This time last year, I took some time to research the topic of rel="author" for a quick fire talk at BrightonSEO.

This led me to some interesting conclusions around the future of Authorship and its relationship with search engines, particularly in the realms of authors being ranked within a system, which has come to be known as 'AuthorRank'.

It has been a full 18 months since we saw the release of Authorship, but in that time, it appears many people in the industry genuinely believe that AuthorRank is in effect.

In reality, they are two different things, and the latter has actually been coined from within the SEO industry – taking from an earlier patent named “Agent Rank”. My argument is that AuthorRank’s role has been overstated, and any potential effect is being overhyped.

The AuthorRank myth

A number of US commentators have suggested that AuthorRank is going to be massive. Indeed, AJ Kohn opens his extremely thorough explanation of the system with:

"AuthorRank could be more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined."

But whatever wobbles are likely to come with the full rollout of the system, they certainly haven’t come yet, and I would argue that claims of turbulence are over stated. There are two key reasons why a meaningfully impactful existence of AuthorRank cannot occur in the short term. 

1. Complexity in creating a viable ecosystem

Google filed the Agent Rank patent as early as 2007. At the time, Bill Slawski wrote on Search Engine Land (in what I still find the most well rounded explanation of an AuthorRank style ecosystem):

“Imagine a system that instead of ranking content on a page level, breaks those pages down and looks at smaller content items on those pages, which it associates with digital signatures.”

Authorship is effectively a signature system, with Google+ serving as an identity card, but the creation of an ecosystem effective enough for an algorithm to accurately rank authors relies heavily on third parties to implement. Technically changing websites to meet particular systems is significantly more expensive than creating hyperlinks, but to realise the full potential of AuthorRank, I would expect to see significantly more complex markup than a link to and from a far from ubiquitous social network. Indeed, Slawski points out:

“Content pieces can have multiple signatures based upon roles an agent may take involving the content, such as author, publisher, editor, or reviewer.”

Such a system would make better sense in a thorough and professionally based editorial process. Yet this system would be expensive to create – you could probably do it using Schema – but there is no accepted method of doing it in a similar manner to Authorship Markup.

Bearing in mind that three of the largest publishing sites in the world, in the BBC, The Guardian and Mail Online do not have correct basic authorship markup, we can consider it very unlikely that Google will be able to roll out a serious AuthorRank contribution to its algorithm soon.

It would frankly be absurd for Google, for all of its boldness, to roll out a major ranking factor designed to favour authoritative publishers, if the world’s most authoritative publishers were not implementing it. The quality of the search results would be ruined.

2. Not everything should or will have an author identity

A huge chunk of information that most hyperbole pumped AuthorRank articles miss, is that a vast proportion of the commercialised internet should not have Authorship Markup at all: product pages. It would be similarly absurd to have a system where an author stamps their authority on a 250 word description of a children’s playpen, as if this will give the said author more collective authority in the vertical of kindergarten toys.

It is possible that an author’s face can show up in a SERP for a product page with the correct markup on, but this has nothing to do with AuthorRank. It is only that the markup exists for Google to (incorrectly) show an author for a product page.

Potentially, well trusted authors or individuals endorsing products may help their ranking, but this isn’t a system very far away from what we have today. Celebrities can endorse of products on any media to help boost sales, while links towards favoured product pages helps their ranking anyway.

A massive step change? It’s simply the same thing on different media – not a big deal really.

Three myths and realities about AuthorRank:

  • Myth #1: Your AuthorRank is dependent on the number of Google+ circles you are in.
  • Reality: Even if AuthorRank did exist (which I will stop stipulating from here), Google wouldn't create such a poor system given its knowledge of webspam. Since YouTube contributors also have Authorship Markup, you could just as easily say that it is entirely dependent on the number of video views you have.
  • Myth #2: Your Authorship Markup showing in search results (and the power of your AuthorRank) is heavily reliant on how much you post on Google+.
  • Reality: Take a look at the below image from my Google+ profile: 

I haven’t updated it since either, yet my Author Markup shows clearly on every posts I’ve ever published.

  • Myth #3: AuthorRank exists... at all…
  • Reality: Well it didn’t according to Web Master Trends Analyst John Mueller in a Google Hangout on 18th January. Here he is explaining that he is:
“not aware of anything specific around that at the moment”

Will AuthorRank ever be important?

For the reasons stipulated above, it’s difficult to say whether or not AuthorRank will really become the game changer it’s being touted as – and almost certainly not during 2013. It seems likely that it will become a more relevant signal at some stage, but creating a viable system around online identity that also creates a ranking system is an extremely tricky business, and relies very heavily on third parties getting the implementation correct.

This will also be a significantly more complex system than the relatively easy method of linking content to Google+ that we’ve grown more used to in the last 18 months. What makes it even more difficult is that the creation of a central online identity system is controversial.

Facebook and Google appear antagonistic to online privacy and anonymity, a position that Christopher Poole, the creator of 4chan believes, ‘is… again… like just completely… nuts.’  

