Many businesses have blogs. Those blogs have authors, who are often employees. All employees leave eventually, and that creates a problem: What do you do with what they wrote?
This is a topic that pisses me off because of how badly companies choose to handle the issue. They treat it as an afterthought — and for the decision makers, it usually is. If you press them on it, they’ll rhetorically reply, “What does it matter?” Businesses pay employees for the results of their labor. Content is a product. They own it, so they can do whatever they want with it.
I understand this sentiment. I also think it’s crass. Published articles aren’t like toothbrushes, coffee mugs, or Bluetooth speakers. They have a personality and unique voice. There’s a debate around whether companies or creators own content for this reason. I’m not sure that whoever technically owns the content dramatically changes how you should handle it though.
People leave. Sometimes on good terms, sometimes on bad. That’s business. How you choose to handle their content when they’re gone is not a reflection of their character; it’s a reflection of your beliefs, and by extension, your company’s beliefs.
Here are the four most common options for handling former employee blog posts, in order from worst to best.
1. Attribute the author’s blog posts to a different author or a generic admin.
Both of these choices suck.
When two people come to an agreement that one of them will write something but the other will get credit, that’s called ghostwriting.
When one person writes something and someone else puts their name on it without their permission, that’s called fraud.
Even if this weren’t true, whoever gets reassigned author status of the posts takes on credibility for its content. That works as long as the new “author” knows as much about the subject. If they don’t, it only takes one good question to expose them as a poser.
Generic, catch-all authors like “Admin” do nothing for the reader. The only time this really makes sense is for technical writing like documentation, where all originality is stripped from the content, making the author irrelevant.
Some businesses try to run blogs this way. They drown their words in bleach until the only ones left alive are neutral. Opinions get murdered. The result reads like a Wikipedia page — informational, but bland. Then their blog doesn’t generate sales or leads, and they wonder why.
It’s a mistake to have a blog with a generic “Admin” author because people don’t do business with other businesses; they do business with other people. People have opinions. That’s what makes us like (or dislike) them. A universal author is a missed opportunity to connect with readers.
There are better ways to handle when an author leaves.
2. Remove the author’s blog posts.
How you choose to handle former author blog posts largely depends on what those posts are doing.
Check their analytics and run a crawl.
Are people reading them?
Do they have inbound or internal links?
Do they have authority?
If the posts aren’t bringing in traffic, being read, or building up other pages, delete them. SEO specialists might disagree, and they would have valid points, but it’s the simplest and most realistic solution.
The harder decision is when the posts are bringing in new users. Then what? You could still delete them, although that would be a pretty stupid idea. You could write an article to replace it, then redirect the old URL to your new post. That would be a lot of work.
Why can’t there be an easy answer, right?
Maybe you’re overthinking it. Maybe the right solution in your situation is to do… nothing.
3. Leave the author and their byline alone (do nothing).
I know what I said earlier. Authorship is important. Bloggers need identities. I still stand by that.
The flip side is that most people don’t care who wrote whatever they’re reading on the internet. Does the current status of an author actually make much of a difference then? And if it does, should you even care?
Let’s go through some possible scenarios.
Scenario #1: A potential client reads a blog post by an employee who left. They don’t pay any attention to the author. They reach out to you. You do business together.
Scenario #2: A potential client reads a blog post by a former employee, then contacts you hoping to work with them. You say they no longer work at your company. The client acknowledges that you hired them, signifying your judgement in employing quality people, and assumes you must have more of them. You do business together.
Scenario #3: A potential client contacts you after reading a blog post by a former employee, wanting to work with them. You say they no longer work at your company. The potential client was drawn to something in particular about the former employee that you can’t supply. You do not do business together. Why would you want to?
Scenario #4: Someone reads a blog post by an employee who left. They contact the old employee directly. You do not do business together.
To me, these all have happy endings. If someone leaves to work for the competition and customers feel compelled to work with them, I’m good with that. The purpose of inbound marketing like blogging and SEO is to get clients who want to work with you, not to hard-sell the ones who don’t.
Newspapers and magazines don’t redact articles when somebody quits. The author keeps credit and the publication maintains ownership. Is this that much different?
4. Update the author’s byline to indicate the change.
I have a massive amount of respect for any company that chooses to do this. It shows maturity, humility, and makes me want to give them my money.
Because nobody needs to do this. It would be easier to leave the author alone. Updating author bylines to indicate the change is a conscious effort to do the right thing, even though it might not be the best thing for your business.
My favorite bylines that indicate someone has left are concise and brief. Change the tense of your verbs from present to past and you’re done.
Cody See was an SEO Specialist at TargetClick.
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