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Google launched its authorship program last year and, using the "rel=author" markup, authors are given a more prominent listing in the SERPS. 

Implementing this is relatively easy to do (some useful instructions here) and it has the potential to improve CTR through enhanced search results. 

But how significant is this now, and how will Google use this in future? 

I asked several search experts for their views....

Why did Google introduce its authorship program?

Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director at Bigmouthmedia:

It's a trust signal for both their users and their algorithm.

Peter Handley, SEO Director, the MediaFlow:

I suspect that this is all part of their integration of Google Plus into the main search functionality. First of all, to get your picture appearing in the search results, you need to have a Google Plus account, and jump through Google's hoops to qualify. 

It can then use all this personal information to link up the various properties that writers are contributing content to, and determine a writer's authority.

Teddie Cowell, SEO Director, Guava:

As I mentioned in the 2012 predictions, Google has an agenda around authenticating content. Authorship tags are one way of doing that authentication. 

For individual authors authorship tags are great, however personally I am not such a fan of authorship tags because I think they aren't always in the interest of publishers and give to much control to individual authors.

I don't like the fact that the author link from the search results page can only be linked to the Google+ profile, and not an author's profile page on the publisher's website, apparently Google is aware of this as a general concern and is working to address it.

Personally, I prefer Direct Connect and publisher tags.

Since August 2011, Google has toned down the display of the profile image a lot, and also removed the link from the image so it's not quite so bad now as it was in the first iteration.

Tom Anthony, SEO Consultant, Distilled

Linking a specific author to a page provides Google with a lot of data. It uses Google+ as the identity service to verify an author but that normally leads you to the other social profiles for that user.

You can then use that to adjust the 'trust' in that link and alter how much juice it passes, and you can also use it for personalisation (see this for how much data Google is are compiling on who people are connected to).

In short - it is a powerful data point for both adjusting the trust of authored links and for improving personalised search (the big /threat from Facebook). I believe Google+ is as much about defending search territory as it is about attacking social.

Shelli Walsh, Director at Shellshock UK:

I would consider that part of the reason for rel=author is Google forcing more integration of it's products on the search results and to drive more people to having a G+ account. That is the cynical view.

I also believe it is an attempt to combat scraped content ranking higher than the original article, so that low value scraper sites can be hit.

Kevin Gibbons, Founder, SEOptimise

Google has added a more human element over who owns a specific piece of content. Google has realised how important social is as a indicator towards assessing the quality of a website, and because in many ways social media is more about personal branding than it is company branding this change starts to make more sense.

So that means Google doesn't want to just measure the influence of a brand profile on Twitter/Facebook/Google+ - it wants to know about it's employees, it's fans and followers.  

How does using rel=author benefit a website?

Andrew Girdwood:

It can have a pretty significant impact on CTR. Websites benefit if they manage to land well known "Google authors" too.

The attribute certainly helps the author build their personal brand.

Peter Handley:

If the Google Webmaster Tools Labs statistics were to believed(before they were removed) then there was some good uplift in click through rates, particularly when that was the only face visible on a page.

This is about making your search results snippets stand out more from others on the page, and the increases in click through rates were comparable to what we’ve seen with review and recipe rich snippets.

Edward Cowell:

The author tag helps Google determine content which is authentic, and helps the listing stand out in the results page. However, I believe the benefit varies depending on the type of website.

For single owner blogs it is massive because you have one author who publishes the content on their website, but for big news sites and larger publishers with lots of authors I am not so sure the benefit is as cut and dry.

There are important considerations about whether their content should be linked with author's personal profiles.

Tom Anthony: 

At the higher level, e.g. for Econsultancy, I think there is a lot to be gained from adopting it.

You have well-respected and well-trusted authors, Google already tracks this but adding authorship and verifying these authors will enhance its ability here.

Google can see that you have a range of authors who all have authoritative inbound links (with authorship it can see how many inbound links different authors on your site are getting) and who are all engaged and respected socially. 

At the lower level there is also the benefit that you should see an uptick in CTR for authored posts where the rich snippet is appearing, as well as appearing more in personalised search results.

Shelli Walsh: 

The author tag will become an important trust signal for a website (or individuals will build up power through their influence) so it will become essential to have influencers contribute to your site and for you to contribute to influential sites.

Having quality content is now on everyone's mind. The old ranking approach has died with the recent changes to algorithms and we now have to embrace a networking approach to building links.

The author tag will help by leaving a footprint of an author, so they take more care of where they tread. Having the strength of an industry authority footprint behind your G+ account will create power users and their value will increase greatly.

Kevin Gibbons:

The two obvious answers at the moment are to:

  1. Increase CTRs by getting your listing to stand out more. 
  2. To promote your Google+ profile within Google's search results and as a result increase your visibility and following. 

Of course it's also a very nice promotion for Google itself, by integrating profiles straight into its search results. This is going to help build traffic and increase user numbers/potential market share, which I'm sure hasn't gone un-missed as an opportunity.

