Google Authorship is Dead (or is it . . . .)

Last week, John Mueller over at Google announced authorship would no longer be shown in search results. In case you forgot, authorship was the nifty gizmo that made your picture appear in the SERPs next to content you wrote. Or at least, it did until this past June when Google removed the photo and just left your name.

Here’s what Google Authorship looked like in its glory days:

authorship 2

And here’s what it looks like with the removal of authorship:

authorship gone

boo boo!  Sad Trombone . . .

Why did Google (say they) got rid of authorship?

In their analysis of authorship, Search Engine Land cites two reasons. First of all, a low adoption rate by authors. Not many authors were implementing authorship code, suggesting that many content providers weren’t interested in it or didn’t understand how to use it. Secondly, a low value to searchers. Although authorship was originally intended to provide users with another indication of the validity of your content, it turns out that seeing your pretty face wasn’t really helping decision making.

Why do (we think) Google got rid of authorship?

Generally at Mockingbird, we take most of what Google says at face value. BUT – – – let me uncharacteristically offer a contrarian view:  Google got rid of authorship because we (the scummy, spammy) SEO industry transformed it from a positive quality signal into a spammy marketing tactic.  Especially within legal – where social media marketing consultants and SEO hacks desperate to demonstrate some tangible benefit to their clients went overboard with authorship.  Remember how FindLaw spammed authorship by attributing blog posts from old clients to their new clients? Hardly a legitimate quality signal and FindLaw wasn’t the only one.  My take is that it is highly possible that Google has removed the tangible benefit of authorship (that ego-boost of your picture right within the results that made lawyers salivate and social media marketing something to do) but has quietly held on to the concept of author rank.  Getting rid of “authorship” is going to remove (some) of the low quality signals that SEOs foisted into the author rank concept.

What does this mean?

Thankfully for website owners, Mueller says, “removing authorship doesn’t seem to reduce traffic to sites,” so you shouldn’t be too concerned on that front. However, folks in the SEO community have been spending time and energy on this since 2011, when authorship was first introduced.

Authorship was always about much more than the silly little picture . . . and for our clients we’re staying the course – building the authority of individuals.

The End of Google Authorship as We Know It

Last week, Google’s John Mueller announced a huge shift in how Google Authorship will be displayed in search results going forward. If you’re familiar with Google Authorship you’ll know it as the fancy mug  shot that get’s featured next to your search results, like so:


There’s more to authorship than having your face plastered next to search results. But, since it’s inception in 2011, SEO experts have mainly toted Authorship as a way to increase the click-through rate on your results. This is based on eye tracking studies that suggest images attract people’s attention, and lead them to more often click. Following the clicks, lawyers rushed to implement authorship across their sites. And, as usual – as more people took advantage of Authorship, Google decided to flip the switch on those abusing the feature. In December, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed that they were rolling back author images by around 15%. And now they’ve announced that author images will be removed from search results entirely… no longer will your faces grace the SERPS.

Is this the Absolute End of Authorship?

In my opinion, author images are a very small part of Google’s underlying goal for creating authorship  – and more specifically, Author Rank (which spent them all of .25 second to name).  While Google’s never explicitly said this, I believe the original creation of Authorship was to do two things:

  1. To recognize thought leaders and factor their authority into Google search algorithms.
  2. Promote the Use of Google +

Since search engines were created people have been gaming them to increase their own visibility. The tactics have changed, but the game remains. First people stuffed their website footers with lists of keywords. Then people started purchasing links and participating in link exchanges from unrelated websites. When that didn’t work they started spinning content and publishing it across multiples websites with links back to their own. All of these things Google hates. Why? Because anyone can do this. Anyone can stuff keywords. Anyone can buy links. Anyone can get their image in the SERPS. But none of these things indicate quality. None of these things indicate that you are a good lawyer, or that you are knowledgable in your practice areas. None of these things suggest you have credibility. In order to build credibility you need to first share your knowledge and expertise. For many lawyers this first means simply writing content for your site, and answering the common questions you hear on a daily basis in your practice. But maybe you also teach classes on your legal practice areas. Maybe you submit articles to legal journals. Maybe you engage with local media to give insight regarding local laws. All of these things suggest that you are an authority in your legal field. If you are building a reputation within your community, Google wants to take that into account in the search results. And, that’s what Google’s Author Rank is really about. The inclusion of author images on the SERPS caused a lot of people to sign up for Google+, and authorship. Now that author images cease to exist, don’t forget about Google’s Author Rank, which still remains. This will most likely continue to develop and play a role in Google’s search algorithm. So, what can you do to stay ahead of the curve?

