As the wind picks up for Google Authorship's page rank implications, the oft-daunting waters of search engine optimization (SEO) seem poised to get a dash less foreboding for digital journalists.
Launched along with Google+ last summer, Google Authorship makes it possible for "content creators" to 1) verify the authorship of their content, and 2) build two-way connections between the original work they produce on the web and their Google+ profiles.
Part of the initial idea was to stop web pirates who scrape original content from other people’s pages and drop it onto their own from hoisting themselves above those whose work they have pillaged in Google’s search results. It also helped to lure media people to Google+ with the promise of richer, better-looking search result snippets (SERPs) with click through rate-enhancing potential. These include a thumbnail profile photo and links, like so:
Throughout the year that followed, the SEO community was awash with advice about Google Author Rank, an elusive project whereby one’s credibility as an author would have a direct bearing on one’s page rank, rumours of which were supposedly born of a statement made by Google staffer Othar Hansson in the following, congenially geeky “Authorship markup” instructional video with Matt Cutts:
Also referred to as Agent Rank, the name under which the project’s patent is registered, Google Author Rank’s supposed purpose sounds like every web-writer’s dream: to make the quality of their content, and not mere SEO-suaveness, dictate which sites rise to the top of the web’s most competitive hierarchy, based the Google Authorship system of verified digital signatures.
The formula is predicted to be as follows: the more socially authoritative the “content creator” or “agent” (substitute “journalist,” “blogger” or “author” to taste) who digitally signs a given post, the higher that page would rank in Google search results.
In its patent for Agent Rank, filed on May 11, 2011, Google describes the concept as such:
“The digital signatures can be used to influence the ranking of web search results by indicating the agent responsible for a particular content piece. In one implementation, the reputation for an agent is expressed as a numerical score. A high reputational score indicates that the agent has an established positive reputation. The reputational scores of two or more agents can be compared, and the agent having the higher reputational score can be considered to be more authoritative.
“…Assuming that a given agent has a high reputational score, representing an established reputation for authoring valuable content, then additional content authored and signed by that agent will be promoted relative to unsigned content or content from less reputable agents in search results.”
In order to glean further gossip from those members of the SEO community whose advice works best, I searched “SEO Google author” to see which “SEO expert” or “blog guru” the bots found first. The winning post was written by Dave Ashworth for Raven Blog on March 9th, 2012 (whose search result came in the promised rich-text format indicating a Google Authorship profile, as did 9/10 of the hits on the first page of results).
Ashworth, an "SEO Executive," claimed to have first heard of Author Rank in a 2011 keynote speech by Cutts. He offered up the following quote from said address:
“Social is a good way to create a reputation for authors. If the reputation of content authors is transparent, it will make the whole web better.”
It is worth remembering, before we capsize from all the excitement, that Google Authorship is not yet a direct ranking signal that is used in the search engine’s algorithms.
Google Authorship’s “#1 Authority” Sagar Kamdar confirmed both the not and the yet last week in a Q&A with Search Engine Journal’s Grant Crowell: “We use over 200 signals to determine search ranking, and although authorship is not currently one of those signals, we hope to experiment with using information about authorship as a signal in ranking in the future,” he said, adding: “We’re working on a number of signals to identify high quality authors."
Another eye-watering video on Google Authorship and its applications for SEO is embedded below (the overshare in the intro is metaphorical):
Image Credit: Andrei Niemimäki via Flickr Creative Commons