Before we dive into answering this slightly complicated question, let’s first take a look at what rich snippets are, exactly.
Rich snippets are enhanced listings that show up within the usual Google search results. These snippets contain all of the same information a typical search result would include with the addition of an author byline, an author photo, and Google+ follower counts. For a while, those who knew the importance of setting up Google authorship found their author photos appearing next to their articles in the search results.
As you might imagine, this was great for click-through rates. However, Google is always adjusting things and it seems now the rich snippets are only being featured when you’re logged into Google+. And the follower counts have disappeared completely. So, what’s the deal here?
Rich snippets were sort of all over the place in Google search results there for a while. If you’d bothered to set up Google authorship, then your face was probably popping up next to just about everything you wrote. It was exciting for authors everywhere,especially those trying to expand their online reach. And let’s be honest here, who isn’t?
Along with an author photo – pulled from your Google+ account — the rich snippet would also feature your byline and the number of people currently in your circles. It made for an intuitive way to integrate G+ into the search experience. Though some viewed it as Google forcing their hand a bit. After all, why should its social network be the only one integrated into search results when there are bigger, and arguably better, social networks to consider?
But the politics of that aside, it’s important to note that Google has since removed much of what made rich snippets “rich.” In fact, search results look much as they did prior to the whole Google authorship rollout. This has been disheartening to some who view the inclusion of rich snippets as a way to better identify authors and build online reputation points.
Now, when the average user searches for something on Google — who is not logged in— he will only see the author’s name next to or below the search result title. It’s better than nothing, sure, but a lot of content marketers are sorely missing those headshots right about now.
Some are arguing that a lack of author photos in search results is actually a good thing, however. Now, no one gets an advantage over anyone else. If you’ve made the appropriate authorship connection for a page, your byline will appear with the article title, just like everyone else’s articles. Before, who would receive a photo and who would receive just a byline seemed to be a bit random. Now, if your content is great, it’ll show up with a byline and so will that other guy who wrote something on a similar topic. No one really gets and advantage over anyone else except for where the page ranks in the search results.
Okay, so I know I just said that rich snippets have gotten the ax, but the truth is they’re just being moved around a bit. Instead of being featured so anyone can view them, they’re only visible now those who are logged into Google. And even then, you’ll only see the author photos of those who you are personally connected with on Google+.
It’s all apart of Google’s personalized results effort. So yes, it’s totally possible you’ll see familiar faces pop up on in search results because you’re connected to them socially.
The truth may be even more narrow than that, actually. Relevancy plays a key role here as well. According to Joshua Berg, you’ll only see an author photo next to an article written by someone in your circles if they are relevant to you. This can be difficult to establish, yes, but investing time in building a Google+ following and being active there on a regular basis should help you to realize greater relevancy in a greater number of people’s personalized search results.
It’s a significant scaling back of the rich snippet concept, but they are still in use, at least as of this writing. And since not just anyone can receive an author photo anymore in rich snippets, those who do will stand out even more. That’s a definite step up for those looking to establish authority.
As I already said, being active on Google+ will increase the likelihood of your author photo appearing next to your articles in the search results of logged in users. But you might be curious as to what “active” means. After all, every social network is different and a lot of people have yet to come over to Google+ land.
Just for posterity’s sake, here are a few tips for using Google+ and boosting your engagement there.
Cross-Posting is Not the Answer
First and foremost, it’s important to note that G+ is its own network and should be treated as such. It’s okay to post the same content across multiple social networks on occasion, but do this too much and you cause the original post to lose some of its punch. Offer something unique for your G+ followers and you’ll do well to capture their attention.
Longer Posts Make an Impact
Unlike Facebook and Twitter where brevity is important, you can actually get away with making quite lengthy posts on Google+. In fact, it’s encouraged. The site supports up to 100,000 characters in a post. Many people are opting to put entire blog posts — or at least lengthy snippets from them — on Google+ and the results are pretty impressive. Engagement goes up considerably, mostly because your followers don’t have to click through to read your content. They can just read it straight within their feeds, comment, and engage. Convenience is key.
This is sort of becoming a mantra across all of the social networks but photos stand to make a big impression on G+. They appear quite large on the site and are an effective way to make a statement. There are plenty of free graphics services out there you can use to create custom images for your blog posts and social posts. Or, if you have the skills, you can create your own graphics using Photoshop or Pixelmator.
Build a Relevant Community
One of the most important things you can do to make the most of your Google+ presence is to only follow people who are relevant to your industry and niche. This will help to ensure your posts are seen by people who would be most interested in them. And don’t forget to segment your followers into circles, too. This will help you to target your posts more effectively.
Google is paring down its use of rich snippets but Google+ users shouldn’t notice that much of a difference, especially if they are actively engaged on the network. While it’s probably all just an elaborate push to get more people to use G+ more often, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for the moment. Especially if you want to expand your content’s reach and establish yourself as an authority in your industry.