  1. Serve your audience/potential clients by creating and contributing QUALITY, content.
  2. Setup a Google+ account and make sure you have Authorship setup for any site you contribute articles or content to.

It’s worth mentioning that #2 is almost worthless if you ignore number one and continue to engage in “old school SEO”, like buying links. And, if you’re still doing that (we know many of you are), stop now.

FindLaw Selling Pre-SEO’d Websites

Want to rank #1 for a highly competitive search term immediately?  FindLaw has your answer.

FindLaw is now offering pre-built Websites – essentially high ranking law firm websites with no owner – being sold to the highest bidder.  And by “high ranking” I mean high ranking in the search engines.

Here’s excerpts from a FindLaw email forwarded to me by a lawyer wondering how much he should pony up for a site that was already a ranking winner:

look at this link and let me know what you think once you open the first organic (under top PPC adds). This is just a sample of our pre-built DUI Sites that we recently released. We only sell 2 state wide for every state. Why not consider being # 1 organically. . .”

What the what?

What is a pre SEO’d Website?

Now its unclear from the email above exactly what “pre-built” websites actually means – but the explicit message here is that a firm can purchase a website from FindLaw that already ranks.  And ranks #1 for very competitive terms. The sales pitch is very compelling – we already rank #1 . . . see right here?

And lawyers bit.  Here’s one of those pre-built, pre-SEO’d websites live and kicking and rented by attorney Erik Zentz.  Yes – just <insert handsome attorney picture here>.  DUI in Vegas – I wonder how deep Erik’s pockets are?


And this approach seems to be working well for FindLaw and their clients.  Here’s Zentz winning the  competitive query “Las Vegas DUI Lawyer”.  (And I can’t tell you the rash it gives me that a FindLaw site is outranking Avvo’s results – which come in at #2.)


I wanted to know exactly what a pre-built website was, so I checked out on the wayback machine. Turns out, just last year there was an entirely different law firm on that domain:  Kajioka and Bloomfield.


So what happened to Kajioka and when?  Here’s the site on the wayback machine from January of this year – notice the firm name and contact information have been stripped.  I can’t possibly imagine a worse user experience for someone in desperate need of a lawyer stumbling across a placeholder website ranking #1 in a highly targeted search result.


And now Eric Zentz owns rents the domain that Kajioka and Bloomfield presumably paid to have FindLaw build and optimize for them – including all of the legacy blog content and . . .  links.  Yup – despite the fact that Zentz started on the domain just this year, “his” blog posts stretch back well into the first quarter of last year and have the exact same content from the Kajioka era. Explains how he’s been able to rank #1 for a super competitive term in less than 3 months.  And not to miss a black hat beat, FindLaw made sure to establish authorship for Eric . . . for pre-existing blog posts written long before he was their client.  Note the date below . . .


I’ll leave you lawyers and bar reps to chime in on the ethics of this.

So pre-built actually means “recycled” or “rented” or “sold to the highest bidder” or “author spam” or perhaps all of the above.

What absolutely floors me is that Koijaka and Bloomfield have kept their website with FindLaw – although they don’t appear anywhere in search results (at least for me) for that coveted term – “las vegas dui lawyer”.

I wonder who is paying more to the piper?

More Examples

Is Zentz an isolated incidence?  Not so fast – through a little backlink analysis I stumbled into a slew of sites –, etc, etc. The whois record for these domains comes up not as FindLaw, but rather as DNStination Inc. in San Francisco, which is, according to Domain Name Strategy, “a profile often used by corporate registrar MarkMonitor to ‘mask’ domain ownership on behalf of their clients.” But the anchor text heavy links on these sites point almost exclusively to lawyer websites that are — you guessed it — FindLaw clients. Of the links on Chicago Legal Authority’s Featured Personal Injury Attorneys (below), seven out of nine of them were to law firms paying FindLaw for their websites – and look at that anchor text whoooo!

