Author Rich Snippet Result

In a new interview on Search Engine Journal, we get some updated insights into the current state of the Google Authorship project from Google Director of Product for Search Sagar Kamdar, who has specific responsibilities with Google’s Author Verification project.

Here’s the key quote:

Q: Is Authorship used by Google as a ranking signal? (i.e., does it factor into search rankings?)

Not for now, but it isn’t off the table. “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,” says Kamdar.

That being said, Kamdar stressed that while Authorship is not an algorithmic factor, it is a strong contribution to their social signals that are used to weight search results, including social activity outside of Google+. “We’re working on a number of signals to identify high-quality authors,” he says.

What Is Google Authorship?

First, let me catch up anyone who is not sure what we mean by Google Authorship. (If you already understand that topic, skip to the next section.) Last summer, in conjunction with the introduction of Google+, Google announced a way that producers of content on the web could verify their identities with Google (Author Verification) and then two-way connect their content anywhere on the web with their Google Plus profile. In the initial rollout, Google said that doing so would help Google combat scrapers who steal original content and post it on their own site, sometimes outranking the original author for it in search results. Also, these authors could get a rich snippet enhanced search result that would display their author profile photo, along with a link to their profile, number of Google+ circles they’re in, and a link to more of their related content. In addition, in the video below, Google staffer Othar Hansson stated that at some point in the future Google would probably use this as a “ranking factor” in Google search. This is known in the SEO community as Google Author Rank.

So Does Google Authorship Affect Search Rankings or Not?

Based on Othar Hansson’s statement cited above, as well as other hints from Google staff over the past year, the assumption in the SEO community has been not will Google Authorship affect search rankings, but when. Whether that switch has been flipped has been the subject of some rather intense debates. So at first glance the first paragraph from the interview quote above seems to settle that issue: as of 17 July 2012 – NO.

After all, Kamdar explicitly states, “Authorship is not currently one of those signals [that we use to determine search ranking].” So it is not (yet) a direct signal. But is he saying it currently has no effect on the search rankings?

Notice carefully the distinction I made there: effect vs. ranking factor. I think those are two different things to Google, and I think Kamdar agrees. Read again the second paragraph of his quote (emphasis mine):

That being said, Kamdar stressed that while Authorship is not an algorithmic factor, it is a strong contribution to their social signals that are used to weight search results, including social activity outside of Google+. “We’re working on a number of signals to identify high quality authors,” he says.

In other words, while Google Authorship is not yet an actual direct ranking factor (i.e., it isn’t one of the “over 200” prime factors in the actual ranking algorithm), it does affect search rankings, albeit more indirectly.

I think the language here gets a little slippery. Yes, Authorship is not at present by itselfprimary direct factor in search rankings. But it is included in the social signals, and social signals are undeniably now one of those 200+ direct factors. So, Google Authorship is indeed factored in, it just gets into the algorithm under the shell of social signals.

So what is meant by social signals? Social signals are Google’s measure of your “share of voice” in social media. It’s a gauge of how trusted and influential you are in topics you post about and share, measured in terms of how much your material is engaged (commented on, +1ed, liked, reshared, etc.), and by whom. Authorship is an important social signal because it allows Google to attach those signals to an individual, not just a web site.

So to conclude, Google Authorship can affect search rankings via the social signals factor. Because it is currently one of many factors within the social signals shell, its effect will be relatively minor, compared to know direct factors such as backlinks. So its primary importance for now is as a booster of an already healthy SEO profile. And how much of a boost it provides will vary from author to author.

So How Important Is Google Authorship Now?

I’m afraid that some will run with Kamdar’s first paragraph above and proclaim that since Authorship is not currently a “ranking factor,” you can safely ignore it. I think that’s a huge mistake for the following reasons:

  1. While it isn’t yet a capital-F Factor, it is a factor, as explained above. Why would anyone not want to take advantage of anything that has even the slightest effect on search ranking, especially when setting it up is one-time set-it-and-forget-it?
  2. Google repeatedly says it most likely will be a capital-F Factor in the future. Since, as Kamdar stated, Google is “working on a number of signals to identity high quality authors,” you want to be on that train now. Having author verification enabled on all your content now means Google is building a trust profile on you in your main topic areas. If you’ve accumulated good karma in this over a number of months, it could be very powerful when Google finally does throw the switch on Authorship as a ranking Factor.
  3. Even in its current status as part of social signals, Authorship can be powerful, as I believe I’ve demonstrated time and again in my blog posts and conference talks. Of course, getting that power through a relatively low-level signal is not easy or automatic, and I discuss some factors that I think are important below.

How to Take Advantage of Authorship TODAY

Even when Google does eventually turn on Author Rank as a direct factor in search rankings, getting a real boost from it won’t be automatic. As stated in the Google Agent Rank patent upon which the Authorship program is very likely based, trust factors for a particular author should be hard to get, but easy to lose (because of abuse). Therefore, it isn’t just a matter of activating author verification and then sitting back to watch your search rankings rise.

I firmly believe that my participation in Google Authorship since last October has contributed to my significant rise in search rankings for my authored content over that time period. I certainly don’t believe it is the only factor, but I do believe it has contributed. What do I think gives me powerful Author Rank for certain topic areas?

  1. I have made sure since October that all of my online content is properly hooked up to my Google+ profile. See my guide to Google Author Verification for the “how to” on doing that.
  2. I have built an influential Google+ profile, with my main topic areas in the About section. I’ve intentionally built relationships on Google+ and on other social networks with people influential in my topics, and those relationships have borne fruit as many of them have become regular re-sharers of and commenters on my content.
  3. I’ve sought out and secured guest blog post opportunities on influential blogs (such as Windmill Networking), all properly verification-linked to my Google+ profile.
  4. I’ve sought out and taken advantage of every opportunity that comes my way to talk about my topics at conferences, webinars, meetups, Google+ Hangouts, forums, etc. While not a direct social factor, these all help build my personal brand for my target topics. They increase my name recognition for them, and make it even more likely that people will engage with and share my stuff on social media.

Google’s Authorship Program is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting and fascinating ventures to ever happen in the evolution of search. Web 2.0 and social media took us from the age of static web pages to the age of interacting people. Authorship solidifies that, acknowledging that great, useful content is produced by people, not sites. And so seeking out the best content producers in every topic area and promoting them is a very smart thing for Google to do.

I truly believe that Authorship is already vitally important to building a healthy search presence, and that it will become even more so in the near future. Those who are already on board today are positioning themselves to be the search, and thus the thought-, leaders of tomorrow.