Google Authorship Markup Disadvantages Everybody Ignores
One of my favourite SEO pundits is AJ Kohn. AJ is an eager early adopter of Google+ and Google authorship markup. That's the thing that lets you display your image in search results. AJ and other people have written numerous great resources on how to use Google+ and the rel=author tags Google has introduced. So I won't tell you much about it. Just read the articles and implement the markup or rather read my post here first explaining the disadvantages of Google authorship markup almost everybody seemingly ignores.
I'm also an avid user of Google+ as you might know. I'm not the best friend of Google as a whole though. I have banned Google search on my blog here as a proof of concept that you can survive and fare well without the search monopolist.
I have added the rel=author tag here on this blog even before I banned Google search on it. I used the easiest way possible, by simply adding a "meta" tag to my HTML head:
<link rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/113621097289093997513/posts"/>
As this blog is mostly me and occasional guest posts I didn't want to make it more complex than that and add an author profile to each post. Now that I do not show up on Google anymore my author pic doesn't either. I tried it so I know how it works at least and what it does. What does it beyond adding an image to search results or rather one search result per search results pages? Not much.
As of now you don't get better rankings on Google besides in social search where you rank a tiny bit better with the image than without as far as I have seen.
Everybody is talking about so called Author Rank though (initially the thing was called Agent Rank but the name didn't stick). The idea behind Agent Rank or Author Rank is in its most simple terms that Google does not rank sites or pages anymore but authors who have written the content on these pages.
Is authorship markup a good thing? For Google it is. For you it depends.
In case you are a frequent user of Google+ and engage a lot with a large number of friends who have similar interests it might have a positive impact in the long run. Also as noted above these people will already see your results a bit more prominently. What happens if you do not use Google+ at all? I recently optimized my wife's website a bit. She was angry at me that I optimize everything else but not her site so I thought I will try to improve it a bit in the few hours I could make time for it.
One of the things I did was to introduce the authorship markup. My wife has a Google+ profile but she hates it and doesn't use it at all. So I fixed it a bit and connected it to her site. What happened? Next time I checked some of her major ranking dropped: her main keyphrase ended up on #7 instead of #3 or #4 she occupied previously for quite a while. This of course might be sheer coincidence. On the other hand it's clear that her ranking did not rise after the addition of the Google authorship markup.
I already thought about removing the rel=author meta tag
but I thought that as she looks quite friendly and is often the only one who displays an image in the search results she might get a higher CTR and more calls by potential patients (she practices Traditional Chinese Medicine). To make sure I added her phone number on top right on each page.
A few weeks later I can say: nothing happened. We don't have more people who call her. You might argue that this evidence is all anecdotal but at least it's first hand. I did not really recommend my clients to use the mark up yet. I won't probably after I didn't work for me and my wife. I also won't connect my other projects to my Google+ profile in order not to hurt them.
You have also to grasp what the Google rel=author tag really means. It's a unique ID for Google to identify you.
In case you are living in the US you might be a little cautious as you do not have unique IDs in the United States. Where I live in Germany a state issued unique ID is obligatory. Guess who has introduced it and when. Adolf Hitler did in the thirties at the time he prepared the Holocaust. The Nazis needed to identify everybody to know who s/he is where s/he lives and whether s/he is an Arian or a Jew. Then those who were identified as Jews had to die in gas chambers.
- Google may kill your rankings depending on what you do on other sites or what other people do on other sites you have contributed too.
- Google may assign your authorship to articles you haven't written without asking you aka automatically, even after your death as has happened with Truman Capote on the New York Times.
- Google might judge your authority based on your Google+ engagement or the lack of it. So in case you are like my wife who does not work online all day and has no time to create and share great content for Google to monetize, Google might decide that other people who are to be ranked higher.
- Google will remember your author history. You may have unnatural links issues today and a perfectly clean site tomorrow but you already will be flagged as an author. Your clients who have used your services as an SEO or webmaster might employ someone else by now who adds some paid links. Google knows that you have been associated with that site and may lower your ranking on your current sites as well. We have seen that Google likes to penalize SEO agencies when their clients fail at complying with the Webmaster Guidelines.
- Google might dismiss your guest articles. Your great guest blogging campaign on dozens of other blogs might fail because Google will count the links all as one as the same author has written all the posts and linked to himself. So maybe the links won't count at all.
- Google might judge you based on the actual image you use. In case the image looks bad, is not you or is NSFW your whole site might disappear. We have seen evidence that Google is monitoring Google Profile pics very closely and censoring them.
Do you see more advantages or disadvantages with the Google authorship implementation? I'm quite disenchanted with Google so I might be biased. Other people don't care that Google is a monopoly, doesn't pay taxes and attempts to replace organic search results with ads.