Author Rank by Google is going to become a competitive differentiator for B2B companies who care about organic search in their sales and marketing efforts. Why? In many industries, B2B selling relies heavily on the people who meet with customers, establish relationships and credibility, and ultimately sell products, services and solutions to buyers. Author Rank, in addition to Google+, changes the results that people see in Google, and the information that is displayed in the results. And anyone who relies on personal relationships to sell or market needs to understand the changes.
Author Rank has been in development for seven years, and was also known as Agent Rank in the past.
In summary, Google wants to prioritize content that is created by verified writers who hold topical authority. The goal is to filter out spam and irrelevant content.
Right now, Google is using Google+ as a channel to verify writers who want to be included in the Author Rank scheme. After a weriter registers, then websites where the writer contributes has to connect its writer accounts with their Google+ accounts. Then, search results will show the writer’s headshot from Google+ and a byline next to the result for their content.
It’s not just about showing up in Google’s results– it’s about getting real estate and clicks. Check out this search I did for “social media trends 2012″: The top two results are Author Rank results. The third was shared by TechCrunch on Google+. The two with author pics look more inviting than the third, and even that result was influenced by the fact that I follow the blog on Google+.
You could argue that Google is killing its sacred cow in foolish hopes of beating Facebook at the social media game. Or you could argue, as many SEO experts have, that Google is improving its search results with rich, verifiable data. The change goes a long way to eliminate content spam. It’s easy to forge links and game PageRank, but not so easy for spammers to forge a personal identity through a Google+ account.
Either way it’s a product and philosophical change. Google was always about the algorithm, not curation, certainly not curation through something as, well, human as a social network. The emphasis before was about what was on the page not who wrote it.
Whether you believe it is good or bad, this change has ramifications for content creators. Brands know they must create content, not just to stay fresh and relevant in organic search results, but to engage their customers and maybe even act as thought leaders in their industries. Most companies don’t hire big name journalists for their content marketing –aside from the obvious ethical issues, they can’t afford them. It’s much easier to hire an anonymous consultant or copywriter to churn out content sans byline. No one cares who those writers are as long as the content they produce is viewed as legit to the almighty Google. Until now, that is, when Google wants those writers to have identities.
Google has — according to many– spent years tearing down the value of a byline and influence through its algorithm-like ranking mechanisms. And at first, that was good. Search engines could unearth content from sites that were more obscure than those listed in a directory, or those you might not already know. Now, it’s reversing that on an individual level. The problems came when low quality sites made a living on gaming the system. This is how we end up with 800 news publications writing high quality stories such as “What time does the Superbowl start?“
Even media outlets can’t rely on their hard-fought search engine rankings to ensure their stories will wind up on the first page of search results. That’s up to the individual writers. In our world of socially distributed content, we know that news coverage is often “bring your own audience.” News site homepages don’t have a built-in audience anymore –in a twisted way, they often rely on the subject of the story to promote them in order to drive traffic. Even influential writers with thousands of Twitter followers aren’t as powerful as they look — studies show that Twitter users with more than 5000 followers drive less traffic and fewer clickthroughs than those with more modest follower counts. It’s actually relatively simple for a publication to connect its writers’ bios pages with their Google+ bios, but only four Fortune 100 companies have done so, Boser says.
Google doesn’t own social networking, but it does own search and email (and surprise! new Gmail signups automatically get Google+ accounts). With Author Rank, it’s outsmarting SEO spammers while forcing content producers to use Google+. They may not like it, but the alternative — risk losing influence, isn’t much better.