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Google Authorship Profiles: No Verification Needed?

23 October 2012 BY

Google and authority. It clearly is going to play a larger role in the search result pages in the coming months. Where your average search page used to be ‘just 10 blue links’ and Universal Search already brought images and videos to the search results pages, the rel=author is bringing the authority to the result pages.

To help webmasters get the profiles of their authors visible in the search results Google created what is called the “rel=author tag” which allows webmasters to tell Google who is the author of the page.

For the author snippet and image to show up the “rel=author tag” should be implemented properly. It however now seems that Google can figure all that out themselves. A guest poster got linked to a post without verification. 

Why authority is important

I won’t explain here in detail why authority is going to play a big role in the search results, I will do that another time and we’ve highlighted that several times already in different posts. I talked about it at the Dublin Web Summit as well (see that talk here).

The fact is that Google is putting a lot more weight on authority. A random search gives back many results which have the author in front of the post. This enhances the trustworthiness of the result and thus the relevancy of it. On top of that you can find related content from that same author.

The authorship has different levels and different tweaks to it. We have seen the ‘bigger’ and smaller images and we have also seen tests from Google where if you return to a search after reading a page you get more posts from that author.

There is no denying it anymore: you need to look at authorship now.

How to get that authorship in Google?

Getting the authorship up and running seems pretty simple. Google explains it really simple themselves:

1. You need a Google+ Profile
2. Verify your content by associating it with your profile

There are two ways you can connect your content to your Google+ Profile:

1. Via e-mail: your e-mail should be both ‘findable’ on the domain you are writing on as well as it should be submitted to Google.

2. Linking your content to your Google+ Profile. Which is as simple as linking from your Google+ Page to the website and back with the ?rel=author parameter.

Do this and you potentially have your image showing up in the search results. Potentially, because Google doesn’t guarantee your profile showing up.

But do you really need it?

Now these methods are pretty straight forward and make sense. As an author you want to make sure you are connected to the right content and so does the site, it wants the right author there so verifying it two ways makes sense.

But imagine my surprise when I saw this on this search:

So, that is an author mark up of Kristjan Mar Hauksson on State of Search. So what? Well, for starters, Kristjan is not a regular blogger on State of Search. The post which shows up in the results is a guest post he wrote for us last year.

Secondly, there has been no verification of Kristjan’s authorship in any direction. He did not tell Google he is writing for State of Search (I specifically checked that with him), not on his G+ Page or via e-mail. And we did not the other way around tell Google he is an author on our blog. Because he isn’t.

Google is figuring out themselves that Kristjan is the author of that article.

If you look at the post which Kristjan wrote (great one by the way) you will see that the author box which we always have below an article says it is a guest post. The box above that is in the text itself telling you readers who wrote the guest post.

It seems as if authorship mark up is going in the direction where Google connects the dots themselves

Tweet this quote

So how does Google figure this out?

We can’t pinpoint exactly how Google is connecting the dots, we know they are. Kristjan’s Twitter account is there, a link to his website as well and his image.

There is one thing which stands out here which Kristjan told me: his name is absolutely unique. That is probably why no other guest posts seem to show up. Google has to be certain there is only one person going by that name.

What does it mean?

There are a couple of interesting consequences coming from this. For one thing it shows the importance of authorship again, but also the importance of figuring out for Google who is who. With a unique name like Kristjan’s they are now already able to figure out he has done a guest post somewhere.

It is another piece of proof Google is more and more capable of connecting the dots and figuring out exactly who we are and what we are doing.

It could potentially also be dangerous though. If there is no verification needed a site owner could take advantage of a strong and powerful ‘author rank’ as long as the name is unique enough or they can pinpoint him well enough.

What if I would “just” write an article and stick Kristjan’s name to it? Or anyone else’s name for that matter?

Google will off course try and prevent that from happening, which again is why the other guest posts are not showing up, their names are not unique. So for now, unless you have a unique name or Google can pinpoint you with 100% certainty chances are this will not happen to you.

