The Google+ Profile Badge: Helpful or Harmful?

Kind of gives new meaning to the term Googlebot, huh?

Or: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Fact: The Google+ profile badge will harm your authorship if used the way Google tells you to use it- which is incorrectly. If you’ve got your Google badge parked in the sidebar of your blog right now, you are likely harming the chances of your picture showing up in the search results, according to Google’s FAQ. Not according to me; but according to Google– the Google badge is hurting your authorship and if you do business online, probably your business as well.

Authorship annotation is useful to searchers because it signals that a page conveys a real person’s perspective or analysis on a topic. Since property listings and product pages are less perspective/analysis oriented, we discourage using authorship in these cases.

Mark Traphagen, of Virante, wrote a great article on this very topic and I’ll quote him:

“If you’re employing Authorship in the hope of becoming a trusted source on your topic areas that Google wants to feature in its search results, why would you take a chance on anything that would soil the reputation of your author profile?” (the article)

I agree. So let’s take a real person’s perspective and analysis on The Badge.

First, we can examine the Official Get-Your-Google-Badge Page.

They keep it pretty short and sweet, as far as instructions: “Link your Google+ page to your site. Get more recommendations for your site in Google search and grow your audience on Google+.”

Wow, that’s it? Just stick it on my site, huh? That’s so easy, it’s stupid.

Then you can customize it- choose your size and layout and so forth. That’s cool. Here’s how mine looks:

Once you like the way it looks, Google gives you a little window from which you simply copy the code and paste it onto your site. Easy-peasy.

Now- for those “in the know”- there is a small community of people, content creators, who are fortunate enough to have their faces show in the Google SERPs because they have something called “authorship”. Those in the know also know that Google is moving towards cleaning up authorship, so those that have it, most certainly want to keep it.

For those of us that have it, we know our click-through rates are dramatically improved with it. Especially if your work involves intellectual capital. I’m a consultant, so having my picture is way more important than if I owned a retail store. An attorney or a real estate agent are the same way. They need that authorship. Justin Briggs wrote a great article about improved click-throughs here:

Quick Sidebar: I apologize for not linking to Mark or Justin; but I’m superstitious about linking to people in the same field as me. I’m paranoid Google will think we’re all part of a “ring” and then SkyNet…I mean Google…will send robot dogs to kill me. So to Mark and Justin, I mean no disrespect. I’m just trying to save us all  from this thing down here.


Kind of gives new meaning to the term Googlebot, huh? Video courtesy of Boston Dynamics.

But I digress.

Back to those of us that care about authorship. And for those of you that don’t, but use a Google+ profile badge- you’ll want to keep reading also.

If you’ve built your site in the past five years, you are likely using a content management system- such as WordPress or maybe Joomla– and you’ll most likely stick that code in your sidebar or footer. Graphic designers all over the world shudder when clients ask to put logos of other companies in the middle of their website, but you can usually get away with a sidebar or footer. So that’s a good place to put it right?

And then, guess what? You’ve just attached authorship to every page of your website.

In the screenshot below, you can see that the authorship tag is actually hidden when you copy the snippet. I’m not saying it’s intentional. I’m just saying that it’s easy to miss.

code snippet

The Google+ Badge is Actually An Authorship Plugin

The Google Badge is actually an “authorship plugin,” but they don’t call it that or tell you that or even mention the word on the poorly titled “badge” widget. So many people are likely to put this in the wrong place… Like their front page. Or maybe in a common sense place, like the contact page. Or, if you’re a Realtor, maybe it shows up in the sidebar next to every copyrighted listing that you didn’t write and you don’t own. Fun stuff. Now remember, in the quote from the FAQ at the top of this article, they tell you that they “discourage” putting authorship on listing pages, if you are a real estate agent, for example.

Google’s authorship FAQ says this very thing will harm you, but then they offer up an authorship plugin without actually telling anyone that it’s an authorship plugin. They tell you to just slap that sucker on your site. It seems so utterly careless! But then again…Google is made up of many brilliant minds- at least a couple dozen, right? They couldn’t be just plain careless, could they?

If you were the paranoid type, you might think Google is indexing everything that you write or that is even remotely attributed to your website. You might think that giving away an authorship plugin, without telling people, is done with more dastardly intentions. That political blog that you rant and rave on? They are indexing all of those words and attributing them to your name and birthday and telephone number, even if you have multiple authors on your blog. All because of the authorship plugin that you didn’t know you had.

Google, why are you indexing content under people’s names without telling users?

The word “authorship” appears exactly ZERO times on this page- the same page that provides you the authorship code snippet:

The word “author” appears only in the code snippets, but no mention of it in the words meant for humans to read. The average human that puts the badge on their page isn’t likely to read the code and understand it (rel=”author”). How would Google treat a site that encouraged people to insert dubious code into their sidebar? If this widget can hurt your authorship, by Google’s own admission via FAQ, then this badge is malware you installed on your site. Period. By definition. How would Google treat a site that made a widget, that seemingly, intentionally, interfered with Google authorship results?

It’s a rhetorical question. We know what Google would do to a site that does what Google is doing.

Can’t I Just Remove data-rel=”authorship” From The Code?

Technically you can. But you’ll be violating Google’s Policy and I sure as hell won’t do that. Google says: “Publishers may not alter or obfuscate a Google+ button.”

They also have a whole lot of other rules, so if you decide to keep the SkyNet badge, I would strongly recommend that you read those policies.

The Best Solution

The best solution, if you want to keep your Google badge but not screw up your authorship, is to install a plugin that will allow you to use “logic” to display the widget only on pages where you want the widget to be seen. Here are three plugins that do that pretty well:

They are all pretty self explanatory. I personally use Widget Context, but they all do the same thing- which is show widgets selectively, as one should.

Now don’t be a sissy. I know you’re scared. I’m scared too. But I’ve seen a lot of movies, and there is no way that SkyNet can win. Share this post John Connor! Share this post if you want to live!