This also provides users with a reason for going back to Google+, which is something early adopters have struggled to find so far with far more interaction and 'stickyness' on Twitter and Facebook.

How significant will this be in future?

Andrew Girdwood:

Many are predicting it'll be pretty significant. I'm inclined to agree but for it to be used heavily then a lot of bloggers/authors will have to be use it. Once a lot of people are using it then the impact lessons.

It's possible to create hundreds pages of pretty good but computer-generated text these days. It's also easily possible to maintain hundreds of sock puppet accounts.

What's not easy to do is maintain lots of popular sock puppet accounts or have the same 100 sock puppet accounts all write about the same content at about the same time without Google noticing.

Authorship, therefore, is well positioned to be a safe signal for Google.

Peter Handley:

I think for blogs and news, there are clear reasons for this to become significant.

Author Rank seems to be one of the new industry buzzwords at the moment, and you can see why Google want to link this data up.

No longer would it just be enough to create an article using any old made-up name, if you wanted that to rank, reputation and authority will matter. There of course could be ways to fake that, but it would to add to the workload.

For other areas of websites, I’m not so sure. Would it matter that a trusted author had written a product description or sales copy? Probably not, although clearly this isn’t its purpose.

I think for this to have real significance though, I think it needs to tie up social properties beyond Google Plus.

Edward Cowell:

Authentication, massive. Underlying everything we do online.

Tom Anthony: 

I think Google's perfect world is one where all links are authored; that is obviously never going to be the case but I think they will reach a threshold where authored links have a significant impact on the search results.

Google is already aggressively embedding Google+ into its wider range of services, pushing it hard on users, and I can't imagine we are going to see any reversal in this.

I believe old school media would be foolish not to adopt it. The internet has eaten away at the idea of the 'respected journalist' that people follow but this could help to restore that a bit.

What I am hoping we see is that there is somewhat of a revolt due to this being tied to Google only, thereby making it not accessible to any other search engines or services.

However, if there was a way to use, for example, OpenID as the identify service instead of Google+ then this would allow social tools and all sorts to really start doing some cool stuff.

In short, I can't see it going in reverse, and so it'll only increase in importance over the next 12-24 months. If social signals did overtake links as a ranking factor in the future, then authorship markup is perfectly situated to cross that divide.

Shelli Walsh: 

I really think this is going to be huge, probably bigger than anyone else in anticipating.

It will probably take a least 12 months to get started but I think in a few years time those who have built up a strong, trusted footprint of authority with their author contributions will become power players in terms of the influence they can have on an article/site.

It is going to be very difficult and time consuming to create false personas for authors to use them for marketing. It may well be you start to see more personality led sites becoming stronger in rankings.

Kevin Gibbons:

In my opinion, very.

Google is aware that the importance of a website shouldn't just be based around links. Social is a huge indicator of influence and many people will now share great content instead of linking to it.

That makes things harder for Google as it means that by ignoring social it's missing out on a huge part of the big picture when reviewing how authoritative a website is.

This means that brands now struggle to rank so highly if they just hire copywriters to publish content for them. If Google is going to measure a the influence of a writers social profile when ranking content, you should do the same when looking to hire them too!

Econsultancy's Digital Certificate in SEO offers a challenging academically accredited course, emphasising practical skill development. Giving you a solid advanced knowledge of search engine optimisation techniques to impact customer acquisition.

Graham Charlton

Published 26 April, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (20)

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Barry Adams

Barry Adams, Founder at Polemic Digital

I think we need to see rel=author in the wider context of entity search. Google+ is not as much a social network as it is an identity network: who are you, who is this organisation, what are your connections.

Rel=author fits in to that framework flawlessly, esp when combined with rel=publisher. It enables Google to interpret content as output from a given entity, and connect it to the other entities the author is connected to (both people and organisations).

I still believe its use case is limited and adoption outside of organisations that have content publication as a business model will be marginal, for the time being. Though when Google makes it a vital ranking factor - and there are signs this will occur at some stage - we'll see every keyboard-masher and their donkey jump on it, which will also serve to dilute much of its value.

about 4 years ago

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Liz Jamieson

I applied the markup to one of my sites and some time later my photo started to show in the search engine results. I think this is going to be quite hard to spam and remain undetected ...

In case it helps anyone, we developed a WordPress plugin (http://www.authorsure.com) for WordPress users get the markup installed properly.

It works for both single and multi-author WordPress sites which means that if you run a site that features guest posters, you can offer them authorship recognition for their posts. It's also free.

about 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

I add the rel=author tag to my content to help A)build more author authority and recognition and B)help searchers find my content that has been published on other sites. If author authority is going to be increasingly important, I want to give my content the best possible chance of success.

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Graham,

Thanks for the blog. I've been banging on about people who produce regular content taking the rel=author thing more seriously.

I always ask the question "why wouldn't you use it?". I've yet to hear any credible reason why you would ignore it. Though happy to hear one....

For me, it's also about looking ahead, not just working out how to improve SEO and click throughs.

