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Google Authorship and Author Rank: A Look into the Future

Posted by Cory Collins on Aug 14, 2013 12:55:46 PM

Welcome to Google Authorship

The very word ‘authority’ shares roots with ‘authorship’. The two concepts are indelibly intertwined, linked, symbiotic.

Perhaps then Google’s move toward authorship, identities, and eventually, author rank isn't surprising. Google’s end game is to go beyond websites, and start indexing and ranking people – or at least their work.

Google Authorship, or rel=author, ties a Google+ account to a piece of content, centralizing a person’s work and allowing Google to associate all that content with a single author (or at least the content the author chooses to claim). In short, it allows Google to identify an author. There are numerous benefits to Google Authorship, but perhaps one of the the most important is the potential implementation of Author Rank.

Author Rank (patented under Agent Rank) would allow Google to rank certain identities (agents or authors) higher in relevant search results based upon algorithmically perceived authority. Google would have an entirely new signal for their algorithm - and a potentially strong signal, at that.

So what signals might factor into the Author Rank algorithm (an algorithm within a larger algorithm)? Well, my educated guess:

  • Links to authored content
  • PR, DA, influence of websites published on
  • Diversity of websites published on
  • Social shares of authored content (crawled based upon the social buttons on the content itself)
  • Number of comments on authored content
  • Popularity (shares, circles, +1s, etc.) of the Google+ account

Of course, those are all just educated guesses – nothing confirmed.


Author Rank Round the Corner?

Author Rank

Since the inception of Google Authorship SEOs and online marketers have been guessing Author Rank is around the corner. That trend continues, because currently it looks as if Google might well be implementing Author Rank, either currently or very soon, based on recent news.

A quick snippet from Matt Cutts, Head of Webspam at Google, on what to expect this summer (released in May):


And then, a more detailed video on rel=author (June):


And just recently, Google implemented In-depth articles in search results. Recognized expert on Google Authorship, +Mark Traphagen, reviewed this new SERP feature and wrote an article which speculates Author Rank is beginning to be implemented.

By many indications Author Rank, which is based on Google Authorship, appears to be around the corner. If you have yet to implement Authorship, now’s the time.


Google Authorship and Author Rank – Exciting Times

Google Authorship Email

Google’s authorship and the potential of author rank is exciting – it humanizes search results further by returning a face with the result, rewards authority with visibility, and brings an entirely new feature to Google’s results.

Specifically, the benefits of using Google Authorship, and the potential benefits of Author Rank:

      • Authorship allows you to claim ownership of your image, content, website, and claim your identity
      • Google will display your Google+ image as a rich snippet next to your content in the SERPs, thereby increasing your CTR and overall visibility within the SERPs
      • Centralizes your content in Google+
      • Increases the rankings of your content throughout the SERPs (assuming authority)
      • Provides leverage for publishing on further sites, since your authority will increase their rankings
      • Allows you to track the clicks and impressions on your articles, via Webmaster Tools Author stats

There’s many reasons to utilize Google’s Authorship, and many reasons to be excited about the implementation of Author Rank. However, there’s also drawbacks worth noting.


Author Rank Potential Drawbacks

The internet is an amazing, outlandish, crowded, noisy, magical place. Google famously continues to tell online marketers and SEOs to focus on building great content in order to rank. However, building great content is often easier said than done. And, once that great content is produced there's no guarantee that the traffic will come.

Author Rank is another incentive to be producing content. However, will it emphasize quality or quantity? I'm sure they'd prefer to have quality signals, but if Google's history with links is any indicator, they very well might struggle with the quantity and quality issue.

Some other issues likely to be seen with the release of Author Rank:

  • Author Ranks creates a new avenue of influence or manipulation on Google’s search results, depending upon exploitability.
  • Further increase of content bloat on the web. According to Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, as of 2010 the internet was generating as much information every two days as was created from the dawn of civilization until 2003. Undoubtedly this rate of information generation has increased since 2010, and Authorship is yet another incentive to create more content.
  • More businesses incentivized to start a company blog, without the skills, resources, or people in place to make sure it succeeds.
  • Content thievery via authorship. If authorship leads to a ranking signal (especially if it’s a strong ranking factor), spam sites could theoretically go scrape content, claim authorship (if the company hasn't set up rel=publisher or authorship), and greatly benefit. (Credit to Janet of Search Mojo).

All in all I’d definitely say Google Authorship and the potential of Author Rank is a positive, rather than a negative. But there will definitely be some good with the bad.


Prediction – Author Rank will be a strong signal, with plenty of initial manipulation

I predict Author Rank will be a strong signal, relatively easy to manipulate upon implementation for those that know how (with plenty doing so).

This is sort of the nature of the beast – despite all the testing Google is sure to do, launching a brand new signal/ranking factor of this magnitude it’s impossible not to have some strength/manipulation issues.

More importantly, there will be plenty who will be happy to manipulate Author Rank, creating a sort of authority inflation, leading to a publication arms race to stay in the top of the SERPs. Freshness and quantity might unfortunately rule for a short period of time.

Google, much as they did with Panda and Penguin, will eventually pull everything back in line and punish those who've gamed the system. Plenty of personas will expire in a flame of glory – unfortunately, many real people who were swept up in the arms race will be caught in the crossfire as well.

Of course, this is all speculation and tin foil hattery on my part at this point – these are only my educated guesses/pessimism.



Google and Matt Cutts have gone out of their way recently to talk about Google Authorship – I think it’s a pretty safe bet it’s not going to go away. What’s more, Author Rank might be not far around the corner. If you produce content online in any fashion, be it a professionally, personally, or even as a company, it’s extremely important you’re up to date with Authorship/rel=publisher, and are using them correctly.

What you should take away from this article:

  • Utilizing Google Authorship is necessary for content creators
  • If you’re a company and can’t use Authorship, you should be using the rel=publisher tag
  • Author Rank is potentially around the corner
  • Author Rank will be (in my opinion) a strong signal at first, and potentially exploitable
  • People looking to influence (or exploit) Google via authorship will likely publish a large quantity of content quickly, creating further content bloat and authority inflation
  • Author Rank will be pulled into line by Google, and anyone using Authorship to game Google will have a mess on their hands

There you have it! My thoughts on the Google Authorship and the possible implementation of Author Rank. Thoughts of your own? Share them below!