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January 9, 2013Author Rank has a dark side. In fact, it has four.

Considering I’m one of the first people to really benefit from Author Rank (I suspect that it boosted my profile last month, along with localisation changes), you’d think I’d be more in favour of it. But I’m not.

While it’s great that Google has found a way to reward individuals who consistently produce high quality content and are experts in their field, Google’s Author Rank changes are going to make life very difficult for a while. Here’s why:

1. Google+ whether you like it or not.

Google+ failed to be useful on its own merits. Set up as a rival to Facebook, it failed. Because we already had Facebook. Now Google is trying to find an alternative use for it. And they have.

Welcome to Google+

But it’s still not necessary.

It’d be perfectly feasible to tie in your authorship data to another account – your Facebook or Twitter for example – but Google has chosen not to do this, for much the same reason they are refusing to develop a full read / write API for G+ — because unless you were forced to use it, you wouldn’t use it, as it serves no purpose of its own.

Moreover, in order for your picture to show up in search results (one of the key benefits), Google has stipulated that your profile must be “active” — without defining what that means. That’s led to a lot of us paying lip service to the network – adding people, posting “useful” tidbits etc… without really paying much attention to the network. That may change (as we’re forced back into it) but for now it feels like the bastard child of Facebook and LinkedIn, back from beyond the grave — less Lazarus and more Dawn of the Dead.

Expect a lot more zombie posting.

2. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Not only does linking everything you’ve ever written, ever, to your Google+ account make it easier for Google, and advertisers — and everyone else, come to think about it — build up a detailed profile about your interests and track your activity, it ties you in for life.

Let’s assume you contribute to, say, ten blogs in any given year. For whatever reason – privacy, etc – you decide you want to start afresh. Are you really going to email every webmaster and ask them to change your G+ info? Also, how will Google react to this in SERPS? Will it damage your standing? Chances are you’ll tie an article into your G+ account and you’ll tie it in for life.

It’s also going to present a nightmare for webmasters. I edit an arts and culture blog that’s been going for seven years. In that time we must have had over a hundred contributors. Sorting out all that is going to be a lot of hassle. I suspect many multi-contributor blogs may simply consider 2013 to be “year zero” and not retroactively link articles to profiles. But won’t that mean that good content from before 2013 — or content that can’t be attributed — becomes devalued by Google and lost in the SERPS?

3. Welcome the cult of personality

Not only will old content become devalued, for reasons stated above, authorship will be much more important — possibly leading to a cult of personality that makes who wrote an article more important than what it contains. At the moment, content rises and falls on its own merits. The better an article, the more people who link to it. If you like a person’s writing, you can follow him on twitter. Now with Author Rank, what you’ve said elsewhere and in the past also counts.

This means two things: firstly, high quality content by newer bloggers will rank lower. I blogged this week about how Copyblogger has become stale but is still considered the “go to” source for blogging tips. This will only exacerbate the problem. Moreover, users may start to consider who wrote the post to be more important than its content. At this early stage, it’s hard to say where things are going. But it’s easy to see how they might go wrong.

4. Goodbye anonymity

You’d think a shameless self-publicist like me would put his picture on a postage stamp if he could. But I use an alias sometimes when blogging — everything from music reviews to politics — which I don’t think is appropriate to tie to my name to, let alone the same account I “work” from.

How does Google+ square with this? Some of the things I write elsewhere under an alias are considerably more popular than my copywriting posts. My Copyblogger post attracted 600 hits in a day. The swearblogging I did on minimum alcohol pricing under an alias attracted over 2000.

I’ve just been given a massive incentive to tie everything I ever write into Google+. And a competitive disadvantage if I don’t. Bye bye anonymity. It was nice knowing you…

In conclusion…

Author Rank is a good thing. It helps users promote high quality content and it’s another weapon in the fight against badly written churnalism masquerading as blog posts, bought cheaply by companies purely for the SEO – but it comes with all the disadvantages listed above.

You’re going to be using G+ a lot more. Forever. You’re going to lose your anonymity. And new writers will struggle against older, more established ones.

Thanks, Google. What was that “don’t be evil” motto again?

Author Rank has a dark side. In fact, it has four. Author Rank, you’re dark. And you’re square.

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Addendum, 18th February 2013 — I’m not the only person to be annoyed about being corralled into using Google+ as the risk of having our SERPS devalued if we don’t is a bad thing. Check out this excellent post on “The Great Google+ Swindle” by unmemorabletitle.co.uk — I’ve been mentioned there!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 at 2:33 pm and is filed under Blog, SEO, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 comments

  1. I agree with most of this.

    The thing I object to most is linking EVERYTHING I write under one profile. People aren’t like that on the web. There’s Andrew Nattan, useful and interesting blogger for Unmemorable Title, Andy Nattan, occasional sweary rant blogger for various football sites, and corporate AD Nattan on his employer’s business blog.

    If I’ve got a freelance client, I don’t necessarily want them to know who I work for. And I don’t want work’s customers to be confronted with a sweary, beer-swilling Leeds fan instead of the Comms. Manager.

    There’s always been a risk of cross-contamination in the past, but this makes it explicit. If I want the traffic that comes from Google, then I need to give them everything.

    Which really rubs me up the wrong way.

  2. Yup. Although the first one pisses me off the most (as a cranky self-employed person, I _hate_ being told what to do!) I see the lack of anonymity thing as being most damaging in the long run.

    I blog under two aliases, one of them is occasionally more read than I am — it’d take you between 15 minutes and 30 seconds to discover those aliases. But they’re not explicitly linked. And it would be inappropriate to link them — as you say, clients don’t need to see the sweary side of you.

    Bah.

  3. Paul Gailey says:

    I don’t agree entirely with your hotel california thinking about not being able to severe the authorship relationship as ultimately the author retains control of their Google Plus profile and can disassociate themselves from their post footprint. Ultimately Google don’t support dual profiles as ultimately anonymous is not monetizeable. I know of tonnes of marketing peers who have yesteryear profiles served in the early days for their clients and are feeling snookered by the whole identity thing and they are now grappling with having set up multiple Google Plus profiles, believing they could juggle them, but finding practically that it’s a futile exercise. -Best you can do if you want to retain privacy is limit your sociability per network and even then tieing facebook to your true friends alone is not guaranteed way to limit undesirable info leak

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