Do you recognize the painting on the right? It was found in a French electrician's home garage in 2010. And it would be but a simple painting of a hand if it hadn't been identified as a previously unknown work of Pablo Picasso and valued some crazy sum of money. So, authorship matters. If you like a book by an author, you're likely to read another book by the same person.
As Google has been striving to become better at determining quality of webpages since time immemorial, it's only logical that it should one day arrive at the idea of assessing Web content quality based on who creates it.
And, closely connected with the notion of content authorship is the idea of AuthorRank: a reputation score assigned to a particular content creator that also affects where that content ranks in the search results. And this is when it gets interesting for us, SEOs.
From Agent Rank to AuthorRank: the chronology
Even though the Internet exploded with articles about Google's AuthorRank not so long ago, the idea behind this metric is definitely not new.
- In August 2005, Google files a patent application for Agent Rank, which seems to be the forerunner of AuthorRank (patent granted in July 2009). The first SEO to take note of this patent is Bill Slawski.
- June 07, 2011, Google begins to support authorship markup (rel="author"). The link attribute is called to help Google identify the author of a particular content piece.
- June 07, 2011, Matt Cutts mentions "AuthorRank" at the SMX Advanced for the first time and says it may help Google rank higher-quality content higher in perspective.
- June 28, 2011, Google Plus is launched, which finally makes the practical implementation of AuthorRank possible. Bingo.
As you see, it took Google almost a decade to go from envisioning AuthorRank to beginning to implement it in practice. And, its realization would have been impossible without Google's own social network that lets the search engine identify content creators in a more or less reliable way.
UPDATE: According to The Wall Street Journal, in Eric Schmidt's upcoming book titled "The New Digital Age", Google's Executive Chairman technically confirms the existence of AuthorRank by writing: "Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification."
How is AuthorRank estimated?
Of course, there isn't a publicly available algorithm according to which AuthorRank is estimated. However, by analyzing the already mentioned Agent Rank patent and by taking into account the signals Google normally uses to measure content quality, one can say the following parameters are likely to be considered:
- The number of comments a post receives (if it's a comment - the number of replies it receives);
- The AuthorRank of people who endorse the said content (either by commenting or by sharing it);
- Other engagement markers associated with the content piece (the number of social shares, social bookmarks, links to it, etc.);
- Whether the author is considered an authority in the field (as stated in the patent, "search terms can be classified into topics, e.g. , sports or medical specialties, and an agent can have a different rank with respect to each topic");
- The quality of the website the content is published on (what other authors partake in this resource, what PR it has, how popular it is with social networks, etc.);
- Online mentions of the author/post, especially in association with particular industry terms. For example, [post name] by [author name] that talks about…
- Whether the author has authored notable off-line content.
Some SEOs believe that one's social connections, such as the number of their Google+ followers, are likely to be taken into account. However, I don't think that one's social connections per se are a reliable sign that the person creates great content. For example, if 10 great authors who write about finance all follow Tom Hanks on Twitter - does this mean Tom Hanks is an expert on finance?
How to prove your authorship
There are several ways to tell Google that you are the author of a particular piece of content and thus build your AuthorRank. The choice of a method depends on whether you have an email address on the website your content is located on. In any case, you need a Google Plus profile to become a verified author.
For instance, if you're a contributor to example.com and you have an email address on that domain (firstname.lastname@example.org), you can verify your authorship via this Google's tool:
1. Enter your email into the box.
2. Click the Verify link that comes in the email.
3. If you don't want your email address to be visible to the people in your Google+ circles, change your visibility settings right after you click the verification link (you will be prompted to do so and provided a link to the required page).
Besides, each article you publish on the website should be accompanied with an author byline that non-ambiguously states that you are the author of the content, meaning that the name in your byline and the name in your G+ profile match.
If you don't have an email box at the domain where your posts are published (for example, if you're a guest author for that resource), there is another way of proving your authorship.
1. On the page where your content is located, put a link to your Google+ profile and add the rel="author" attribute to it.
<a href="[profile_url]?rel=author">Your Name</a>
2. In your Google+ profile, edit the Contributor To section and add the URL of the website you write for.
To test whether authorship has been assigned to the required page, use Google's Structured Data Testing Tool.
Why prove your authorship?
1. It allows you to tell Google that you're the original author of the content (to avoid content theft);
2. It may help you build up your AuthorRank and, as a result, get your content ranked higher on Google.
What type of Web content can one author?
Theoretically, it can be any content, including imagery, video content, a post comment, a forum thread, etc.
The trick is to be able to claim it. With some platforms (such as YouTube), this happens automatically. In the future, authorship markup is likely to be integrated into a bigger number of platforms. According to Matt Cutts, Google is now working on this.
What happens to unattributed works?
It's important to mention that, according to the Agent Rank patent, if you don't claim authorship of a particular post, it becomes associated with "an owner of a location where the specific content is found and a score is assigned to the owner based on the specific content item."
Actually, I've seen this happen to some of my guest posts on websites where author attribution is not set up correctly. When I searched for my posts located on those sites, I saw the editor's profile snippet in the search results instead of mine. So, to avoid that, make sure you claim your authorship.
AuthorRank is a new signal Google might be using to adjust a webpage's rank in the search results. One's AuthorRank is associated with the person's Google+ account and likely depends on how engaging their signed content is, what Web resources it's published on, and other characteristics.
So, by starting to build your AuthorRank now, you're likely to get advantage over your competitors in the search results and make an investment into a portable rankings factor that is likely to become an important part of Google's ranking algorithm of the future.
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