What is Google Author Rank?
Google's Author Rank has been pegged as one of the biggest upcoming issues in search, which is somewhat counter-intuitive - given the fact that it's yet to be implemented and unclear whether it ever will be. In this guide, we'll take an in-depth look at this arcane technology and its implications for online marketing and the use of social signals in search.
Update: As of June 2014, Google announced it would be phasing out the inclusion of author photos and Google+ circle count in its search results. Whether or not a less public authorship system is still in the works behind the scenes is a matter of much speculation.
However, setting up authorship is not entirely without benefit - as author information is still visible to those presented with content from someone they have in their Google+ circles (provided the searcher is logged into their Google account).
- The History (or lack of) of Author Rank
At the outset, it's worth noting that as of now, Google's Author Rank does not exist. As with much of modern SEO, some very smart individuals are trying to anticipate the direction Google will be taking on search in the near future. However, there is some compelling evidence on the issue and predictions are largely based on an assumption of the continuation of current trends in the sphere of search.
Back in 2005, Google filed a patent for something known as Agent Rank, which would see agents (i.e. those creating and sharing content) ranked by the reception to the content they shared. But one looming question was how to identify and track these agents around the web - we'll come back to this later.
In its never-ending quest to enhance the relevancy of search results, Google has iteratively placed more weight on quality content and naturally-acquired inbound links in terms of search results. In 2011, it launched its flagship social service, Google+ (which gives the search giant masses of data on what people like and share online) - leading many to speculate that social signals (beyond inbound links) would one day be factored into search rankings. Despite all the furor surrounding the issue, this hasn't happened as yet, although sites that perform well socially tend to correlate with better search rankings.
So now Google has a way to identify these agents (now known as 'authors') and its own data to refer to on the social side of things, leading many to speculate that the dawn of author rank will soon be upon us.
- Authorship, Author Tag and Author Rank
Before we delve into the nitty gritty of the matter, it's a good idea to look into the jargon surrounding it and draw a clear line between fact and speculation:
Authorship: Introduced in 2011, authorship allows you to 'link your Google+ profile to the content you create'. If you've noticed those little headshots appearing next to articles in search results - this is a product of authorship.
Your authorship profile follows you around the web, allowing you to link your content to your Google+ account in a fairly straightforward manner. If you'd like more info, check out this helpful video from Matt Cutts and Othar Hansson of Google's Webmaster Team:
Author Tag: This is simply the way in which you link your G+ profile to your content. Have a look at this handy guide to find out exactly how to implement this.
Author Rank: Although this has yet to arrive, the general consensus is that it's on the way and soon. Some industry pundits even think it might already be in the testing phase.
It's likely to have a significant affect on the world of search, although it's arguably a continuation of a trend and those who have already bought into content marketing will be well-placed to benefit.
So given that the rollout of Author Rank could be on the horizon, what are the best ways to prepare, build your profile and get ahead of the game?
- Build me up, buttercup
Industry luminary Mike Arnesen reckons the effect of author rank will be so profound that "it may as well be a penalty against the sites and brands that have done nothing to prepare". And while it's not clear what factors will influence author rank, he thinks stuff like PageRank, +1s and the number of Google+ circles an author is in are just some of the elements that will be taken into account.
So what are the best ways to get your foot in the door on the Author Rank front?
Well, once the technical elements are in place - it all comes down to a) social interaction and b) producing and distributing quality content. If you've invested in your online presence, chances are you're already doing at least one of these, but it's important that you target these activities in the right way.
First of all - make sure all the content you've got out in the wild is attributed properly (you can test this using the Rich Snippet Testing Tool). Secondly, carry on producing high-quality, genuinely interesting content that showcases your industry knowledge, positions you as a thought leader and helps answer the questions or address the pain points of your target audience. Having content that lends itself well to sharing is also a good idea - and make sure to include the +1 button on anything that isn't nailed down.
I'd warn against trying to game the system, however, even if you might get away with it for a while - you can't fool all of the search engines all of the time. In this regard, I'd recommend steering clear of guest posting on low-quality sites, churning out reams of value-poor content and trying to shamelessly insert irrelevant or shoehorned keywords or phrases into copy.
If you're already sold on content marketing, Author Rank could be potentially great news - rewarding you even further for producing genuinely interesting articles that prompt people to share of their own accord. But those that aren't will need to undergo a sea change in the way they approach online marketing if they're to benefit from this facet of Authorship technology.
On the social front, you'll want to dive in to Google+ head first. It's widely thought that the number of circles you're in will be one of the elements that affects your Author Rank, so get active, get interacting, get sharing and above all - be interesting. After all, it's now the second most popular social network in the world!
I could easily devote a whole post to building a social profile on this burgeoning network, but in short - join in discussions that are relevant to your industry, circle relevant people with a substantial following and create, curate and share quality content on a regular basis.
Follow this guy:
This is Mark Traphagen of Virante Inc. He administers the biggest Authorship/Author Rank community on G+ and posts daily gold on these topics, as well as participating in regular Hangouts and unmissable webinars on all things social and search. He'll provide great further reading, bust some Authorship myths and help you to keep abreast of breaking news in the field.
Even if Author Rank isn't rolled out in the near future (or at all), utilising the above techniques will be generally beneficial from a content marketing perspective and building what AJ Kohn refers to as 'authority' for your organisation. Similarly, authorship brings a number of tangible benefits in isolation, including increases in click-through rates, an easy way to be circled via G+ and a custom Google Search page for your content through the 'More by…' link.
We're big fans of Google+ and quality content here at RDPR, but we're always keen to hear you thoughts. Is Author Rank a blessing, a curse, a double-edged sword or a shameless way to promote G+? Don't be a stranger and let us know what you think in the comments.
And if you're wondering how to get more +1s, or simply want to know how to make content marketing work for you, why not connect with us on Google+ or get in touch today.
We've also produced a new beginner's guide for companies at the smaller scale looking to get started with online marketing, so be sure to download it now for a detailed introduction: