Back in 2012, AuthorRank was a hot topic among the SEO and inbound marketing sect.
Similar to PageRank, which aims to establish authority for domains and pages on those domains, AuthorRank was thought to be the key to measuring individual authority. Although Google never officially referred to it by that name, they patented techniques to use individual reputation as a search ranking suggested as much. Once awareness of the patent went public, the SEO industry quickly began talking about it as individual authority.
Author Authority would have made it much easier to rank people in different areas of expertise. It would reduce spam and scammy behavior, and push reputable content creators up the SERPs. What could possibly be wrong with that end result?
The excitement was nipped in the bud on Aug. 28, 2014 when, in a surprise move, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller announced via Google Plus that the Google Authorship program was coming to an abrupt ending.
Goodbye Google Authorship
The announcement set the SEO world in an uproar.
Some highlights from the announcement and the ensuing discussion include:
- Authorship has been completely eliminated from the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
- User experience was the overarching reason why Google came to this decision.
- Rich snippets will remain in the SERPs by way of structured markup, although author photos no longer show up.
- Your Google+ connections will still see your Google Plus posts in their own personalized SERPs.
- Authorship data is no longer used in any algorithm for ranking or display of SERPs. This is completely separate from the functionality mentioned above.
- Publisher markup is alive and well -- this has no impact on publisher markup (some good news in my book -- more on that later).
- The Structured Data Testing Tool no longer supports markup for authors.
- “Author” ceased to be considered a type of semantic entity.
Authorship as a program is completely gone. It has absolutely no impact on ranking or SEO as of late August of 2014.
What Does It Mean?
A change as significant as this one is bound to raise some questions. Some of the most common questions that came up included:
- What about Author Authority?
- Why did Google push us so hard to use Google Plus and add author markup to our websites?
- Are they completely abandoning the program or changing course?
These are important questions, because many of us in the SEO industry had built services to support all of the above. Let’s take a few moments to consider all of these areas.
First, this decision is implicit admission that Google’s effort to drive adoption of Authorship to the masses had failed. Without critical mass, there’s no equitable way to integrate AuthorRank or Author Authority into the algorithm.
This is very different from other authority metrics like PageRank or Domain Authority, both of which incorporate the value of links to a site. Links will happen naturally for good websites, but Authorship requires the owner or developer to update code, and to optimize a Google Plus profile. Google must have realized that they couldn’t penalize webmasters for failing to use Google Plus, so the whole premise behind this approach had some inherent weaknesses from the start.
With all of this said, I do not believe for one second that Google has completely given up on the idea of using author reputation as a ranking factor. Surely they learned a lot about what was and was not practical with this attempt. The next thing they try will be more likely to stick.
So the onus is on us to keep pushing out good content, and doing whatever we can to indicate to Google whom the original author is. Let’s look at how we might do that moving forward.
How To Markup Your Content For Author Now
If you already have Author Markup on your website, there is no urgent reason to remove it. The code doesn’t introduce any overhead to page load time, and it does help to have any indicator available to help the search engines understand the context of the content on the page.
For those of you who want another option, schema.org has another entity already built into their framework that is worth trying: the “Person” entity. Perhaps this was an influential factor in Google’s decision to sunset the Author entity -- why have a redundant approach when most search engines are standardizing on this one?
Underneath the Person entity, schema.org also offers a few attributes that can be assigned, such as “creator” and “copyrightHolder.” Both of those can be used to indicate that the “Person” wrote and was the original creator of the content being tagged. They even offer a “contributor” attribute for a secondary co-author of a piece of content. Person is more thorough in its markup than Author was, so this decision looks even better when you peel back the onion further.
Should I Care About Google Plus Without Authorship?
The big question, then, is whether Google Plus is worth the time any more. If the only reason you were using it was for Authorship, you should strongly consider whether you want to bother any more.
Especially for website owners, though, there are a few reasons to remain engaged with the platform. Aside from the fact that Google may have something in mind for Google Plus over time, here are three other reasons to consider staying the course even without AuthorRank.
1. Publisher Markup Remains Alive and Well
While not all website owners are aware of it to this day, Google Plus is also important to Publisher Authority for domains. In fact, Publisher Markup may have been a factor in Google’s decision to sunset Authorship.
Assuming the Authorship program was really aimed at reducing the prevalence of spam and scams in the SERPs, marking up a website to show that it is the same entity as the branded Google Plus page would have a similar impact. Remember that there are other ways to mark up for a person / author. If the combination of Publisher Authority and the “Person” entity offers the same benefit, albeit standardized with the approach of other search engines, then walking away from Authorship is a logical decision.
If you have yet to implement Publisher Markup on your website, I recommend that you learn more about the program. It is only one line of code, and well worth rolling out on your domain.
2. Faster Indexing of Content
Although this topic has been debated in the past couple of years, I can tell you from experience that Google Plus can help accelerate how fast your content gets indexed by Google.
When you publish new content, e.g. a blog post, always take a moment to +1 and share your new post on Google Plus. Sometimes, this can lead to indexing of the new content on the same day, although it can take 24-48 hours to show up in a Google Alert from what I’ve witnessed. Why not take advantage of an open line to Google where you can easily and quickly notify them that there is something new to crawl on the site?
3. Google Plus Updates Still Show in the SERPs for Your Connections
As mentioned in the list of changes above, the death of Authorship doesn’t impact Search Plus Your World (SPYW). SPYW is the term Google used a few years ago to explain personalized SERPs, where results are uniquely built for you if you are logged into Google.
Under SPYW, people who have added you to their Google Plus circles will see your Google Plus status updates right there on the SERP, often on page one. While this does not increase the overall SEO visibility for your website, it does provide an opportunity to have your status updates seen by more of your contacts. Even when they’re not on Google Plus.
That’s a pretty compelling reason to stick with it, assuming you are in more than a small number circles. Think about the possibilities for keyword optimized status updates, and you can have some fun with this feature.
Other Ways To Build Credibility Online
With a huge shift toward content and inbound marketing across the board, credibility and online relationships will only increase in importance. If you want to provide as many indicators to the search engines of your identity and good reputation as possible, you will need to take a proactive approach.
Some of the best ways to build credibility online include:
- Keep working Google Plus with topically relevant posts and shares
- Generate quality, original content and contribute it to niche-relevant websites -- ongoing columns preferred over one-off guest posts
- Continue to invest in building your social graph among influencers and others who might recommend you, share your work, and help you succeed
- Claim and optimize profiles that verify your identity on social media and other profile-friendly sites such as about.me
- Purchase the .com domain for your moniker and build out at least a small micro-site highlighting the persona you want to be known for
- Audit the SERPs to identify how well you’ve managed your reputation online
- Participate in relevant online communities and leave thoughtful comments on relevant blogs with your real name.
As you can tell, these tactics are heavy on content marketing, social media and reputation management best practices. Although they may not all overtly influence how Google and the other search engines view you, it pays to stack the cards in your favor and provide as many indicators as possible.
The Google Adventure Continues
It was an interesting ride, this whole Google Authorship adventure. As with other Google initiatives in the past (anyone else remember the disaster that was Google Buzz?), Author Markup has now come and gone. But I believe that Google still has an interest in verifying domains and author reputation, so keep the faith.
As the SERPs continue to improve, we are sure to see days where these types of metrics will replace the hand slaps such as Panda and Penguin that we’ve witnessed over the past three to four years. If that is how this all turns out, I for one will be glad to see it.