Chicago PI List

And – to close the loop – the New York Legal Authority site included an anchor text heavy link to – which, although registered to Domains by Proxy (hidden), is built on the same exact template as our original example: Zentz.

FindLaw Prebuilt Website


Another ownerless site – the phone number I called on the contact page of these ownerless sites went to a nondescript voicemail – no name, no law firm name, nothing – how is that for quality results?  BUT – someone is still publishing content on the domain – at least 5 blog posts so far this month.

May Blog Posts

. . . . and yup, you guessed it . . . the Long Island DWI site returns on page one of Google search results for that money term . . . .”long island DWI Lawyer.”




So if you live in Long Island and practice DWI, give your FindLaw rep a call . . .

Legal Marketing in 2014: The Only Thing You Need to Know

Now is the time of year when professional predictions, resolutions and prognostications appear across the legal marketing blogging landscape.  In the ever-changing SEO industry, correctly guessing the newest new thing is very effective.

As far as I’m concerned there’s only one thing you need to know about online marketing in 2014:  Matt is mad.

In 2013, the head of Google’s anti-webspam team (and unofficially, chief industry PR spokesperson), Matt Cutts, hammered the SEO industry with anit-spam algorithm updates.  And while Google started sharing these algo code name updates back in 2011; through 2013 we saw these names go from project code names whispered about at geek conferences into brand names, with careful, proactive PR launches.  Pandas and Penguins and Hummingbirds.  Oh My!

Traditionally, Google’s anti-spam PR approach has been to single out individuals – JC Penney’s, BMW etc. – and make an example of them.  And while there will continue to be individual examples, what we are now seeing is much more widespread.  This accelerated towards the end of the year with widespread algo changes and very public warnings about guest blogging, thin authorship and a litany of link scheme busts.  Here are some (non-animal branded) announcements from December 2013 alone:

Google Has Officially Penalized Rap Genius for Link Schemes

Matt Cuts Implies Google is Aware of SEOs Bribing Bloggers

Google Reduces Authorship Rich Snippets in Search Results

Google Squashes – Another Link Network Outed by Google

Google’s Matt Cutts: Guest Blogging Abuse SPAM on the Rise

Google Busts Yet Another Link Network – Anglo Rank

Google’s Matt Cutts: Stitching Content is Bad SEO Quality Content

Google Mindset Shift

Most interesting was a shift in mindset publicly espoused by Google. Generally, given their vast reach and power – we seen amicable Matt speaking reasonablly gently about these issues. So I was very surprised to run across Cutts in a December 4, This Week in Google video, in a carefully worded statement saying:

“We want to break [spammers] spirits.”

Barry Schwartz has a detailed review of the video on Search Engine Land – here are some of the key excerpts:

“If you want to stop spam, the most straight forward way to do it is to deny people money because they care about the money and that should be their end goal. But if you really want to stop spam, it is a little bit mean, but what you want to do, is sort of break their spirits.”

SPAM and the Legal World in 2013

Aggressive and enterprising lawyers tend to be some of the more aggressive spammers – rivaling offshore porn, pills and poker.  In 2013, the third largest legal industry centric link buying scheme was quietly taken down (interestingly – to the best of my knowledge this hasn’t been reported anywhere.)  I don’t know if that was a manual change made by Google or if it was caught up in a larger algo update.  And remember lawyers – I’m talking to more and more of you coming up with various office sharing schemes to try to artificially expand your footprint in Google local results.  If you want to stay around for a while, open up a real office.  David Mihm’s 2013 Local Optimization Ranking Factors Survey identified the number one negative ranking factor:  Listing Detected at False Business Location.

So – Atticus’ predictions for 2014?

As a whole, the legal industry will experience a heavy shake-up with regards to who generates business from the web.  “Penalty Recovery” will become a staple of the legal SEO agency world as law firms flee the large spammy, legally focused SEO agencies/consultants/website providers.


Google Shuns Low Quality Authors

Now that we’ve all jumped on the authorship bandwagon – its time to reverse course.

