Many content marketers are taking advantage of the benefits associated with setting up Google Authorship through the rel=”author” tag.
The adoption of content authorship has given rise to an interesting dilemma that many employers will eventually face: what happens when a content author leaves the company? The implications of this question are far-reaching when you consider the nature of the relationships between publishers, authors and readers.
Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t remove an ex-employee’s rel=”author” tag:
1. You Risk Losing Content Equity And Authority
Maintaining rel=”author” and Google Authorship can benefit both the former employer and employee for months and years after their working relationship ends.
Compare these two possible scenarios:
Ideal Scenario: An employee who has written numerous blog posts leaves the company. Their on-page author bio is updated to say that they are a former employee, and their Google Authorship / rel=”author” remains.
This scenario is ideal for several reasons:
- The former employee can still reference their content
- The former employer can still generate traffic from the content
- Keeping Google Authorship / rel=”author” ensures that author rich snippets persist, which can increase click-through rates.
- No AuthorRank is lost, thereby potentially increasing its search rankings
Problematic Scenario: An employee who has written numerous blog posts leaves the company. Their on-page author bio is replaced by either another current employee or a “ghost author.” Google Authorship / rel=author” is either redirected to the new author or discarded altogether. In extreme cases, the blog posts are simply deleted.
This scenario is problematic for several reasons:
- The former employee may become disgruntled that their content is now being attributed to another. This could cause a PR/social media headache for the former employer.
- The former employer can no longer piggy-back on the success/personal brand authority of the former employee. In other words, if the former employee continues to gain a reputation as a thought-leader, the former employer would lose out on having that former employee’s content on their site.
- In cases where rel=”author” is totally discarded, author rich snippets are also lost, thereby potentially reducing click-through rates from the SERPs.
- In cases where blog posts are totally discarded, the former employer would lose a considerable amount of indexable content.
- It will be impossible to build the AuthorRank of a “ghost author.”
Mike Arnesen touches on the SEO implications in this Quora thread: “It really goes against the whole idea of what Google’s trying to promote: great content, written by real people. Just slapping someone’s face on corporate content isn’t doing users any favors, it’s just tricking Google into giving you more SERP real estate.” And we all know that attempting to trick Google isn’t a great recipe for success.
2. It May Be Unethical
Unless a legal document states otherwise, content is owned by its author and not owned by the employer. For a former employer to transfer content authorship credit to anyone else is unethical at best, even if the former employee left on bad terms. Online content and their authors are simply too visible and accessible to attempt any sort of subterfuge.
Aside from the how it effects the former employee, there are other ethical implications with regards to the consumers of the content. If your company is touting expert, educational “how-to” content, it’s certainly unethical to deceive your readers by not being forthcoming about who the author really is.
AJ Kohn hits it square on the nose: “The fact that an author leaves doesn’t mean that they didn’t reate that content. Authorship is, in large part, about establishing ownership for that content. I want to be certain I know who actually wrote that piece.” I’m sure most readers would agree.
3. No One Will Want To Work For You
Consider your recruiting efforts. Even if your company is dedicated to content marketing, no one will want to come work for you if you’ve gained a reputation for removing rel=”author” tags and attributing authorship where it doesn’t belong. The best talent, particularly in the marketing
industry, publishes prolifically and will ask about this.
Furthermore, your current employees will have little reason to contribute to the corporate blog if they know that the content eventually won’t be attributed to them.
4. There Is No Benefit To Removing rel=”author”
There’s really no benefit to taking the time to remove a rel=”author” tag on every blog post that a former employee has written. Typically, a former employer would do this for two reasons:
- They hold a grudge
- They’re afraid the former employee will “take their AuthorRank with them”
Making emotional decisions based on fear probably isn’t a great way to run a business. If you’re concerned that a former employee will “take their AuthorRank with them” it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to eliminate it altogether. It certainly won’t benefit you at all if it doesn’t exist.
Jeremy Rivera brings up one possible scenario where it would make sense to sever the rel=”author” connection with a former employee: “Writer for your company gets fired. Shortly thereafter it’s discovered that (they are) running a dog fighting, pedophile, racist organization. How can the corporate identity and brand disassociate itself from that author?” While it may be difficult for a brand to totally disassociate itself, removing rel=”author” would certainly be appropriate.
All in all, the benefits of rel=”author” and Google Authorship far outweigh any possible drawbacks, even in cases when an employee leaves on bad terms. Where do you stand on this debate?