August 15, 2013

Google’s Fickleness: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Google Logo with text: Adapting to Changes...

If one thing is constant with Google, it’s that they always change. Over the past couple of years, they phased out most of Google Friend Connect and stopped supporting Feedburner. However, I realized recently that I hadn’t talked about their latest changes.

Some of their recent changes have been good (Google Authorship), others bad (Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox), and still others just plain ugly (Google Reader). But knowledge is power, so let’s review how each of these changes affects us.

The Good: Google Authorship

This change has been around for a while, but I’m including it here because I hadn’t talked about it on my blog yet. Google Authorship allows us to link the content we write to our Google+ profile.

Okay, that doesn’t sound very exciting. Why is this a big enough deal to rate as “good”?

  • Enhanced Search Results

Have you noticed some search results in Google now appear with an avatar next to the snippet? That’s Google Authorship at work. If we link our blog content to our Google+ profile, our G+ picture and clickable links for our byline and G+ profile appear with the snippet. Snippets with avatars naturally draw the eye and increase recognition of our “brand,” while the clickable links increase the likelihood of people connecting with us.

Screen shot of a Google search result

  • Analytics for Author Stats

Once we have Google Authorship set up on our site, we can see details for search results based on our content. Which blog posts show up in search results the most? Which have the highest click through rates? In other words, we can learn more about where we filled a need and might want to provide additional content.

  • Author Rank

Google’s Author Rank is still being worked out, but the idea is that Google wants to take all our content—blog posts, tweets, comments, connections, etc.—and build that into a coherent impression of our credibility. They’re attempting to bump junk sites and content scrapers down in Google searches and lift up real people who write real content. Think of Google Authorship as a web version of an “I wrote this” signature, and perhaps with Author Rank, could be used as a tool against web plagiarism.

Even if we don’t care about statistics or Author Rank (I rarely check my numbers), I still recommend implementing Google Authorship just for the avatar in search results. That helps gain attention and brand exposure, and there’s no downside to that.

(A note about guest posts: Many sources on the web encourage us to include our “author tag” with our guest posts. However, those sources assume we’re guest posting on a multi-author site (like Huffington Post). On a single-author site, such as this one, the site owner might not allow guest author tags. My Google Authorship tag is coded at the site level, not on a post-by-post basis, and Google currently can’t handle two author tags showing up on a single page.)

The Bad: Gmail Tabbed Inbox

Many people use Gmail or other Google product for email. Google is gradually rolling out a redesigned inbox for all users to sort incoming mail into tabs: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums.

Cue freaking out as emails of our newsletters and latest blog posts fall into the Promotions tab: Not the Promotions tab! That’s like spam.

Yes, it’s possible that readers might not see our messages anymore. We can solve this problem in two ways:

  1. We can write darn good content that people miss if they don’t see it, so they’ll go looking for it—even under the Promotions tab.
  2. We can teach people how to instruct Google on where to put our messages.

Here’s my notification:

If you want newsletters from me to go to a certain tab (like Primary) in your inbox, find one of my newsletters and drag it to that tab. (Or right-click the email, select “Move to tab,” and select the tab you want.) Important: At the top of the window, click “yes” when Google asks if you want to do the same with all future newsletters from me.

If you want to turn off tabs entirely, click the “+” to the right of the tabs and uncheck all the categories. All messages will then show up in a single Primary section.

I don’t know how many people have the new Tabbed Inbox because Google hasn’t shared their roll-out schedule. So far, even though half of my subscribers use a Gmail address, I haven’t seen a drop-off in the open rate of my newsletters. In other words, I don’t plan on joining those freaking out quite yet. *smile*

The Ugly: Google Reader

Almost everyone who kept up with blogs via RSS relied on Google Reader until last month. Now Google Reader is gone and people have been debating alternatives.

The further we get beyond the shutdown date, the more some site owners are panicking about their RSS subscribers dropping. Everyone who tracks their RSS stats is seeing their numbers cut by three-quarters or so. Yikes! That sounds horrible, and people are bemoaning the “loss” of those readers.

Here’s the thing: Most of those RSS subscribers weren’t actually reading our posts anyway. I’d subscribed to a ton of blogs on Google Reader, got overwhelmed, and stopped using RSS entirely. I know I’m not alone.

Those readers who still really use RSS will have found an alternative reader by now. Those who didn’t use RSS won’t bother. The latter category wasn’t made up of real readers anyway, just zombie subscribers who never unsubscribed.

