Google Authorship is the newest initiative in search to emanate from the company. Currently, its impact is challenging to measure. There have been assurances from Eric Schmidt that “author rank” will have heavy future impact on search engine results. As many people have learned, when Google says it’s going to make a major change, it follows through. Billions of dollars in engineering and marketing spending can accomplish impressive feats. Part of Google’s motivation is implicitly to provide identity and ranking services to a global market.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Schmidt:
“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”
This differs from the previous methods that Google has used to determine search rankings, which have mostly gone around an arbitrary measure of page quality, number of quality links, and relevancy of page content to searchers. Google uses the credibility that it’s built through serving trillions of searches to act as the Papacy of the open web, deciding which conventions are sacred and which are sinful.
The majority of web operators are unprepared for the changes, because up until now, identity has remained tangential and fluid in publishing online content. Who you are hasn’t mattered nearly as much as what web pages are linking to you. Adapting to this change before it happens could mean the difference between profitability and bankruptcy for many enterprises.
1. The New Web Will Look a Lot Like The Lost World of Old Media
Do you remember those starry-eyed publications from the mid-2000s, when Blogger and WordPress were new, and the internet was getting interesting again? One of the main conceits of the period was “Today, everyone’s a publisher.” At the time, Google had just gone public. Facebook only introduced the News Feed in 2006. Although cheap web publishing software was at least 10 years old by that time, it was during this period of rapid growth that often anonymous bloggers were starting to grow businesses to challenge the online operations of established newspapers and magazines.
A wave of small, often fly-by-night marketing firms arose to assist businesses of all sizes and scales to become publishers. Now, even local carpenters have blogs. Why? Because Google and Yelp put the Yellow Pages out of business.
However, this period of over-publishing is coming to an end. In a world in which Author Rank matters, the carpenter will be unlikely to out-rank the local real estate columnist at the online newspaper. Let this sink in for a little while, because it has massive implications.
The guy from Pakistan selling Canadian real estate leads to actual Canadian realtors thanks to his high ranking on the local SERP will be clobbered by the validated Author Rank of the local Canadian real estate columnist. If those realtors want to get placement, they’ll need to pay up for an ad, just like in ancient times.
While “today, everyone’s a publisher,” in the future, mostly publishers will be publishers, and it’ll be more economical for nonpublishers to rent space on the former’s web pages. In time, we’ll see the 2000s and early 201*s as a chaotic and temporary period of transition.
2. Google Will Escalate Its War On Aggregation
Google’s business incentive is to increase the value of its ad inventory. Publications that primarily exist to aggregate original reporting are like speed bumps for searchers. The searcher would be better served in most cases by finding the original report. Eventually, author rank will make it so that aggregators with mastery of manipulating keywords will be far less visible to the search robots.
In this way, Google can put economic pressure on the aggregators to either increase the value that they add or to go out of business. This ensures that a single piece of content is less likely to be republished infinitely across many different low value sites. It makes it so that more viewers are concentrated on fewer pages, which means higher ad rates for professional publishers online. Those higher ad rates mean more money for ad placement businesses like Google.
Again, none of this should be shocking or controversial to anyone who has worked in SEO for more than a few years. It’s probably a surprising to people who haven’t, however.
3. The Barriers to Winning an Audience Will Continue to Rise
Online distribution is increasingly becoming a money game. Facebook is charging for news feed distribution at higher rates. SEO is becoming an even more specialized practice. Interfacing properly with Google requires specialized publishing workers, more than ever before. Hiring outside agencies without knowing how to measure their effectiveness is becoming more risky than before. Interflora, along with many UK newspapers, were recently penalized for a paid link scheme.
Authorship is just Google’s latest attempt at developing a solution to the fact that policing PageRank effectively is too expensive for Google to achieve. Facebook and Twitter suffer similar policing issues. It boils down to the core economic problem with the ‘free’ web: free account creation makes publishing services vulnerable to abuse at scale. The arms race with black hats is expensive. Now that the dominant internet publishing platforms have achieved network effects, it’s time for them to shift towards charging for access.
Validating identities makes it so that getting 1,000 anonymous posts to link to your product sites suddenly becomes a useless or counterproductive strategy. Presumably, because validating identities will likely become expensive, spam will similarly become more expensive.
It turns out that that internet publishing “free lunch” was just a teaser promotion – a Groupon, if you will – for a more expensive array of paid services.