In the vision of the semantic web, mark-up to provide context and structure (which Barry highlights) will be potentially important in helping link information. Web owners would be advised to think to the future when building content today. Rel=author helps link information based on a common property, that of authorship. One of the ways people access information is by tapping in to the knowledge of people they know and like - so helping them to find more of what they like by linking it is a bit of a no-brainer.

I'm sure that the semantic structure being used by search engines today will be pulled into play for the semantic search of the future.

Of course you have to be pragmatic about how much time/effort is required but using the rel=author tag is straight forward (the Google+ thing is a bit of an arse but hey don't you expect Google to try and beef up the impact of Google+?).

I know that's a superficial and rather noddy assessment of the semantic web but that's all my brain can manage this afternoon.

cheers
james

about 4 years ago

Paul Gailey

Paul Gailey, Marketing Consultant at Independent

Why doesn't econsultancy have it configured? Authorship is not the same as using Google Plus. It's a 20 min job.

about 4 years ago

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AJ Kohn

I appreciate the link to my how-to guide. I think AuthorRank could be incredibly important to SEO.

http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/author-rank

It's not just about the content authors produce but to whom (or what) they link to. Every link would carry an AuthorRank attribute which would make that link count more or less within the link graph.

It means that not everyone needs to be an author to participate. Links from highly ranked authors will flow AuthorRank to that site or document.

A fully integrated form of AuthorRank allows people to curate the link graph.

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@James Totally agree, has to be worth a try.

@Paul I did this for my profile, as well as our staff and some of our guest bloggers a few months ago. Mine hasn't quite worked yet, but I received some great advice on this from the experts here. Hopefully it will be working soon.

My colleague Aliya's is at least: http://i.imgur.com/VZhVm.png

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Paul,

It is being used on some Econsultancy authors but not all:

Check:
http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=james+gurd+econsultancy+blog&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

And you can see the Q&A Linus did with me has his author details and the rel=author tag in the html.

Thanks
james

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

@graham Let me know how I can get it on my blogs - something I can add in myself via the CMS?

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@James - I'll email the details - it needs to go in via your blog signature.

about 4 years ago

Paul Gailey

Paul Gailey, Marketing Consultant at Independent

@graham - i can see possibly why not. i'll contact you off list.

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks - you have my email?

about 4 years ago

Shelli Walsh

Shelli Walsh, director at shellshock ltd

I wanted to add to my contribution above that the following speakers gave excellent talks on rel=author recently:
James Carson at Brighton SEO
http://www.jamescarson.co.uk/socialsearch/2012/04/15/i-believe-that-authors-are-the-future-brightonseo-presentation/
and Tom Anthony at Ion Search
http://www.ionsearch.co.uk/ionsearch-summaries-how-authorship-google-will-affect-linkbuilding/

and these guides were essential for me to hack my wordpress site to get the rel=author code where it should be:

http://yoast.com/wordpress-rel-author-rel-me/
http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/how-to-implement-rel-author

about 4 years ago

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Thomas Høgenhaven

I totally agree that rel=author and other rich snippet markup will benefit publishers in the short run. But I am a bit weary about the long term consequences, as it helps Google deliver answers to the users, without having to pass on users to other websites.

So on a very high level, the SEO impact might be negative in the long run. More about it here: http://www.thogenhaven.com/the-rich-snippet-and-the-prisoners-dilemma

about 4 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

Completely agree that you might aswell use it, Google wouldn't have implemented something that affects CTR negatively, so unless you had a picture that scares people away it should be a win-win situation.

The only thing I don't understand, is why you can't see yourself as an author when you're signed in. What's wrong with being able to spot what you wrote so that you can differentiate it from the others and know what other things to read (and of course to check yours is working)?

about 4 years ago

Mobilapegustultau.ro - Mobila la comanda

Mobilapegustultau.ro - Mobila la comanda, Personal at Personal

Google is seeking better ways to quickly identify and surface quality content.

AuthorRank isn't about replacing the current algorithm, but augmenting it. It's about fusing the web of people with the web of documents and creating a more savvy view of Internet influence.

about 4 years ago

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Pik

I was ranking #1 for several months for a pretty popular 3 words keyword.
After linking the site to the Plus profile and having the picture appear in the search results the ranking dropped to 4#, 5# and now 7# position.

I lost 90% of my visits :(
Hundreds of people per day lost.

almost 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Pik,

Sorry to hear that.

Can you elaborate? Which keyword? And what webpage(s) were you previously ranking 1 for?

Has anything else changed? Any issues with external links? Any crawl issues?

Thanks
james

almost 4 years ago

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Jasper

Post writing is also a fun, if you be familiar with afterward you can write or else it
is complicated to write.

almost 4 years ago

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Trimax Solutions

Having a good and relevance marketing strategy makes your business gain more profit. There are some SEO strategy that can make your dream business come true. being into Social Media is one of the best technique in optimizing your sites. Social Media helps you attract more customer, In that way you can gain and get your desired profit. Trimax Solution Provides social Media support to make these dream profit come true. They give Social Media support on your website in a way that they can help not only your business but also the customer.

over 3 years ago

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