Another consequence lies for guest posters. It could become very interesting to guest post all over the place, making your profile appear wherever you want without actually having to do all the verifications.

But it is another interesting step from Google when it comes to authorship and authority, that is certain.

UPDATE

After talking to many people during the day about this there are a few more conclusions we can draw.

There are several people who said this was already been spotted before.

David Harry wrote about a similar thing early September. In that case however it was about the fact there was no rel=author implementation on the specific sites. There were however links going from his Google+ Profile to the websites.

Malcom Coles wrote about this last year in regards to the Guardian where Twitter accounts were being used, but this apparently was part of a Google test, it seems to be however they are using the same method, since Kristjan’s Twitter account indeed is there.

The Guardian however seems to be a controlled test, this is the first time it is spotted ‘in the wild’. What remains is that determining the author in this way is potentially dangerous. It seems relatively easy to take advantage of this. But without a doubt Google will do everything to prevent that.

AJ Kohn, expert on this matter puts it like this:

It’s definitely more open to error but I don’t think they rely solely on Twitter. If the Twitter profile didn’t have the link to the site and the G+ profile didn’t have a contributor to that site I don’t think it would pass.

So I think it’s more than just having the Twitter handle and by line next to to the piece. But … clearly it’s less stable and could be open to gaming.

AUTHORED BY:
h

Bas van den Beld is a speaker, trainer and online marketing strategist. Bas is the founder of Stateofdigital.com. -- You can hire Bas to speak, train or consult.
  • http://twitter.com/JamesFinlayson JamesFinlayson

    Great find Bas – and I agree that the prospect of false attribution is a little troubling; especially if Google isn’t letting the assumed author know that it’s made the link.

    • http://lroy.nl/ Elroy van Ouwerkerk

      I have to agree about letting an author know. Feels like tagging with photo’s on Facebook. This way people are able to assign you to a post that isn’t yours with negative results. But Google will probably fine-tune the functionality before it goes bad.

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  • Kristjan Mar Hauksson

    Thanks Baz, great read as always. Lets hope they do not de-authorize me.

  • http://twitter.com/andreapernici Andrea Pernici

    In this case I think it’s pretty straight-forward to determine who is the author.
    Kristjan Twitter profile and website are linked in the article box and his twitter profile is linked in the tweet button.
    Checking his g+ profile you can see his website.
    Website + Twitter + Google+ profile…and you can close the circle.
    A sort of “transitive property”…relatively simple for Google.

    • Ari Roth

      Agreed, but that makes the danger that Bas referred to even more pronounced, as I can just slap a few social links to Kristjan’s accounts next to a fake author bio and get him listed as author in the SERP’s for a spam article…

  • http://twitter.com/chrisgreen87 Chris Green

    Really interesting find Bas – certainly thing there is room for some more experimentation here to try and determine how these dots are being connected.

    If you run the post through Google’s Structured data testing tool, you get an interesting result – “James Murray, we’ve found your name as one of the authors from the page. You can use “Authorship verification by email” method above to verify your authorship.”

    (http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.stateofdigital.com%2Fintegration-of-marketing-channels-by-kristjan-mar-hauksson%2F&html=)

    Now this shows they’re clearly taking a stab at the authorship in one instance here (and getting it wrong), but the SERPs clearly show that they’re getting right in the end… weird!

    • http://www.shaadhamid.com/ Shaad Hamid

      Interesting that you saw James Murray’s name appear. I saw Li Evans. Is James Murray in your G+ circles? Li Evans is not on mine.

