Google Authorship, Semantic Search and the Future of SEO
Perhaps the most talked about topic in the SEO community this week has been the end of Google Authorship. A constant string of blog posts, conference sessions and ‘research’ projects about Authorship and the idea that it can be used as a ranking signal fill our community.
Google has ended their Authorship experiment. Search Engine Land reported the news in an article by Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen on August 28th, 2014.
What Does the Drop of Authorship Mean
Essentially it means that when an article or blog post by a Google+ user shows up in someone’s search results, they will no longer see any affiliation between that article and the author. Beyond that, it’s too early to say what the death of Google authorship can mean.
A.J. Kohn is his post, Authorship Is Dead, Long Live Authorship wrote:
“The biggest problem with Authorship markup was adoption. Study after study show that there are material gaps in who is and isn’t using the markup. Even the most rosy study of Authorship adoption by technology writers isn’t anything to write home about.”
Google was unable to use Authorship as a ranking signal since important authors weren’t participating. It doesn’t take a lot of work to find important people who aren’t participating and that makes any type of AuthorRank that relies on markup a non-starter.
Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller says:
“We’ve gotten lots of useful feedback from all kinds of webmasters and users, and we’ve tweaked, updated, and honed recognition and displaying of authorship information.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results.”
This is in-line with Google’s ongoing mission to make sure the search results they provide are as beneficial for the user as they can be. This is also clear in their statement about Schema, with Mueller stating that Google is “strongly committed” to expanding support of structured markup.
Quick Dos and Don’ts:
- Don’t just jump ship and start deleting all your authorship markup.
- Do get on board with schema.org and start (if you haven’t already) marking up your content, including author information.
- Don’t drop off Google+ because you think it’s no longer worth it now that Authorship is gone.
- Do take it one step at a time and start (or continue) diversifying yourself online. One egg, one basket.
Stop thinking about now and start thinking about what’s next. That is the one thing that will help you distinguish yourself from those stuck in the past. Making rash decisions now could harm you in the future so it’s better to wait until you know how to repurpose your past efforts.
Although it’s a big development that can seem like a step backward, the end of Authorship is only the start of bigger experiments in semantic search.
Rise of Semantic Search
The word “semantic” refers to meaning. Semantic search (also known as “entity search”) uses machine intelligence to decide the intended meaning of words so searches become more relevant. No longer focused on just keywords or even phrases, Internet search has evolved to use a new level of sophistication.
Semantic search is search-query-based and not keyword-driven. A search query, especially a complex search query, allows Google to mine a wealth of contextual clues that allow it to determine end-user intent and serve the best possible results in search. A keyword (or two) put in search, is context-lite. Google struggles to understand what the end-user really means, which then results in search results being imprecise.
Semantic search is a paradigm shift that’s making itself felt across every business vertical. Because search powers the way we access the web, it also changes the way we interact with web technologies. This, in turn impacts upon the way we use it to get access to services, buy products and find information.
Semantic search and the semantic web are affecting everything: from the way marketing is done to how online dating works, even how you look for a job. More than that semantic search is the beginning of the convergence of traditional “online” with “offline” — the two will become the same, characterized by different bandwidth and available functionality.
When everything is contextual, success online is reduced to the simplicity of meaning. The success of a product or service is guaranteed only when it actually means something to the person who will see it (i.e. it provides an answer to a problem in a transactional or informational way, or it helps them expand their knowledge).
When the only way to interface with the semantic web is voice, as in a conversation, being found in search changes from the game of statistical chance it was in the past to a firm recommendation made by an intelligent program.
For that to happen and your business to be recommended you have to have engaged in building your identity and reputation and create high-confidence in who you are, in search long enough for Google to have formed a granular picture of who you are and what you do.
The point is that from a practical perspective those seeking to be found need to focus on the creation of content that is as information-rich as possible. Keywords on their own, … simply won’t cut it.
And so on to Hummingbird, an entirely new search algorithm sitting at the core of Google. It isn’t an addon or a tweak or adjustment like the infamous Panda and Penguin. Known for its focus on providing intuitive search results based primarily on user intent, Hummingbird understands the relationship of keywords or phrases to one another and uses this to rank websites relevant to what the user has searched.
The best analogy I’ve heard is to think of Google like a car – sooner or later even if you’ve replaced the wing mirrors and doors and wheels you can’t improve the car any further without changing the engine. That’s what Hummingbird is, the “engine” that drives Google search, and it incorporates the existing rules of Panda and Penguin – not the other way around. Announced at the time of Google’s 15th birthday it also coincided with the “100% not reported” announcement of keywords in Google Analytics.
By removing keyword reporting in Google Analytics Google has removed the “what keyword am I going to build content, around, today?” strategy. Content will always contain keywords, but it should be created to answer specific, potential, end user questions rather than surface a page because of a keyword.
Google was recently granted a patent for “search query results based on topic” so the future of SEO is all about content – topical, relevant, conversational and tailored for your audience. Write content which is based around conversations that your target audience is having, rather than around what you think search engines want, and good search performance will naturally follow. “Gaming the system” for SEO is a thing of the past.
Hummingbird completes a very comprehensive sea-change in how future search engine optimisation will be carried out. The term SEO will remain, but its processes will need significant change to meet the new challenges of tomorrow’s semantic search.
The Future of SEO
From the Google Knowledge Graph to Bing Snapshots to Google Hummingbird, all of a sudden semantic search is popping up all over the place, and people are taking notice because it’s hard to ignore how search has changed.
We at iEntrepreneur opine that the changes wrought by the semantic web on the way search engines work signal a turning point in the way SEO is practiced. We believe the future of search is personal, with social and mobile playing a key role.
The fundamental change has been the shift from strings to things. From keywords to entities. From the words that are used to describe things to the to the thing being described. In search engine and semantic parlance “things” are called “entities.” Entities are different than keywords. They’re what keywords are used to identify.
The semantic web is the new face of search. It changes web pages from isolated islands, to islands joined by billions of bridges. It’s a search environment that doesn’t only try to provide answers about things, but about the connections between things. And it’s the environment for which search marketers require an optimization strategy.
SEO strategy to date has been focused on keywords – strings describing things. While keywords will continue to play a central role in search – precisely because they do describe things – strategies developed for keywords alone, for strings, are inadequate for the dynamic world of things.
That entities are important for semantic SEO is obvious, but simply replacing “keywords” with “entities” as your optimization target isn’t particularly helpful, and it doesn’t address what makes semantic search so powerful.
That power is the ability to understand what things are and how they’re connected – and it’s those relationships you want your web page, or video, or email, or tweet, or pin, or picture, or post to play a role in. You want your site to make an appearance just at the moment Google connects the dots for a searcher. You need your search engine optimization strategy to include not just nouns, but verbs.
Semantic SEO is not about optimizing for strings, or for things, but for the connections between things.
Changes in the industry and with the search engines represent the convergence of search and social media, data and personalization, strategy and tactics.
The increased prominence placed on social media content, seeding, and sharing (social media optimization) has meant social signals are now a standard part of any search optimization techniques. As the role of SEO develops and converges with social media, we’re beginning to see many changes in the SEO technology landscape.
The rise of Enterprise SEO technology is encouraging business and agencies to collaborate and take advantage of new developments and the convergence of SEO, social media, and content marketing strategies.
Tell us what you think, what did we miss?