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Dark Patterns and the Demise of Google Authorship

I won’t waste your time with yet-another-recap of the rise and fall of Google Authorship when it has already been done so nicely by the good folks at Stone Temple Consulting. Moreover, in a promise I made to myself, I will try and remain civil and polite in my brief analysis. I will begin with an open question to John Mueller, Matt Cutts and Google in general.

Why should we believe this was a failed experiment and not planned obsolescence?

Early in my career as an SEO during the days of reciprocal link schemes, the black-hat thing to do was pretty simple. The formula is below:

  1. Create a link directory on your site
  2. Attract users of link directory, require reciprocal links
  3. Wait a few months
  4. Hide your outbound links from Google (Nofollowing “contribute to” links)
  5. Wait a few months
  6. Delete the whole directory (Remove Authorship feature altogether)
  7. Keep the inbound links

This bait and switch dark pattern was intensely popular, giving rise to software that monitored reciprocal links for the long run, and in-turn being countered by more sophisticated cloaking.

The template for this dark pattern is fairly straightforward…

  1. Create a ##feature## on your site
  2. Attract users of ##feature##, require reciprocal links
  3. Wait a few months
  4. Hide your outbound links from Google
  5. Wait a few months
  6. Delete the whole directory
  7. Keep the inbound links

And we can see how it is followed very closely by Google+

  1. Create Google+ Authorship on Google
  2. Attract users of Google+, require reciprocal links
  3. Wait a few months
  4. Hide your outbound links from Google
  5. Wait a few months
  6. Delete the whole directory
  7. Keep the inbound links

Now, when I was being less charitable I wrote this piece on the most devious link scheme ever, describing Google+ Authorship as nothing more than a con job. In retrospect, that was simply not a fair accounting. It assumed too much.

However, I really want Google to understand something here. Easily millions of dollars were spent by businesses, webmasters and consultants implementing software of your design to improve your search results. We linked to your site, joined your service, connected our accounts and tweaked our code – hell, we even gave you photographs of ourselves and personal information. And now, you still have all of that. And we have nothing.

How do you expect us to be charitable in our interpretation? Or do you just not give a damn?

PS: If you want to earn some credibility back, you could start by considering rel=”author” and rel=”me” links that point to the plus.google.com subdomain as nofollowed. It is the least you could do.

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