Google introduced its author information initative a while back. It’s a way for content writers to explicitly mark themselves as the author of a piece of work – it’s more than just putting “By Steve Claridge” next to your post, it’s about tagging your work with a machine-readable attribute that uniquely identifies you.
This is a very hot topic in SEO and Marketing circles at the moment but a lot of people are only looking at the short-term win of using this tag to increase click-throughs to your posts from search results. The author tag is going to be way more important than that.
What is it anyway?
rel=author is actually an HTML attribute that can be used on link tags to signify that the person referenced in the link is the author of the webpage. It’s not a Google invention, they are just using it in a very smart and useful way. This means that if, for example, you are blogging and you have “By Joe Snow” above all of your articles you can modify that line slightly to make the “Joe Snow” part a link to your Google+ page and Google will then know that everything on that blog with “By Joe Snow” and the link on it was written by you. Not just written by a person called Joe Snow, but specifically by you.
Why Google and why Google+?
Identifying authors has always been a problem and the web has made it a much bigger one. Do a search for your name and it’s likely you will come up with thousands of different people; many of those results will be articles about people and many will be articles written by those people but which of those articles are written by Bob Duncan from Michigan, which are by Bob from Oxford and which are yours? You might be able to
tell by looking but how’s a machine supposed to know? Wouldn’t it be nice if you read a great article by Bob from Oxford and you wanted to see what else he’d written on the entire Web? If everything he had written was marked with his unique rel=authorattribute then that would be easy.
Google are in a unique place to make this happen. They basically are the Web for many people, they are already indexing most of pages on it and they hold a power over most site owners: if they say “jump” then we say “how high?”. If anyone is going to pull off a global author identification scheme then it’s Google.
But why Google+ for the author information when we could just point all our articles to our own site’s About Me page? Well, obviously Google has a strong interest in making sure Google+ succeeds so locking us into that is a smart move for them.
The short-term win
As I said above, SEO and marketing blogs are raving at the moment about the Google author tag. Many of them are focusing on the fact that Google adds your Google+ profile picture to search results that contain your rel=author link and the boost this can give to your performance in SERPs. A search result with a author tag looks like this:
The idea is that the picture attracts the eye (even if it’s my ugly mug) and more people will click your link. There’s also some suggestions that Google will favour results with author tagging and favour even more those authors with large circles and more authority on Google+. Which
may or may not be true but it’s the short-term view and misses the wider impact of tagging authors.
The bigger picture
Google is always looking for ways to improve search results, to get the best to the top and to weed out the spam. Up till now that has been based on the ranking of websites and pages but the smart-money is on it soon also being about the authority of the author. AuthorRank will become just as important as all the current SEO factors, if not more so. Google will be able to get a good idea of the quality of an article by looking at the ranking of the the author’s previous work, regardless of which site it is published on.
AuthorRank could also shine a lit back onto the website and affect its ranking: if a blog is attracting articles from a lot of authors with an established authority in relevant circles then the blog must be worth writing for and thus worth reading.
Your personal footprint on the web will become more visible, indexable and searchable.
But hang on a minute…
Is it OK for Google to be the central store for our identities on the Web? What would happen if Google shut down Google+, or worse, Google went out of business? How do we then know who authored what as the links back to our Google+ profiles don’t work any more? If you only add author tags to you own site then it’s a simple case of pointing to your bio somewhere else, but what if you’ve written hundreds, even thousands, of articles all over the Web? How do you reclaim them?
Of course spam is going to rear it’s ugly head here too. There is going to be the usual hordes looking for the quick win. What’s to say that someone can’t start a blog, write a bunch of posts, and attribute them to authors with high authorities? I can see there being a “verify your work” option added somewhere down the line where you’d have to log-in to Google+ and confirm you are the author of a page. Which would work as long as Google is the central authority, but again, what would happen if they dropped out? How would you own your own work?
It’s anyones guess right now as to how far Google will go with author tagging but it is looking like the next big thing, it makes a lot of sense from Google’s point of view and it’s a big opportunity for authors. As WordPress users you should get in early and start building your AuthorRank before everyone else does.
This article was contributed by Steve Claridge, an experienced WordPress developer who specializes in creating bespoke plugins, WordPress performance and scalability, and theme creation. He loves building stuff for the web and likes to keep it simple.