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
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.
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.