This is another of my really long posts that doesn't have a TL;DR version. Here's a quick preview:
If this sounds useful, hey, give it a read. If not, well, phooey on you. If you want to see the slides instead here you go. Otherwise, keep right on scrolling:
The title of this article sounds awfully confident, but I'm not. Chances are I don't exactly have the future pegged. My last few attempts at predicting stuff are about 50/50. I've gotten some right:
I'm only predicting 1-3 years in the future. If I were CEO of a well-funded startup, rolling in cash and eyeing acquisition by a monster company, I might look 10 years ahead. But I'm not. I run an agency dependent on cash flow. I can't build a boat in a dry lake and wait for rain. You're probably in the same situation.
But, I've also had some real whoppers:
Soooo, take what I say with a grain of salt, but understand that I have a bit more backup for this article than previous predictions, which were largely yanked from various dark places on my person.
A quick catch-up, in case you didn't know: This whole internet thing looks to be more than a fad. It's also stuffed with content that ranges from amazing, world-changing stuff to the worst mental sewage imaginable.
The only tools that let us really sift through it all? Search engines. Yes, I know there are other gadgets and apps. But search engines absolutely dominate, and that won't change any time soon. In spite of our complaining, they do a pretty darned good job.
So, let's assume that search engines will continue to be the internet's utility: We treat it like electricity. If you don't believe me, imagine what would happen if the world had no Google for, say, 48 hours. Total. Hysteria. We turned 'Google' into a verb, for Heaven's sake.
But there's a problem. To function at scale, search engines had to over-simplify. They live in a world driven by links and words. Nothing else. That leads to some weird assumptions:
Until recently, search engines had a really hard time with content spread among multiple sites.
Say you write a fantastic article for another site, like Forbes.com. You get it published there. It has one lonely little link back to your site, and that link passes some authority but not much. OK, you think, that's annoying as hell, but it's better than nothing.
Then, the New York Times links to your masterpiece. On Forbes. The piece gets 10,000 likes, tweets and +1s. Forbes gets all sorts of lovely authority. You? You still have your one pathetic link, and there's only so much additional authority that's going to squeeze through that tiny little pipe.
Infuriating. Of course, if you'd published that article on your site, you might have gotten all that beautiful citation for your domain. But alas, you did not. That's what happens when search engines live on links.
Ever write something really great, see it hit the top of the rankings, and then watch it drop when copycats write knockoffs that rival the script of Sharknado? You've been victimized by search engines' assumption that new is generally better.
Google's just started trying to deal with this by showing in-depth articles. Which, as I'll point out in a minute, is really another form of dispersed citation.
Until now, though, it's been all about the freshest stuff. Which leads to all sorts of silliness, since some of the best information around was written before the 1990s, when we all forgot how to spell.
The simple fact that we know we're being observed changes our behavior with respect to words and links. It's impossible for search engines to get a truly 'natural' picture of those two critical factors.
Any time you have a system with limited, largely artificial inputs and a vast audience of people shoving to get in, you're going to get folks trying to game it.
So, what do we do? We run out and start cranking out guest posts so poorly written they'd make your 2nd-grade grammar teacher cry. That, we think, will get us lots of links.
And we write metric tons of semi-illiterate crap to post to our own sites. That'll get us words.
They're both junk food. The more you write them, the more you want to write them. But they have zero nutritional value for your marketing. Instead, they clog your business veins and stop up your lead generation digestive tract...
It's getting disgusting. I'll stop the metaphors there. You get the idea: A world of links and words makes content into a volume play, not a quality play. Webheads figured out pretty quickly that bulk trumped brains and mechanized around it.
Even Google struggles with all this. The Panda and Penguin updates were designed to do one thing: Force website operators to provide words and links that help Google figure out what's relevant to which query. And, force website operators to stop cranking out junk food.
Panda adjusted the search rankings to favor web sites with more pages of 'quality' content. That meant:
Penguin should've been named Piranha. It introduced severe penalties for sites violated Google's Terms of Service by acquiring links through 'artificial tactics.' Those tactics included:
Penguin was not so nice. If a small business had hired an unscrupulous SEO, and that SEO didn't warn them of the risks involved, the business owners could get severely and unpleasantly screwed. I didn't chuckle.
Then, to wrap up all this in a nice, fun package, Google started encrypting search terms. In English, that means the search phrases folks use to find your site no longer show up in your analytics software. Instead, you get a nice, illuminating '(not provided).'
First it was 5% of search traffic. Then it was 40%. Now, Google's moving to 100% 'not provided'. Why?
