Publishership – Coming Soon?

I’m a big fan of microdata and the standardized layer of information it makes available to search (like ratings, product pricing and author attributes). We’ve covered microdata basics in the past but one particular element recently caught my attention: Google’s announced support of organization logo markup. While some, like me, have been expecting this for some time, will this result in a de facto "publishership" structure? And that would mean… what?

First, I’ve used the phrase publishership as a connection to the already-established idea of authorship, which is microdata markup that gets translated into a little picture of an article’s author next to his or her search result (see example below). One benefit of authorship is that it allows search engines and searchers alike to associate trust with a piece.

authorship publishership example

Just as individuals can publish articles or posts and have that content verified as theirs via authorship, it doesn’t take a search guru to propose that this is a feature that should be made available to publishers and brands. That’s why, when Google recently announced that they would support microdata markup for organization logos, it was no big surprise. It’s a natural way to connect the what’s online to the real world.

But a few things are nagging at me: first, just seven days before Google’s announced support of organization logos, Barry Schwartz published an article on "publishership" where he reported

Google says there are "no plans" for some type of "publishership" to go live similar to the way it handles authorship

Curious.

Next, I’ve been struck that Google’s recent I/O conference focused on topics like transitioning Google to a "results engine", how conversational, mobile search will be the way of the future and how “…brands need to broaden their notion of the meanings of ‘advertising’ and ‘media’ …transition the ad industry into the era of content-driven advertising”. The conspiracy theorist in me fears there’s a freaky paid organic plan afoot. Let me explain:

Imagine a world where Google, as a mobile-based results engine, has tasked itself with returning what its organic algorithm has determined is the singular, best result for a consumer’s search. Consumers won’t like that singular solution being from an Adwords-type paid advertiser, that would be dirty pool! Additionally, a singular result would be served because you’re on the go and want a solution, not a a search, right? Google could leverage Publishership as the “non-paid” means by which top content is served and, much like Sponsored Posts in Facebook, that Publishership structure could be used to assess per-click fees for the traffic from their results engine. These wouldn’t be known as paid results because the brand didn’t pay to place the content. Google’s algo did that. But the algo will use Publishership as a trump card for organic verification and ranking success. This will be the final mile needed to create a billing structure around content served to consumers organically.

Please tell me I’m wrong.

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