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Authorship: What and How and Why is it so Important to Google?

27 September 2012 BY

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Lately we are spotting all kinds of small developments pointing towards more importance for the authorship markup in Google. We’ve recently spotted Google E-mailing Authors about their Authorship Markups, Google showing authorship markup even when it’s not properly implemented and Google bringing back author stats in webmaster tools. Apparently authorship is important to Google. But why?

What is Authorship Markup?

First let’s get back to what the authorship markup actually is and does. This is authorship markup:

It’s a way for Google to show within the search results who’s the author of the content on a specific page. The result shows a headshot of the author, a link to his Google+ profile, the number of Google+ circles the author is in and a link to more search results for this author.

How do you claim authorship over your content?

For Google to be able to show the author for a search result it needs to know who’s the author. There’s two ways to verify authorship over your content. The first one is a more technical implementation:

  1. Create a link to your Google+ profile from your webpage, like this:
    <a target="_blank" href="[profile_url]?rel=author">Google</a>

    Replace [profile_url] with the your Google+ profile URL, like this:

    <a target="_blank" href="https://plus.google.com/109412257237874861202?rel=author">Google</a>

    Your link must contain the ?rel=author parameter. If it’s missing, Google won’t be able to associate your content with your Google+ profile.

  2. Add a reciprocal link back from your profile to the site(s) you just updated.
    1. Edit the Contributor To section.
    2. In the dialog that appears, click Add custom link, and then enter the website URL.
    3. If you want, click the drop-down list to specify who can see the link.
    4. Click Save.

Apparently this method was too difficult for some people so Google introduced a new way of verification for content on specific websites based on verification with an email address:

  1. Check that you have an email address (for example, levy@wired.com) on the same domain as your content (wired.com).
  2. Make sure that each article or post you publish on that domain has a clear byline identifying you as the author (for example, “By Steven Levy” or “Author: Steven Levy”).
  3. Visit the Authorship page and submit your email address to Google. No matter how many articles or posts you publish on this domain, you only need to do this process once. Your email will appear in the Contributor to section of your Google+ profile. If you want to keep your email private, change the visibility of your link.

Apparently Google has been picking up on authorship in instances where neither of these two methods are implemented correctly though, but one thing is always required: your Google+ profile.

If you want to check whether you’ve implemented your authorship mark-up correctly you can use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. In this tool you can see Google is indeed picking up on more than just your verified author profiles.

What can authorship markup do for you?

When you login to Google webmaster tools with your Google account associated with your Google+ profile you can see search statistics for all the pages on any website for which you are the verified author. It’ll show you which pages are shown in the search results, how many times, how many clicks they received, which CTR the result has and the average position.

As for the regular search stats within webmaster tools, Google also includes image search within the author stats. Which is odd because there’s no authorship included in image search results. Image search has a large impact on impressions, average positions and CTR. If you want to see better data you can filter for only web results. Sadly the author stats do not show average data about CTR and positions, but 1,300 clicks from 40,000 impressions with average positions all over the first page, doesn’t seem bad to me.

The most important benefit for you as an author is of course visibility within the search results, which contributes to your branding. But for webmasters the most important benefit should be a higher CTR, hence more visitors. Since the introduction of the authorship markup there are different sites claiming a higher CTR since implementing (and optimizing) the authorship markup (here, here and here).

But higher CTRs are just a temporary benefit for early adopters. The more sites and authors implement the authorship markup the less distinguishing the sheer presence of the authorship markup is. In march Searchmetrics already reported search results with authorship for 17% of the search queries. As soon as authorship markup is a common practice the impact on CTR will flatten. So what will be the potential benefit in the long run?

AuthorRank

AuthorRank is what Google is really after (along with pushing Google+ of course).  In the long run Google needs a way to guarantee quality. Along with the Google Penguin update targeting spam algorithmically, Google also needed a reliable signal to predict quality of new content. And what’s more reliable than the historic quality of the author?

Authorship is an ideal way for Google to force quality. When results with authorship get a ranking benefit in the SERPs, publisher will be more or less forced to use authorship. And when they do Google can easily come up with algorithms to determine authorship based on average shares, on-site activity, incoming links, authority on Google+. Exactly which factors will play a role will be hard to guess and will be subject to change by Google for improving the quality of AuthorRank.

How to use authorship strategically?

So, I guess there’s no escaping authorship. Well, that depends. If it’s content your target audience wants, which they probably do, than you have to get going with authorship.

Ask yourself who should represent your brand related to your content. Is it your CEO? Is it your representative to your clients? Or is it your expert? It all depends on who you’re focusing on and which content your publishing. If it’s professional content, use your expert. If it’s about the strategy of your company, use your CEO. How cool is it that the story of Dell pops up the authorship markup of Michael Dell himself?

Once you’ve targeted the proper authors for your business you need to start working on their authority. Of course that starts with publishing high quality, sharable content (sorry for the obvious cliché). But also think about a few other ways to increase authority:

  • Try to get published on other authoritative websites
  • Stimulate interaction about your posts on Google+
  • Bring your posts in the attention of other authoritative authors (in the hope they will share or comment on them)
  • Invite other authoritative authors to publish on your platform
  • Increase the activity and connections of your authors on Google+

As you can see the key in increasing the benefits of authorship lies in usage of Google+ and thinking cross-platform, increasing interactions with other sites and authors. This cross-platform publishing and active connecting is a great way for Google to get more data on who’s authoritative in which areas and most of all who’s left out of all these connections and therefore probably doesn’t represent high quality. Just remember these signals are guesses and will probably change as well based on the perceived quality of the signals by Google. Make sure your strategy is solid, so you don’t depend on these ‘tricks’.

AUTHORED BY:
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Jeroen van Eck is a consultant search engine marketing at the online marketing company E-Focus in the Netherlands.
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