Right around the same time that Google+ was introduced in June 2011, Google formally announced the Google authorship program, where authors could link their content to a Google+ profile and identify it to Google in search rankings.
But the idea of ranking Internet authors actually goes back much further, according to Mark Traphagen, director of digital outreach at search optimization firm Virante. “Google first came out with patents back around 2007 talking about a system in search for being able to identify individual authors, link to their content and then evaluate and score them as authorities in various subject matters based on various signals pointing to their content,” he explains.
Just because Google has filed a patent doesn’t mean a ranking system for authors is imminent, but it does look like the search engine may be headed in that direction and that means we need to pay some attention.
“All we know is that Google has these patents. They’re formally known as agent rank patents. Several patents apply to this where they talk about being able to evaluate a number of kinds of things, with an author being one of these agents, so the term ‘author rank’ has kind of sprung up as a folk term. It’s not really a Google term,” says Traphagen.
Google’s move toward quality and authority
Right now, Google’s authorship program results in profile photos that appear next to search results in Google. “It’s good personal branding, and in most cases people seem to think that it increases your click-through rate for search results; that people are more likely to click on a result that has a face next to it,” Traphagen adds.
But industry experts predict that “author rank” is the next signal Google will use in its ranking of web content, according to a video introducing Google authorship to the world. Aside from photos appearing in search results, Google has stated it could factor in authorship to help curtail what many see as the widespread plagiarizing or theft of content on the web.
Is it possible Google is already using a version of author rank? Traphagen doesn’t think so. “I think they are still working towards it being that,” he says. “We’ve had some encouraging signs along the way,” such as Google Webspam team leader Matt Cutts stating in videos posted online and at conferences that it’s something Google intends to do, ranking the most authoritative authors on a given topic higher in search results. However, Traphangen says all the language he’s heard is future-oriented.
Another sign that Google may be working in this direction is a recently introduced feature highlighting in-depth articles. “It’s showing up on a limited basis so far, but it happens for high-level topics,” says Traphangen. “In the search results, you’ll get a special box that will have three featured articles in it, and Google calls those ‘in-depth articles.’” Such content tends to delve deeper into the searched topic and Google search results for them show the publisher’s logo and sometimes indicate the author, as well.
How to prepare for Google author rank
How do you prepare your search marketing strategy for the possible inclusion of author ranking in Google’s algorithms? Here are some steps you can follow now:
1. Make sure you have Google authorship connected with your content, both on your own blog and on any other sites you contribute to. If possible, the sites you write for should include a Google+ link to your profile on the bottom of the article or on an author page. Then connect all the sites you contribute to, including your own blog, to the contributor section of your Google+ profile.
2. Do you write for a site that won’t list you as a contributor? You can still link back to the publisher in the contributor section in your Google+ author profile.
3. Continue focusing on quality content. “I think people who are using Google authorship and who are producing really good, authoritative content that is focused on their areas of expertise and are getting good interaction engagement,” says Traphangen.
4. Consider allowing authoritative bloggers or writers to guest post on your site and connect their Google authorship to your content. “If and when that begins to become a strong ranking factor for those authors, that’s only going to drive more traffic to your site. If their content on your site is ranking better because of their personal authority, that’s a positive thing for your site,” Traphangen explains. Authors benefit from posting on sites that have a high rank in the topic area, but authors with a high rank in an area can help the site they write for as well. Authors with their own audiences can bring eyeballs, increase trust and raise the quality of content on your site, so it’s a good marketing move in general, in addition to potential future benefits with search.
Traphangen speculates that it’s possible that Google could one day create some kind of brand rank or publisher rank to add a level of authority to a site on Google. Get a head start by making sure you have a Google+ brand page. As with Google authorship, a verified connection between the Google+ page and the brand page is necessary. Once you get enough followers on a brand page, you can apply to have the page verified, and content marketing specialists believe that this too may well be included in the algorithm to determine page rank in the future.
If you’re interested in getting a bit more technical, you can go to Google’s webmaster tool, log into your account, and search the data on content across the web connected to your authorship. Click on “Google Labs” and “authorship stats” and you’ll be able to see statistics (including page impressions and clicks) for pages for which you are the verified author.