Last summer, Google announced that it would begin supporting authorship markup, or rel=”author”. It’s still in pilot mode, but Google has been making use of it in search results ever since, in increasing numbers, as more web content authors use it.
No matter how many places you produce content on the web, the idea is that you tie them all back to your Google profile, so Google understands that it’s all coming from you. Among the benefits to authors, is an extra visual link in Google search results - an author photo pointing to that Google profile, when your content appears in the results. It can lend to reputation and increased exposure of your personal brand. It even shows your Google+ circle count. Author info can appear both on Google web search and Google News:
It can help webmasters see how well certain authors are performing as well. In December, Google added author clicks and impressions to Webmaster Tools, so webmasters can see how often author content is showing up in Google search results.
“If you associate your content with your Google Profile either via e-mail verification or a simple link, you can visit Webmaster Tools to see how many impressions and clicks your content got on the Google search results page,” explained Google at the time.
Update: This feature appears to have suddenly gone missing. At this time, we're unable to determine whether this is temporary or not. We've reached out to Google for more info, and will update accordingly.
Setting Up Authorship
There are actually 3 different ways to implement authorship markup on your content: original - three-link method (author’s Google profile, author pages and article page link to one another), the two-link method (Google Profile and Content) and the email method (when you have an email address on the site you’re writing for). Sagar Kamdar, Google’s authorship mastermind talked about each of these in an interesting interview with Eric Enge at Stone Temple Consulting. There’s an email verification tool you can use, by the way.
According to Kamdar, the email method might actually get you setup more quickly. “Sometimes authors don’t have the ability to add additional links from the bio portion of their article or they need to request their webmaster to make some tweaks to enable that,” he is quoted as saying. “The email method doesn’t require any modification to the website to get setup, so it is possible that you could get setup a little bit faster for that than the 2 link method. In addition, with email verification, it is far more dependent upon our heuristics and analysis to figure out if content is associated to your Google profile and that’s a science that we are constantly tuning.”
You can go to your Google Profile, go to “Edit Profile,” scroll down and click on “work,” click the drop down arrow next to “phone,” click on “email,” and put in your address where it says new contact info. Change the visibility of the section from “only you” to “everyone on the web,” click “save,” and click “done editing.”
Here are a couple videos of Google talking about getting authorship set up:
Authorship As A Ranking Signal
In that first one, Google’s Matt Cutts asks, “Will people get higher rankings? Is there a rankings boost for rel=’author’?”
Google’s Othar Hansson then replies, “It’s obviously early days, so we hope to use this information and any information as a ranking signal at Google. In this case, we want to get information on credibility of authors from all kinds of sources, and eventually use it in ranking. We’re only experimenting with that now. Who knows where it will go?”
The video was released in August. Obviously a great deal of time has passed since then. We can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s already a ranking factor, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I certainly see a lot of authorship-enabled results in my daily search activity.
Kamdar actually addresses it in his interview with Enge. Enge brought up the idea that “this will feed into social signals and author authority in the long term.”
Kamdar responded, “Yes, you could eventually see that type of thing happening.”
Google’s most recent monthly list of algorithm changes included a couple of relevant items to this discussion. One was “better indexing of profile pages.”
“This change improves the comprehensiveness of public profile pages in our index from more than two-hundred social sites.”
This (if it was really this particular change) seemed to actually give Google profiles less weight in search results. Certain queries that at one point ranked Google profiles higher were showing more relevant profiles ahead of their Google counterparts (like Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile over his Google+ profile).
Another change in March was listed as “UI refresh for News Universal.” Google described this: “We’ve refreshed the design of News Universal results by providing more results from the top cluster, unifying the UI treatment of clusters of different sizes, adding a larger font for the top article, adding larger images (from licensed sources), and adding author information.”
Author info was already appearing in Google News, but now, through Google’s Universal results, here is another opportunity for your authorship-enabled Google profile to show up.