Is identity really authenticity? That debate is still being had, and for as long as it rolls on, we probably won’t be seeing the watershed moment of transparency that a system as complex as AuthorRank will demand.

Further Reading:

James Carson

Published 25 February, 2013 by James Carson

James Carson is a media and content strategy consultant and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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Comments (12)

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Shaun Thomas

But what if it isn't a myth? That's the point, whether it is going to impact search results or not, AuthorRank has definitely got us working with Google+ more than were inclined to in the past.

It's a master stroke of marketing and in my opinion, it could work, but it is going to need a lot of time to allow authors and publishers to establish authority. This may well be why we need to wait for so long before the changes are seen in results from any algorithm tweaks.

over 5 years ago


Charlotte Britton

We run an online magazine - and the authorship is something that I've been looking at as we get quite a few other people writing articles for us and I haven't found a suitable way of managing this. So the whole point around the ecosystem to manage this is a real issue. So refreshing to hear someone else has problems with authorship.

That aside, I can see that being a trusted author will be a significant algorithm going forward, the technical aspect will need to improve to achieve that. It'll just be another aspect, a bit like rich snippets which boosts and differentiates listings.

over 5 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

In terms of influencing the rank of an author's content (Agent Rank), I'd assumed Google were refining that and we'd see it at some point in the future.

However, the effect of having a name and picture in the SERPs is proving popular and useful for attracting clicks and improving an author's reputation.

over 5 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Interesting post. There has definitely been a lot of talk about it recently and I have yet to see it being utilised widely within the search results.

I always come back to the questions - should a page rank higher just because it is connected with an author who is popular on Google+?

If an author is highly regarded on Google+ within a certain industry, is this content more likely to rank for related searches?

Is this almost a more open or easier way of ranking quality content compared to having a bias towards well regarded websites/blogs that Google appears to have a preference for?

over 5 years ago



I do not know if Author rank is a term from Google or not, but if it isn't a myth, it can change the game of online marketing completely. Suppose if Google starts to measure the effectiveness of a post by the rank of its author rather than the content of the post, it will have both negative and positive effects.

over 5 years ago


David Given

There was a huge amount of hype around Authorship when it was launched but I rarely see it in the serps, and it has had a negligible effective on how I select the websites when searching.

The idea makes sense but it has to be applied by many more people for it to become reliable and it's not quite there yet.

over 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi James,

Thanks for the post, interesting reading.

I have to say that I think Authorship is important but not so much for influencing ranking, more for general influence.

Having clear author credentials on content promotes who you are as a content generator. It enables readers to get to know the person behind the words and it's really important in building a community online.

I think this works for B2C and B2B, from industry bloggers to content curators on retail sites. If you write stuff that's relevant and/or [insert chosen word here], it is more likely that you will:

a) Get shared socially
b) Build an audience
c) Get people coming back to your site to read more.

All of these send signals to search engines. So for me, if we are boiling it down to pure SEO impact, there is a potential uplift from social signals + increased on-page engagement i.e. a visitor who likes & trusts my content is more likely to stay longer, read more, come back more often etc.

Surely the whole point of content is about readership and influence, not rank. Rank should naturally follow if the former two are achieved.

What's your take?


over 5 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From TwoSmall Business Multi-user

Hi - I definitely recommend deploying Authorship - it's easy to do and it's not a myth.

On the other hand, AuthorRank doesn't currently exist. It probably will at some point, but I don't think anyone can really comprehend its impact at the moment.

over 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I second James' point on authorship. It's something we have done for all our writers, and encourage our guest bloggers to do.

Even if Author/agent rank never becomes reality, it does at least give our results and edge in the SERPs.

It should work for James on this post, but it isn't for some reason:

over 5 years ago


Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

I agree with James G and Graham. If the ultimate goal is to ensure that people and content that are influential in a particular topic area rank effectively in relation to this influence, then AuthorRank could be a good way to achieve this. So far search has been very focused on content rather than people.

However, I think the two points James C makes around complexity and the fact that Google+ is still largely in its infancy (and isn't being adopted YET but big publishers) is a sign that AR might take a while to realise the potential that many are predicting.

over 5 years ago


John Wiehe

How does Google+ Sign-In's launch today affect Agent Rank and Google+?

over 5 years ago

Barry Adams

Barry Adams, Founder at Polemic Digital

Late to the party, let me add my 2 cents.

All this theorising about a hypothetical implementation of a possible author-related ranking factor strikes me as a rather colossal waste of time. Yes, there's merit in future-proofing your SEO strategies, but what this Author Rank hype does is give Google profound insight in to how the SEO community intends to manipulate Author Rank for fun and profit.

And that means that when Author Rank makes the move from the realm of hypothesis to the realm of actual ranking factor, it'll likely be utterly unrecognisable from the theoretical Author Rank system being discussed and philosophised about...

over 5 years ago

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