Google+, Authorship and SERP Personalisation: The Current State of Play

Late last month, Google’s John Mueller announced that they planned to alter how Authorship was displayed in the SERPs.  His original post can be seen below.

There has been a lot of back and forth, conjecture and even arguments regarding this change, about the reasons behind it (like many monopolies, Google doesn’t always tell its subjects the complete truth) as well as what this will mean for authors going forward.

It has caused such contention because many of us had spent considerable time and resources building up our profiles, hoping our smiling, passport-style faces would attract more clicks.  And for a while they did! In a study by Cyrus Shepard of Moz, he showed us that by simply optimising his Google+ picture, he increased organic traffic by a whopping 35%! 

 

What’s changed?

Despite Google’s announcement, the more observant among you may have noticed that there are still photos dotted sporadically throughout search results. If you look below, you can see some results I was returned for the query, ‘blogging strategies.’

The above screenshot was taken while I was logged into my Google+ account. Entering the same query while using Incognito mode, not only returns fairly different results but is completely faceless. No author photos at all.  This difference gives us insight into Google’s intentions. 

On Google+, I am connected to the two authors whose pictures are shown in these results.  I am not connected to the two whose faces are not shown (highlighted in green). I will come back to these guys later.

What this tells us is that Google is trying to serve us up results from people we know and interact with (using their social network).  This falls in line with the search engine’s drive for a more personalised web. The search engine assumes that those I am connected to on Google+ are those from whom I want to hear most.  This does make sense!

 

The importance of Google+

At this point, it is necessary to point out that the aforementioned results (with the Authorship photos) are not leading to author-written articles.  They are simple posts on Google+, some containing links to other sites and some not.

It seems that while a person is logged into their Google account, a large portion of the SERP real estate is dominated by relevant Google+ posts.  The search engine is promoting content from its own network.

Another way that Google+ is being featured in SERPs is through ‘sharing information.’  Below is a screenshot of three results from my query ‘Google+ in SERPs’

None of the three results displayed are Google+ posts but the search engine is still offering up information from my G+ connections, to liven up the results and breathe life into its all-important SERPs. This type of ‘sharing information’ does not affect rankings. 

 

Can brands utilise this?   

Brought to the attention of most by Mark Traphagan of Stone Temple Consulting, G+ profile photos for brands are now appearing in search results too.  In the first screenshot, Fabulous Blogging is a brand.  You hopefully recognise the logo in this second example:

Again, these are personalised results.  Brands that I am following on Google+ are featured more prominently in SERPs when I’m logged in.   

 

Where is Authorship in all of this?

While Google+ posts are encroaching heavily on signed-in SERPs, authored posts are still featured heavily and are still more prominent than those with no author tag.  Authorship proves originality and suggests authority and as a result posts are likely to feature higher in SERPs.

Back to the first screenshot, the two highlighted in green (Alexandra Skey and Jonathan Pavoni) are how authored posts now feature in SERPs. They’ve lost their picture and Circle information.

Using the same search query, ‘blogging strategies’ in Incognito mode shows us the prevalence of authored posts in SERPs.

We can see that the top four results are all authored posts.  While many SEO authorities still argue that Authorship is not used by Google as a direct ranking metric, through online PR, social branding, authority and increased CTR and exposure, it at the very least helps results climb SERPs indirectly. Authorship, without doubt, heavily influences ranking!  And again, when signed in, posts associated with your connections will appear higher.  Authorship is a no brainer!

 

 

Moving forward

Over the past month, there have been a huge amount of posts discussing relevance of Google Authorship.  Is it worth the time and effort? 

The answer is undoubtedly yes.  Despite having its most obvious benefits disappear (the visual stimuli within the result pages), connecting content to people is vital in Google’s vision of a personalised web.

Test whether your Authorship is running correctly with: Authorship Testing Tool

This idea is supported by the growing presence of Google+ in search results.  The network is very much at the heart of Authorship and the connection between content and writers mirrors the human connections Google is also trying to push in its SERPs, as demonstrated earlier.

To take advantage of the influx of Google+ real estate in search, the technique is simple.  Build up your Google+ connections! Brands should aim to increase their follower counts and encourage employees to do the same on their own/professional profiles. The more plussers in the networks to which you have access, the more widely your Google+ posts will appear across the search engine. With the web becoming more and more social, could this technique gradually replace the long-term and arduous task of SEO?  How personalised will Google’s web get?

While Google’s recent updates and changes have been somewhat baffling and in some ways disappointing, there is no doubt Google is heading towards personalisation and search is becoming social.  Embrace it!    

These posts were very much at the vanguard of Authorship-SERP-Google+ research and are worth reading for more detailed information.

Author Photos Are Gone:  Does Authorship Still Have Value? 

Google Announced the End of Author Photos in Search: What you Should Know

Authorship Photos Aren’t Gone, They’re Just More Personal

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!