SEO rockstar, Barry Schwartz first posted about the drop in authorship a week ago. Today, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed a change to their authorship model – reducing the number of results returning authorship images by roughly 15%.

If you live under an SEO rock – here’s authorship in action – a picture of yours truly accompanying an article I wrote:


Numerous studies have universally pointed to a massive increase in click through rate when results are associated with authorship – regardless of where those results fall on the SERP page.  Predictably, the legal marketing industry fell all over itself in a mad rush to implement authorship.

Why Matt?  Why do you do this to us?

Lets use the legal industry as the whipping boy for why Google rolls back some of their most creative innovations.

As word of authorship rippled across the legal SEO industry,  agencies and  enterprising DIY lawyers learned how quick and easy authorship was to implement.  This was the lateset SEO magic bullet – little work, big results and a client ego-stroked with his picture showing up on The Google!  Woot Woot!

Predictably, we took it too far.  I’ve talked to some of you about this and I’ve seen some of you try to game the system . . . so don’t protest too loud.  Marketers started establishing authorship across the firm – tying lawyers to news-rewrites outsourced to India and vomited onto legal blogs. And this, of course is exactly what Google hates.

The Real Value of Authorship

And by the real value – I mean the value to users – is the recognition of great content through highly authoritative subject matter experts. This is a great concept, although horrible christened Author Rank.  So Google is rolling back authorship results on the bottom of the author authority barrel. If you’ve been writing your own stuff and connecting socially, this change is a non issue.  But if you’ve been trying to skirt the system, time to start looking for another magic bullet.





SEO Regicide: Content the King is Dead

Content content content.

“You need more content.”

 “You need to rewrite news articles every day!”

“You need to blog more.”

“Publish or perish.”

“Google launched Hummingbird – you need to write FAQs!”

Psssssst . . . . lawyers . . .  all of the SEO experts are telling you (and all of your competitors) the same thing.  And like compliant lemmings, you are all doing the same thing.

Psssssst . . .  It doesn’t work anymore.

The Rise and Fall of the Content Dynasty

The genesis for the focus on content began about 5 years ago.  Changes in consumer search behavior gradually took effect – whereby users began looking for increasingly specific answers with increasingly granular content pages.  The “long tail” of search became the industry’s hottest new buzzword.  SEO experts, ninjas, and mavens started churning out pages with very subtle differences –  “Best Seattle underage DUI Attorney”, “Top 10 Settle teen DUI Attorneys” “Great Seattle Drunk Driving Lawyers for drivers under 21” ad nauseam.  The industry adopted the boorish practice of rewriting news stories and vomiting them back onto blogs that quickly became poorly written rehasings of yesterday’s news.

And for a while it worked (at least in generating traffic for the SEO consultants to return triumphantly with “success metrics” for their misguided clients – the fact that the phone never rang didn’t seem to matter – but I digress, that is a topic for another post.)  The legal industry became publishing sweatshops – with individual firms churning out hundreds, even thousands of articles a month.

Eventually, the search engines, as they always do, caught up with the SEO spammers.  Penguins and Pandas and most recently, Hummingbirds were let lose on the algorithms.  Content, the King, was under attack.

Content is Dead

The Succession of the King:  Quality Content

The search engine talking heads defended their King – retreating back to the ever-popular refrain – “write quality content and we will reward you with a bounty of traffic.”

So the SEO experts and mavens and ninjas did as they were told . . . infographics and guest blogging were born. Top 10 Lists proliferated like bunnies on a steady diet of Viagra. In time, most legally focused news stories was dissected and built into beautiful graphical statistical displays.  Guest blog brokers were born.  Just like with King Content, the disciples of his son, Quality Content initially did very well.  But as others caught up, they became increasingly less effective. Because everyone was doing it.

So the search engines sent warnings about guest blogging.  The cycle repeated itself again.

Quality Content is NOT Enough

This death of King Content and his prince son, Quality hit me square in the face a few weeks ago at Webcam –  a small but amazing conference in Bend Oregon.  Marshall Simmonds, who used to be the in-house SEO for the New York Times  (arguably one of the most high quality original content publishers) heralded the end of a dynasty:  Content is no longer King.

Eu Tu Simmonds?

