By now, everyone in the SEO world knows that Google canceled Authorship because "it isn't as useful to our users as we'd hoped." From now on, you'll never see an author's photo next to his or her articles in Google.
Google's official statement is that "removing Authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites," but I'm calling baloney. Look back just a couple years and you'll find countless studies where the Authorship markup was found to improve a search result's CTR by 150%. There was even a heatmapping study that showed how users' eyes naturally hover over search results with large profile images, even when those results weren't in the top three.
Google Authorship and Plus were closely connected from the start. It's safe to say that most marketers only ever participated on Google+ to take advantage of its impact on search results. Now that Google's bait-and-switched its platform's original selling point, is Google+ still worth using?
For most of us, I believe the answer (with a few exceptions) is no.
Here are four quick reasons why Google+ without Authorship isn't worth using.
1. Author Rank still isn't a thing
Some people have argued that Google could still use the rel="author" tag to implement its 2005 Agent Rank patent, more commonly known as Author Rank. The concept of Author Rank really started circulating the SEO community in early 2012, and it was supposed to be more disruptive than all the Panda updates combined. However, to this day there's no evidence that Author Rank ever actually made it into the mainstream search algorithm.
And guess what?
Even if Google does implement Author Rank someday, you won't need Google+ to use it.
The only place that the search giant has ever confirmed using Author Rank to rank content is inside its new in-depth articles feature. However, Google doesn't use the rel="author" tag or Google+ to identify the author; it looks at the byline in the article itself.
2. Google+ only affects search results for other Plus users
When Google+ was introduced in 2011, the impression was that getting on Google+ was like free SEO steroids. And that's how the platform was pitched. Matt Cutts told us that the rel="author" tag could have direct ranking benefits as it became more widely adopted across the Web.
Today, we know the only benefit for getting Google +1s instead of, say, Facebook Likes is that other Google+ users may see their Circles' recommendations annotated to some search results. However, a recent case study showed that Google +1s have zero effect on mainstream search rankings.
OK, so getting +1s on your content gets other Google+ users to see it more. That has to be good, right? There's just one problem…
3. Most niches don't use Google+
Unless you're in a Web-savvy niche, such as Internet marketing, IT, or entrepreneurship, there's a good chance your audience can't be reached through Google+.
Even three years after launch, Plus still has the steepest learning curve of any other social platform.
- An estimated 42% of users are between the ages of 18–24 and 65% are under 35.
- 62% of users are men.
- Although Google+ boasts over 1 billion sign ups, only 32% of them are active.
- The average "active user" participates on Google+ for just seven minutes per month. (Compare that to 170 minutes for Twitter and 257 minutes on Instagram).
Are you marketing exclusively to young, tech-oriented men? Would you rather have seven minutes of their time every month than 170? If so, keep using Google+.
4. Google+ isn't a social media platform
When Google+ first launched, everyone including Google thought that Google+ would be a social media platform. But it's not really a social media platform anymore, at least not in the eyes of Google. Joel Klettke said it best: "Google hopes to make Google+ an integrated identity engine."
Over the past year or so, Google has begun mandating Plus integration across Gmail, YouTube, Docs, Analytics and Search, making this "integrated identity" concept clearer than ever. Even though Google recently stopped requiring Gmail integration, one thing is clear—Google+ exists to connect your identity across many different platforms so that Google can learn more about you and your customers.
Even if that sounds too conspiracy theory-ish for your tastes, there's no denying that Google+ can't be treated like Facebook or Twitter. This uniqueness makes it very difficult to fit into a conventional digital marketing campaign.
Five Reasons Google+ Is Still Worth Using
Let me be clear: I'm not anti-Google, and I still have the Google +1 button on every piece of content we publish on our blog. There are a few good reasons maintaining a presence on Google+ is still worth doing so.
Here are the top five reasons you might keep using Google+.
- Your target audience (eg., IT, self-employed, writers, Internet marketers) actively uses Google+.
- You're a freelance writer, an editor, or a journalist who uses Google+ to showcase your portfolio.
- Google+ isn't going anywhere (even without Authorship), so it's worth keeping up with just in case it takes off.
- You enjoy using the unique engagement tools like Google Hangouts.
- You already have a large following on Google+, making it worthwhile to maintain.
As you can see, the goal here isn't to persuade you against using Google+; it's to get you thinking about your social media priorities. Ask yourself which platforms deserve your time and energy, and where your audience wants to interact.
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