Ugh. Google's done it again.
Actually, they do it everyday, but only occasionally invoke the animal kingdom to dub their confusing new algorithmic update some type of bear or bird to announce the new world order of search. Those Google animals are slippery beasts.
Google's wings never stop flapping. Nor do the mouths of "search experts."
You may have heard the latest. The profile pictures and Google+ information that accompanied the search engine page listings of posts by bloggers who have validated authorship are toast. Listings now will simply have a byline.
Search Engine Land was among the first to present the carnage.
Google's John Mueller has announced that Google is making a major change in the search results around authorship. Specifically, Google is dropping the profile photo and circle count from the search listings where authorship is assigned to a web page. Mueller said that the "click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one."
Did Google kill Author Rank?
Nope. You can't kill the unborn.
Author rank never lived in the first place. It's unlikely it ever will. Does this mean the authority, expertise or influence of a blogger or resource doesn't factor into your search results? No. It probably does. Does it mean Google's original baby, PageRank, lives on as predominant search rank variable? It probably doesn't.
All my "probably" talk may suggest I probably don't know the rules the Google algorithm depends on. I don't. Neither do you. No one does. Rumor is one guy did, but he wasn't the escape artist Edward Snowden proved to be, so they stashed him on page two of a search result (which they say is the best place to hide a dead body).
Google thrives on our iffyness. They don't want you, or anyone, to unravel the mystery of search. In my opinion, the infinite secrecy of the inner workings of Google search is this decade's fallout from the massive mistake they made the decade before: U.S. Patent 6,285,999.
That pile of intellectual gobble gook came to be known as "PageRank." We'll call on Wikipedia to deliver its definition.
PageRank is an algorithm used by Google Search to rank websites in their search engine results. PageRank was named after Larry Page,one of the founders of Google. PageRank is a way of measuring the importance of website pages.
Here's Google, circa 2001.
PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.
If it smells foul to you it's because it does indeed reek. And if you're wondering why I'm holding my nose it's because this little turd gave birth to the biggest crap pile of the millennium: the SEO business.
SEO became a multi-zillion dollar business characterized by companies paying "experts" to game Google by creating "more links." Google proclaimed that's what matters. You can't get out jail by blaming it on Google, but you may have a decent case.
Up until Google search started cleaning up Search Dodge of all of the spam, the shysters, the fraudster, the Black Hats, all you needed were mad linking and backlinking skills. It wasn't hard to dupe Google into putting you or you clients onto the first page of Google if you had enough money, resources, time, and a flexible enough morality. (From"Google+ on Its Third Birthday," by Chris Abraham)
Those that played along in the link stink game invested big dollars they'd love to have back. Google created a search buster celebrity in Matt Cutts whose job is to publicly spank all the misfits who came to be known as "black hat" practitioners. Matt knows his stuff, but has essentially become the warden of today's search engine prison.
Anyway, the ranking system reeks because Google continues getting better and better at refining its ability to smell a rat. (Suggestion to Google: consider naming your next official update "Rat.")
PageRank doesn't rule anymore. Author Rank may have its merits, but you can forget about finding an expert to explain it to you, an instruction manual or a U.S. patent. Whether the experts conjure up future myths such as Voice Rank, or Footprint Rank, Integrity Rank, Helpfulness Rank, or (Fill-in-Blank) Rank, each and every one reeks of speculation.
You're left with just one option.
Focus on delivering the content people seek.
How brilliant am I? Not very. I'm preaching the gospel of accomplished content marketers who have risen to prominence because:
- The customer controls the buying cycle now.
- Successful brands place the customer experience first.
- Us humans generally filter out as much advertising as we can.
- Most explorations into buying begin with search.
- The winners are the ones that understand their prospects' pains and pleasures.
- The winners are the ones that answer their prospects' questions.
- The winners are the ones that aim to help people make intelligent decisions.
The winners are the ones who gain loyalty and enjoy word-of-mouth marketing through strategic (and responsive) content marketing programs.
The most effective SEO strategy of all time.
Two years ago, here on Social Media Today, I wrote a post (the subhead above is its title) where I confessed to my high degree of SEO ignorance. I also presented many reasons why I don't dig it:
- Has a misleading name
- Everyone has a different point of view on what works
- No one really understands it
As I re-read the story, I'm not sure if I know more or less about SEO now than I did then. I do know Icare less about it.