And he’s right. We are now at a point in the evolution of the web where generating quality content is no longer sufficient for success. There’s frankly just too much of it.  The trick, the real hard part of marketing, today’s unscaleable solution and the successor of the crown is marketing content.  And by “marketing content” – I don’t mean “content marketing” – the aforementioned practice of vomiting out hoards of webpages.  I literally mean undertaking marketing efforts to promote your quality content.  This can take the shape of many different channels – social media, networking, the dubiously named “author rank” or even the marketing pariah of the SEO world – Public Relations.  Marshall’s pronouncement was utterly confirmed for me when I looked at the referring traffic for some legal sites and found that Press Release providers (PRWeb etc.) frequently showed up as the #1 referring site. For years, I have mocked the press release tactic as a dying relic of yesteryear  – but I’ve been wrong – because now, the genuine distribution of content is what makes the magic happen.

The reality is that the Quality Content mantra assumed that when you have quality content, links are going to happen.  This is no longer universally true – especially in hypercroweded content landscapes like legal.  To be successful, you must embrace proactively marketing that very good, high quality content.

Content is dead, long live Content.

A Common Sense Law Firm Policy for Authorship

Authorship is the hottest new innovation in search.  And like many changes that preceded it, authorship has the legal community spinning in circles trying to figure out what to do.

But first . . .

A Quick Primer on Authorship

At a very high level, authorship is the association of an individual writer’s reputation to a piece of content.  This manifests itself in two important ways.  1. As a ranking factor – i.e. Conrad Saam has accrued a strong reputation for writing about search and therefore his content about search will rank well regardless of where it is published.  2.  As a click through factor – to help searchers identify good content, Google is including a thumbnail of the author in search results.

Authorship for Lawyers

Authorship is a big deal.  At the latest SMX Advanced conference, a study (with what looked like an admittedly anemic dataset) claimed a 200% increase in clicks to results with authorship than without, regardless of position on the SERP. Later in the same session, a major newspaper editor suggested that a writer’s Author Rank (uggg – our industry’s latest nauseating   buzzword that is soon going to be misused by MBAs desperate to display some tech cred) would soon be a primary hiring factor.


Authorship has been written about ad nauseam – I’d recommend Ann Smarty’s cheat sheet overview if you need to quickly get caught up. For now, I want to focus on the perceived risks of authorship . . .

Why Law Firms are Afraid of Authorship

Authorship does raise some genuine questions.  To capture search traffic, more and more law firms are expanding the velocity at which they publish content to the web – using more firm lawyers, or with ghost written content.  This has raised policy issues around authorship. The two most common concerns that have some law firms completely balking wrt to authorship are:

“What if I publish something that could be used against me down the road in a case?”

This red herring actually has nothing to do with authorship.  The logic is pretty simple –something published on your law firm’s blog that is so damaging is probably not going to be more so with a picture attached to the results on a search engine query.  I hear this concern mostly from law firms using outsourced third parties to vomit out a huge volume of low quality content onto their sites.  If this is a question you find yourself asking – consider fixing the content problem, not the authorship problem.

“What happens if Bill leaves my firm – can he take his authorship with him?”

This is more nuanced question and mirrors a common firm partner concern:  I spend year’s building Mary’s reputation as a great lawyer, and then she goes and opens up a firm across the street from me.  Allaying this concern requires an understanding of how authorship works. Let’s go back to the central premise of authorship: content for reputable writers ranking regardless of where it is published. So, yes, a lawyer can build up their writing reputation on a firm’s blog and then put that reputation in their pocket and start a new firm with a new website and leverage that reputation to rank.  From an Author Rank perspective two things happen here:  1)as their reputation builds on their new site, so does the value of that reputation to the original content and 2)if they choose to disassociate themselves from the original blog, they lose the value of that reputation.  It is important to note that reputation isn’t built just because I’m writing on a specific blog, but also because of many additional associated signals (links, shares, etc.).  Just like in real life, the reputation for an author (or lawyer, or singer, or SEO consultant) transcends any individual publishing platform.  Therefore, there is no downside to using authorship to enhance your content’s ability to drive traffic.

This brings us to . . .

A Common Sense Law Firm Policy for Authorship:

Don’t publish anything you wouldn’t attach your name to.