Chasing Google Changes to Authors and HTTPS

With Google always testing new ways to order and display their results, SEOs and Web business owners often find ourselves waiting for the next big thing, wondering how we can leverage it to get ahead of our competitors.

We’ve seen a number of initiatives come and go or at least evolve, from schema and rich snippets to Google Authorship and now the latest push for secure protocol. We’ve gotten advice on how using these efforts to affect how Google perceives our websites. So we race for implementation to reap the benefits and, hopefully, bolster search engine visibility.

What Is the Intent?

But in our haste to leverage the newest way to make ourselves just a little better looking than the next guy, do we often miss the point? What if our goals shouldn’t really be about exploiting the trend? What if we’re treating the symptoms and not the disease?

When we focus on serving ourselves first, things often go wrong. It’s a common mistake in a lot of areas of SEO. Content and link-building campaigns in particular often suffer because of unintentional narcissism. Yet the same can be true of trying to jump on the bandwagon with the newest thing Google “likes.” If all we see in an announcement is the surface message, the newest way to get the slightest advantage, what aren’t we seeing? What if we focus on the intent behind the change?

Authors That Matter

When we try to read the subtext of what Google attempting to do, we see not what they are asking us to do but how they are trying to change what they ultimately serve to users. For authorship, the goal was to try to associate high-quality content with the individuals who wrote it. To help determine which writers are truly experts on their subjects. It wasn’t necessarily about improving click-through rate (CTR) by displaying an image, or having a face to associate with the content of a product page. Only to know if the author of any pages consistently wrote content that brought value to searchers.

As it’s been said before, the “death” of the latest Google Authorship experiment is not the death of this idea. The concept of entity attribution and agent rank is still very much alive. The notion of associating individuals with their online content to map them as experts, to give greater preference to their content in certain searches, is a worthy pursuit. At its core, it’s an idea with some staying power.

Secure Communications for Everyone

The suggestion that secure sites will perform slightly better in search is not necessarily a rally cry to convert immediately to HTTPS. It is something to build into your long-term plans. It’s an option for future iterations of the site, when you also make those URL changes you’ve been putting off and start that re-direct project. These are all important measures that can make big differences. It’s just another thing to add to the discussions about all of the ways you can improve.

Yes it’s a change to make, and maybe sooner rather than later, but the singular recommendation here is less significant than the intent behind the decision. The encapsulating idea is an attempt to ensure that searchers get sites which are safe. In the official post, Google said:

“Beyond our own stuff, we’re also working to make the Internet safer more broadly. A big part of that is making sure that websites people access from Google are secure.”

This is rooted more deeply than just adding an S to the end of an HTTP. It means that any weaknesses in the site, any indications that a user might be at risk on this site is going to detract from Google’s perceived trust of the site. A secure site that fails to earn a “Yes” to the basic Google raider question “Would you give your credit card information to this site” is not really getting it.

The Higher Call

Google can be such an imperative part of a business; it’s natural to want to employ any strategy possible to win favor and higher rankings. When they offer a disclosure of any kind into the ranking signals they might give preference to, of course we want a piece of that.

Go for it. Be an early adopter. But just ask if what you’re doing really makes you better based on the real meaning behind what Google wants. Employing devices just for the sake of having them show up in search engine results means nothing if the content fails to provide substance or support user intent.

Embrace the opportunities, but do it for the right reasons. Use an author, but do it to put an expert voice behind your brand. Make your site as safe as possible, because the Internet is dangerous and doing your part to keep users safe is good business.

The latest trend with Google almost always demands deeper analysis and more than just going through the motions. The tools they give us are windows into their vision. They can help us keep our eyes on where they are headed. And if we know where they are really going, then maybe we can get there first.

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