But, so as to not allow my massively superlative headline to be accused of the ultimate hunk of click bait, I came through. I offered the big reveal. Or at least I tried. I wrote this:
"While 1,001 SEO schmoes may have 1,001 different fail-safe, white hat, field-proven tactics, everyone agrees the one thing all search engines are after is relevance. So come what may, scholars and simpletons can once and for all agree: the most effective SEO strategy of all time is to produce relevant content."
You'll get no retraction. That, my friend, is the nuttin-but-da-truth.
A little knowledge should serve you well.
In that story, I tossed forth some of the fundamentals and I try here to add some useful nuggets.
Search is a word game. Select smart keywords. Don't torture yourself with them. Just pick the ones that indicate to your reader what the subject matter will be and you'll accomplish the same with the search engines. If you absolutely must aim high and are willing to do the research, dig into the numbers Google AdWords provides and identify 2, 3, 4, or 5-word keyword strings with low competition.
Nail the tags and titles. Understand Google and its brothers send out spidery little buggers in search of words to index your content by. On your end, they're called "titles" and "tags." That's where your keywords go. It's not real complicated. If you use WordPress, install SEO for Yoast (or a similar SEO aid) and you'll be prompted to help your cause with every page you publish.
Describe your pages. You'll have to put up with an SEO power word here, "meta description" (he writes while rolling his eyes). What you write there performs a massive role on the search engine's result page. It goes below the title and URL to describe to the page. You need to fill it out thinking, "Why read this?"
Build links. Don't buy them. You'll regret buying them. Again, focus on relevance and look for opportunities to link back to your content on legitimate sites with guest posts, via social media, and any which way that can be described as user-focused.
I'm going to stop here with the how-to section of the this post and get on with...
The point I'm trying to make.
Rank reeks. I say this because if you're freaking out about the changes Google makes, you're barking up the wrong tree. You need to focus on something more important.
- If all you EVER do is create relevant content readers seek, plus title and tag it for proper indexing, you'll NEVER suffer the penalty of the day. You can go back to loving penguins, pandas and so forth for the adorable animals they are.
- When you abandon your fixation with search, you can focus your time on creating content because it's what prospects are searching for.
- Google's going to experiment. Give. Take. Evolve. Play their cards close to their chests. Issue warnings. Guess what? You're not going to keep pace.
- Google's going to optimize for advertising. Think about that Author Rank thing we began with. Google asked writers to jump through the two hoops in gOOgle with their crazy ass rel=author thing. Get busy on G+. Blah, blah, blah. Follow our instructions and you may manage to get your picture next to your content on a result page.
These shenanigans falsely led everyone into believing a thing called "Author Rank" is on the rise. Nope.
But the whole "author" appearance thing worked. The more visual result attracted eyeballs better. Happy authors. But I believe the clicks come at the expense of Google advertisers who lose clicks to organic search. Google looses ad revenues. Unhappy Google. Time for a change. Sorry folks.
- Ranks are fluid. Google results differ based on just about everything now. Google knows who you are. Where you are. What you read. Where you hang. Who your friends are. What you had for breakfast. So if two people search the exact same thing, you absolutely cannot assume they'll be served the same result. One's doing a granola parfait at Starbucks. The other's sizzling bacon by the bay. Different results.
I want you to put it all in perspective.
Even if I'm wrong about 90% of what I've written and you'll leave here to go talk to some SEO scammer who contacted you via LinkedIn (with his AOL address), I urge you to put search rankings in perspective.
They don't matter as much as you think they do.
Yes, page one is the only page that matters.
Yes, the higher the rank, the more clicks you get.
Yes, if you have hundreds or thousands of products, you better get 'em up there.
Yes, those clicks may help fulfill some of your marketing goals: traffic, awareness, opt-ins, etc.
Brace yourself for blasphemy part two. Traffic doesn't matter as much as you think either. (Taking swings at me now?)
Hey, getting a crowd into your store doesn't automatically mean sales will increase. I've said this so many times, it's about time I wrote it:
The goal of content marketing IS not to get people to your online properties. The goal is to get people to SUBSCRIBE to them.
You want trust. Respect. Loyalty. Word of mouth. You want to create a passionate bond between your brand and your buyers. High rankings won't get this, the most meaningful result of great marketing, done.
This is an opinion piece. You're entitled to yours. The readers will want to read them. Me too.