All we can do is ensure we’re making it as easy as possible for our readers to subscribe however they wish. I use the Wysija WordPress plugin to email my blog posts, and I’m using the Feed Statistics WordPress plugin to keep an eye on which feed readers my subscribers are using as their Google Reader replacement.

Most of my RSS subscribers are using the built-in feed readers of their internet browsers, but a few are using services like NewsBlur, Bloglovin’, Netvibes, etc. (Personally, I decided to import my data into The Old Reader, a Google Reader clone.) I’ve then taken that information to custom program one-click subscribe buttons on my Subscriptions page for the most common RSS services.

It’s not easy keeping up with all the changes we face in every aspect of our lives. Between our day jobs and the ever-changing publishing industry, we don’t need Google mucking things up too. But hopefully a little information will help us know what we can do—and more importantly, what things we shouldn’t waste energy worrying about. *smile*

Had you heard about all of these Google changes? Which ones affected you? Have you implemented Google Authorship yet? Are you concerned about Google’s Tabbed Inbox or the falling RSS subscriber numbers? How do you handle the constant changes we face in our lives?

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Juli Page Morgan

I freaked out a little when the tabs showed up on my Gmail account a month ago, but now I love ’em! 🙂 All the blogs/newsletters I follow go to the Social tab so they don’t get lost in the shuffle, and I use my Primary tab for emails from friends, family, and my publisher. The Promotions tab now has crickets chirping and not much else. It used to get filled up with emails from businesses. You know, when you make a purchase at a store and they ask for your email address? I used to give it to them. Now I say, Nope! I kept meaning to unsubscribe from those emails but I’d get busy trying to whittle down my inbox and would just delete them. When they were all relegated to the Promotions tab, it was easy to just let them sit there without cluttering up my inbox until I had time to deal with them. Since they were all in one place, it was easy to go through them one night and unsubscribe from all of them. Now that tab remains empty – just the way I like it! 🙂

Kathryn Goldman

Hi, Jami,

I do not like the tabs the way Google has labeled them. I think I should be able to customize them. Maybe I’d like a tab called Blogs or News. And what is an Update, anyway? I think you’re right, though. They are constantly changing the way they do things, maybe I’ll get my opportunity to customize my tabs. Good tip on eliminating the tabs altogether. I did not know that one.




Hey Jami,

I did not know about Google authorship until this post. Not so sure about the Author Rank thing, as it sort of implies popularity contest.

As a person who gives out her email sparingly, the constant changing of my email inbox leaves me confuzzled. I usually just ‘star’ what is important anyways…

Maybe I’ll just eliminate all the tabs…


Debby Hanoka
Debby Hanoka

I apologize in advance is this has already been discussed or is redundant. Jami, I place myself at your mercy! 🙂

If any of you use Microsoft Outlook For Windows, it supports RSS Feeds. Just click on the orange subscribe-to-rss-feed button and you’ll see the option to use XML — that’s Outlook. Then you can read all of Jami’s terrific articles within Outlook.

I can vouch for this personally, because I use Microsoft Outlook 2010 For Windows to read Jami’s new posts.

Good Luck!


I kind of stopped reading my RSS feeds about a year ago. I had gotten so far behind that there was no way I was ever going to catch up. Now I only subscribe to blogs via email posts. And I know many others who do the same thing. So if anyone reading this post has a blog, make sure to add the subscribe by email option, or else you might be missing out on a lot of potential readers.


Eh, Google’s been toying with its algorithms for years. I remember when some folks were still hiding extra keywords in web pages by making them the same color as the background, in attempt to improve their search engine rankings.

I use Mail with an IMAP setup for my Gmail, and it all still comes into the same box. I use a feed-reader plug-in for Chrome to keep track of my feeds. I’ve checked to make sure those things keep working, but otherwise don’t worry about it.

What does concern me slightly is that backlinks can hurt your rankings now. So that link in your guest posting can actually reduce your page ranking, and someone could seriously damage your page rankings with a calculated method of linking to your page from websites with negative influence.

Marie Loughin
Marie Loughin

This article was hugely helpful to me. I haven’t been tabbed yet, but I’d heard this change was coming. Could be a problem for me, since many of my subscribers are not computer savvy 🙁

I didn’t know Chrome had a reader. I switched to Feedly.

Cynthia Stacey

Wow didn’t know about Google authorship. Thanks for the info. Awesome post!

Jeremy Duley

Hi Jami!
I was lucky as far as the Gmail thing because I’m one of probably 3 people who use Outlook for my personal email. One of the few times in recent history that Microsoft has actually saved me a headache!


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