Partly to put on a good show of privacy-consciousness.
And partly to push us marketers out of the world of links and words, by depriving us of the words. A lot of folks reacted with horror and disbelief.
I say, relax, people. This has been coming for a long time. And, if you focus where search is going, instead of what we're losing, you'll see there's an awful lot of marketing potential.
Google's been tinkering with Google+, authorship. The two together imply a new way of ranking content that could move search from being a little wiggly worm-shaped thing stuck in the links and words tidepool to a fish with legs, ready to drag itself onshore.
When I talk about Google+, I mean Google Plus, not Google +1s. They're two different things. More about Google +1s shortly.
Google+ is really two things: A social network, and a platform.
The social network will fail. It's already failing. They just don't have the diverse audience they'd need. On the other hand, I'm not sure Google cares. They don't need to 'beat Facebook.' Facebook's a walled garden. And we know what happens to walled gardens (AOL, anyone?).
The social platform, though, will succeed. It's got a very low barrier to entry for webmasters (create a profile page, and you're done) and an even lower barrier to entry for consumers (use Gmail? you're in). Note that Gmail users don't even have to create a profile page. They're already in the 'system.' If they want to participate with +1s or shares, they can do it.
To succeed as a social network, Google+ would have to collect a huge, wide audience of super-active users to rival Facebook. To succeed as a social platform, though, all Google+ has to do is continue to exist.
Google +1s let you 'vote up' content you like. Click the button, and you just gave the author a thumbs-up. Moz.com recently showed the incredibly high correlation between +1s and rankings.. Whether you agree there's a causal link or not, it's hard to ignore the connection.
+1 buttons are easy to add to a site (low barrier to entry for webmasters) and a cinch for the consumer (click the button). Google +1s don't automatically trace back to an author/publisher's Google+ profile. But with authorship and rel=publisher, they do.
Google Authorship is the power player. It connects content with an individual's Google+ profile. Note the 'individual' — companies use brand pages, which can't use authorship.
Now, what comes next is theory. I don't know what's going on in all the pointy little heads at Google. They have more IQ points in their brain stem than I have in my whole head. But it sure seems like this is a logical step.
Write articles all over the web. Link them back to your Google+ profile using authorship markup. Now, your Google+ profile is a collector of all authority that comes to every piece of content you contribute, anywhere on the web. It can also be a distributor of that authority back to all of those articles.
Remember the infuriating link scenario? Here's how it plays out with dispersed citation:
In other words, Google can say, "Geez. We thought Ian was just a wart on the butt of internet content. But he's a thing. Better up his authority. Oh, and he writes on the Portent blog a lot. Better up that, too."
With higher authority comes higher rankings.
Even better: If I left Portent to work elsewhere, and my new articles built more authority, Portent could benefit from it. All of my authorship juice (that's for you, @msweeny) still collects at my profile, which is still connected to Portent's publisher profile, which passes it along to the Portent web site. Authority collected by multiple authors gets consolidated, too.
This only happens if Portent sets up rel=publisher. More about that in a second.
Google lets you change contributor status from 'current contributor' to 'past contributor.' That will influence the authorship equation, I'm sure. But the connection remains.
Again: Theory. But it makes an awful lot of sense. Rankings require some measure of authority. Links deliver authority. But so do authorship citations. So Google could use authorship to balance links. And authorship is harder to game.
Lots of people call this theory 'AuthorRank.'
Put it all together: +1s and Google+, with authorship and rel=publisher to tie them together, and you have the beginning of a powerful system for measuring authority tied to people and ideas, rather than websites. I believe Google is pulling together a system of dispersed citation.
Dispersed Citation is PageRank for the real world. It can apply across local (which happens to integrate with Google+) and YouTube (yep, integrated as of 2 days ago).
With Google+ at the center, Google's building out an infrastructure to drive dispersed citation to all corners of the internet: PublisherRank combined with local business review quantity and velocity could provide a more complete picture. They could combine AuthorRank with YouTube views and view depth to introduce another video ranking factor.
This infrastructure would help Google rank things that don't find their way onto the internet, too. As time passes, Google could work in all sorts of other data: Product reviews, for example, could apply to manufacturers' authority. Create a great product and your authority goes up. Create a crappy one and it goes down. The number of Android devices finding their way in and out of a particular storefront could apply, as well.
This may sound fanciful, but Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility gives them the ability to do all sorts of geofencing goodness. They're clearly working on location-based actions for individuals. Aggregating that data would be a logical next step.
