the byline to an article. Google have now given structure to the process of Authors creating their own following. Because the Author's following on Google+ shows right there in the search results - the more followers the Author has the more clicks they get and the more their articles are worth to the publisher. Publishers pay to maintain the mechanism with which Authors are given exposure - their website. Will we then see Authors being asked to write for free in order to build their following in the manner that many other Vocations are asked to work for free for "Portfolio"? Will Google Adsense apply to Google+, allowing Authors to monetise their Google+ page that now has traffic thank to the Author? Should a content agreement cover potential off-site revenue from their article, and if so how do you actually write that?
3 Visitor hijacking. By hotlinking back to their G+ account, Google are giving the Author the opportunity to pull visitors from the site where their article was published or worse straight from their search results back to their G+ account. There the visitor can be shown articles from competing websites the Author may also write for. In this case Authorship has hijacked the visitor before the website that paid for the article even sees them. Is exclusivity the best way for a Publisher to ensure they get the reader in the end?
4 Media Concentration. Its already hard to get a new website established, now what this process does is to make that harder. Reason 1: Google has decided that only established Authors can have a photo, so that makes it harder for a startup site to compete for traffic against a larger site using established Authors (who have photos). Reason 2: An established Author with a strong following is simply going to be able to charge more for their articles, so startups will need bigger budgets or accept a longer payback on investment. Reason 3: Publishers smart enough to lock their Authors into exclusive contracts will find their sites are worth more. We will see sites being taken over by Big Media simply to get their Authors. This process is analagous to Retailers being bought out on the strength of their strong store locations rather than actual trading business.
5 De-Authorship. What happens if an Author no longer wants their whole Authorship "identity" on an article? At the moment verification is done on the website level, so to pull their identity off an article on a Publisher's site the Author has to remove the whole website's accreditation. This also de-authors all the articles the Author has with that Publisher. This is limiting in disputes over a single article. Do we need to have a de-author tool in the Google+ panel similar to the "link disavow" tool? If Google allows the Author to remove an entire site from their Authorship, what does this do to the value of the Publisher's website? Consider the lost future income stream from organic traffic attracted by the Authorship markup appearing in the search results? What happens if the Publisher saw this coming and wrote into their Content Agreement that they cannot be de-authored? Do Google have to start checking this before allowing a de-author? Can Google be sued for allowing it to happen - or the Author for doing it?
6 Matching Message with Messenger. I have saved the worst to last. People expect the messenger to match the message. If your physicality does not match the industry you specialise in, your photo will discourage clicks and that makes you useless as a writer. In the mainstream media we have seen a homogenisation of media presenters - presenters have a very narrow range of physicalities. Now this homogenisation moves to the web. The messager is mor eimportant than the message.
What is actually a noble attempt by Google to improve the integrity of the search results does look to me like a Lawyers wet dream. The talk about allowing Companies to have a Google+ page and authorship might solve many of these problems but companies come and go, get good and bad staff, I can see why Google is reticent to let companies join the party.
So my final observation is this - to Google, Authorship is about search integrity. To Authors and Publishers it's about money. What could possibly go wrong?