      • http://twitter.com/chrisgreen87 Chris Green

        The account I was signed in doesn’t have G+ set up – it’s odd that it’s returning different “authors”

  • http://www.shaadhamid.com/ Shaad Hamid

    Very interesting Bas, I’ve checked the page on the structured data testing tool and this is what I see http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.stateofdigital.com%2Fintegration-of-marketing-channels-by-kristjan-mar-hauksson%2F&html= Interestingly if you are logged into G+ the tool tells you that they have found Li Evans as an author and is prompting a G+ profile to verify authorship. But very clever by Google to not assume Li Evans as the author of the post but have assigned the correct authorship. I think looking at the schema, his name appears as a property and you’re right, I couldn’t find another Kristjan Mar Hauksson on G+ :-)

  • Kevin

    http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4510738.htm

    Same thing seems to be happening with things like Pinterest profiles. Google figures out that you’re the same person and slaps on authorship. Pretty neat, but is very telling of things to come.

  • http://blog.paulgailey.com/ Paul Gailey

    it’s defacto deft digital arm twisting by Google to get you to spill your identity on G+.

  • http://www.twitter.com/JeremyCMorgan Jeremy Morgan

    I’ve suspected this would happen, and it’s a good thing for most of us, the only place I could see a problem forming is those with common names.

    My guess is right now it’s likely based on the person’s full name and an email scraped from somewhere on the site, or maybe even checking your social media sites to see links to your own stuff. It would be interesting to see how they get this information.

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  • http://twitter.com/steviephil Steve Morgan

    Funnily enough, after reading this article this morning, I just spotted it on my company’s blog – a colleague’s G+ avatar/profile is showing up against his articles, but it’s only happening with him so far (yet there’s a few of us who’ve written for the blog who are also signed up to G+), and although we were considering implementing it on the site, we haven’t done so so far.

    Although Google implementing this automatically seems like mainly a good thing (as it removes the time/resources/headaches in implementing it oneself), one person I know has raised a good point: if a company doesn’t want its employees’ G+ profiles attributed with its blog, e.g. if their personal profiles and they tend to talk about personal/non-professional things. While I think most companies won’t mind and may in fact welcome it – as it makes their staff more personable – I can still see some strictly-corporate businesses becoming annoyed with this change if it begins to affect them…

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  • http://trafficdigital.com/ Mark Hughes

    Very interesting stuff, Bas. It does kind of make sense that Google should be trying to provide author credit when an authoritative figure has not actually implemented the standard rel=author stuff. Obviously in the techie realm, many people are now starting to implement the correct markup (we’re about to start doing it – a little late, admittedly!) but experts in most non-tech areas are likely to have never even heard of this. So, it stands to reason that G will have to find a way to verify content written by experts in non-tech areas. How they’ll do that, I’m not sure – G+, Twitter, bio pages etc perhaps.

    On another subject, I’ve just written up a little piece on G+ and authorship – I’m very new to this content writing stuff, so would be great to have any constructive criticism from any experts! Take a look here if you’re interested: http://trafficdigital.com/why-google-plus-is-essential-for-your-social-seo-strategy/

    Thanks :)

  • http://chillopedia.com/ Nadeem Khan
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  • Ryan Glass

    Great piece, Bas, and thank you for sharing your observations along with the details of the circumstances. We’ve been spending a lot of time this week at work researching and discussing the impact of authorship as we prepare to fight against some management worries about what could happen after the author ceases employement, etc. This article puts a very interesting twist on many things I’ve read this week.

    If I could add one thing, when I searched for “integration of marketing channels” with personal results turned on, I do not see Kristjan’s authorship markup in the SERP, but when I turn off personalization, his face now shows up in the results.

  • http://dragannikolic.com/ Dragan Nikolic

    I’d always suspect that Google connects dots by comparing profile images, but Kristjan’s headshot on the guest post and Google+ is not the same.

    Also, Google+ now redirects all “rel=author” URL extensions to ones without “rel=author” – observation by https://twitter.com/dragonblogger

    Any thoughts guys?

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  • http://pestcontrolseo.wordpress.com/ Thos003

    Oh what a tangled web the search spider weaves.

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