Could you game it? Sure. But it's a lot harder than spamming links or spinning content. It's impossible to mechanize, too. Are you going to get thousands of people to click +1, all at different times, all without any sign of a pattern or an anomaly? Or are you going to get 100 great writers to publish 100 great articles on 100 major publisher websites?
My big prediction: Dispersed citation will find its way into Google's ranking algorithm. Actually, it already has. It'll be used to check/verify other ranking factors, and to introduce new content to search results.
Even if I'm having another iPads-will-fail moment, and dispersed citation never happens, preparing for it makes your site a better SEO target, improves local results and helps you with social media. So there.
Here's what you do:
This one's straightforward. If you don't already have a personal Google+ profile page, go set one up. The Google+ page will be the 'bucket' for all authority generated by dispersed citation.
Another tip: Use a cool, unique, personalized cover image. Do not put a promotion in the cover image. That's like tattooing your forehead with "BUY FROM ME 'CAUSE I'M ONE BAD SONOFABITCH." It's tacky. I use a typewriter I inherited from my grandfather. It's not high art, but it's pretty emblematic of my approach to marketing.
Link your profile to your web site, and vice-versa. "Your web site" should be the site to which you most often post/write/do stuff. It should be your company, or your personal blog, or your business blog. Chances are, if you're reading this, you have a place you write blog posts and such to build an audience. Link that.
Next: Go to all sites where you've published content.
Do insist on Authorship links from every publication to which you contribute. Chances are, you're writing for free. The Authorship link is your primary form of payment, and it costs them nothing.
Then test the biography page, or the article pages, using Google's Structured Markup Testing Tool.
Don't expect your image to show up next to every article you've ever written! And don't freak out if the image shows up sometimes and disappears at others. That doesn't indicate anything. Use the structured markup testing tool to see if authorship is still in place.
First off, find your friends who are already on Google+, and add them to your circles. I recommend dividing circles into business and non-business at the very least. I divide mine by types of expertise and, in some cases, how I met them.
You might also want to circle some of the top people in your industry and/or people you particularly admire. That'll provide you with lots of incoming content you can then re-share to friends.
Don't be afraid to post videos and images of stuff you like. If you find a particularly great video on YouTube, post it. Visual stuff performs like gangbusters. And any time you create a video, post it to your profile. That gets you (remember?) into the dispersed citation machine.
If you want to put me in a circle, by the way, you can go here.
Oh, also: You know how you curate content on Twitter? Do the same thing on Google+. Deliver value. When you share, add some commentary. Google+ is a particularly good format for this:
You might also write miniature blog posts on Google+. Do not duplicate posts to Google+. I have no evidence that it'll hurt your profile, but frankly, it looks really silly. Instead, write little blurbs. Here's one I did:
Do not buy +1s or circles. Bad marketer! Bad! You think Google Penguin wreaked havoc? Try spamming the authority of your universal ID card. Just don't.
Did I mention you can embed Google+ posts in web pages? Do that, too.
Now, set up a Google+ brand page. This is the page that represents your business. It's the receptacle for all +1s your company gets, and all authority oomph generated by your authors. You can also add social extensions to your AdWords campaigns, which brings all sorts of extra clicky goodness.
To post content as your company, instead of as you, navigate to your business profile page and enter your link/post in the 'Share what's new...' box. Easy-peasy.
Use the instructions [here](https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1708844?hl=en, so I don't push this article over 5000 words and end up pulling out my own fingernails.
As above. Here's a fantastic tutorial by Virante on the subject. This one's not easy. But it can help with in-depth article placement, and it's likely to be of more value in the near future.
The same day I spoke about dispersed citation at Clearlink Confluence, Google announced Hummingbird. While it targets mobile and spoken search, it also has some tidbits that hint at dispersed citation. David Harry has a fantastic assessment in http://seotrainingdojo.com/Blog/a-search-geeks-thoughts-on-google-hummingbird.html. Read the section about "Things not strings."
Google's moving away from links and keywords. There's no getting around that. That is not the 'death of SEO,' but it does require a shift towards the things that have always been the best, most future-proof SEO tactics:
Dispersed citation won't do away with links and words as ranking factors, either. It's an additional ingredient in an already-complex algorithm.
Call it what you want. It's very likely that dispersion is real, and is already in the wild. It's also likely that its role in rankings will grow. Doing the stuff that lets you capitalize on its collection/pooling of authority will only help your site rank higher, whether this spread-out form of citation takes hold or not.