The Doorway to Google+
There are obvious benefits to authors from enabling authorship for Google. There are, of course, benefits to Google as well. The main one would be increased emphasis on Google+. As Google CEO Larry Page explained during an earnings call last week, there are two parts of Google+: the “social destination” (what most people think of as Google+) and the “social spine,” which is the social layer over the rest of Google’s products - including search.
Google has already implemented Search Plus Your World this year, which includes increased integration of Google+ into search results. It relies on social connections Google+ users have made with others, to personalize search results based, in part, on those social connections.
Authorship further integrates Google+ into search results (granted, this was going on ahead of SPYW’s launch). Every time it shows a user a Google profile because of authorship, it is providing another doorway to Google+, the social destination.
If you go to my Google profile, for example, you’ll see my recent Google+ posts, public +1’s, etc. The Google Profile, which has been around much longer than Google+, still serves as the central part of a Google+ user’s account. This is another reason Google+ should simply be thought of as Google at large.
Your Google+ As Your Online Identity
It’s about online identity more than anything else. Kamdar acknowledges this in that interview as well.
“The main thing that we are trying to address is the faceless nature of the web,” he is quoted as saying. That alone should be a clear indicator just how much of a competitor Google is to Facebook.
It’s also for that reason that Google is really picky about how authors represent themselves online. At first, Google didn’t even allow pseudonyms on Google+.
“It was largely an issue of development priorities,” Google’s Vic Gundotra explained at last year’s Web 2.0 summit. “It’s complicated to get this right. It’s complicated on multiple dimensions. One of the complications it’s complicated on is atmosphere. If you’re a woman and you post a photo and Captain Crunch or Dog Fart comments on it, it changes the atmosphere of the product.”
After a while, Google began allowing for pseudonyms.
But that’s not the only area where Google has shown stinginess in author representation. Google has actually told people to change their profile pictures if they didn’t feel they were a good representation. We talked about this last year, when my colleague Josh Wolford was asked to change his Google profile picture. Wolford was using an image of himself made up as a Zombie from a Halloween party. This photo:
As a matter of fact, it was Kamdar himself, who emailed Wolford to say, “We noticed you’ve set things up correctly on your end. However, while we’re in this limited testing, we’re trying to make sure that we’ve got the best author pictures we can get–is there any way you could have a non-zombie picture for your profile?”
Kamdar also briefly addressed this issue in his interview with Enge. “The basic criteria is that you are setup correctly, you provide a high quality photo of yourself, and then based on our algorithm when your content shows up, we just try to make sure the photo would be relevant to the user. In terms of timeline, it just depends on the frequency of how often we crawl and index your content which is variable, based on sites. We just follow the natural progression of our crawling and indexing technology and it could be setup in days or it could take weeks.”
Other Authorship-Related Things To Consider
There were a few more noteworthy takeaways from Kamdar’s conversation with Enge.
One is that he (and presumably Google) sees authorship as a way for users to identify the authors they already like when they write about something they’re searching for. To me, this only adds to the “filter bubble”. Readers could be missing out on content from other great authors just because they’re going to the ones they’re familiar with.
Another is that you should use the Rich Snippets testing tool, which Kamdar suggest using for seeing if you have authorship implemented correctly.
Finally, it’s ok to link to sites on your Google Profile, which you contribute to, without having authorship set up on those sites. It won’t hurt you in any way, other than keeping your content from that site from appearing with your Google Profile in search results.
The most important takeaway from all of this, however, is that if you are concerned about your visibility in search results, and you’re creating content on the web, you should be implementing this. From the sound of it, Google is only going to use the info more in ranking going forward. Of course, it also suggests that you’d be wise to use Google+ more as a social tool. Remember, with authorship, Google is showing circle counts, and you’re not going to be in many circles without some level of engagement. Of course, even without the search visibility aspect, engaging in the community is likely to help you on its own.
The good thing, for many content creators, is that you don’t have to write for a major publication to use it. These days, thanks to blogs, social media and other user-generated content sites, anyone can be a content creator, and the more weight Google gives to authorship, the more authors on all levels will be able to compete for visibility.