Greg Boser: The Future of Google+ Authorship

Greg Boser is up as the kickoff speaker. Brett and Greg banter a bit trying to figure out how long Greg’s been appearing at Pubcon. Basically it’s a long time. Greg is old. ;) Greg appears on stage and says this is the earliest he’s ever been on stage in his life. I giggle because I know it’s true. Greg was tasked with talking about about hot topics and where things are going. The topic he’s personally been spending a lot of time looking at is authorship markup. So that’s what he’s going to talk about now. The Evolution of Google+ AuthorshipWe’ve been talking about authorship non-stop, how did it all start? Greg breaks it down: March 2004: Researchers from Stanford and Yahoo author a paper entitled “Combating Web spam with TrustRank”

“We first select a small set of seed pages to be evaluated by an expert. Once we manually identify the reputable seed pages, we use the link structure of the Web to discover other pages that are likely to be good.”

The idea here was that by finding sites known to be of quality, Google could use the inter-connectivity of the Web to find more good sites because good sites link to other good sites. If you can come up with that initial list, you can crawl out of it and rank other sites by how far they site from the trusted site. August 2005: Agent Rank Patent (Filed by Google)The idea: Google can rank your content better by you showing them what you’ve already written. From the patent:

The techniques include receiving multiple content items from a corpus of content items; receiving digital signatures each made by one of the multiple agents, each digital signature associating one of the agents with one or more of the content items, and assigning a score to a first agent of the multiple agents, wherein the score is based upon the content items associated with the first agency by the digital signature.”

March 2006: TrustRank PatentThe real name was Search Results Ranking Based On Trust. It was another venture into the idea that humans can label content. September 2009: SideWikiDon’t laugh! Greg asks if people remember the debacle that was SideWiki. Greg awesomely calls it the worst thing Google ever rolled out. It actually allows users to deface other people’s websites. Google eventually abandoned the project because it didn’t work out but it was a major step in the direction of getting people involved with ranking content. June 2011: Google+ gets rolled outWhen Google+ was first launched there was a lot of discussion about how Google had failed compared to Facebook. Because what they didn’t understand was that it wasn’t the number of people (or lack thereof) on Google+ that mattered. What mattered was that Google had established the ability to have authentication of identity. That was huge. August 2011: rel=author was being pushed really strongly.Google began talking about its desire to use rel=author as an eventual ranking system. From that point, rel=author became something everyone started talking about. Even if Facebook has more users, the type of people on Google+ tend to be very strong in writing content. So getting people to connect was a big win. They got a lot of big publishing sites like New York Times and CNN to get involved with it. The original benefits of Google+ were:

  • Author photos in the search results
  • Relatively low adoption meant your content stood out from the crowd
  • CTR for SERP listings with author photo soared 30-50 percent.

The drawbacks

  • +1 annotations in SERPs often killed CTR
  • Author jacking and general chaos: He started doing a lot of little stuff to “toy” with authorship and see its flaws and limitations.

The audience was treated to some stories of Greg “experimenting” with author-jacking to test Google’s ability to identify the real author of content. He would wait for his company BlueGlass to publish something, and then Greg would scrape the content and post it on, claiming ownership. In the early days, he found that Google was unable to identify the real author and would give him ownership. We all try to ignore the little twinkle in Greg’s eye as he states this. ;) However, Google has since figured it out. This is important because one of the key issues with rel=author was portability. Sites wanted to make sure they wouldn’t lose authority if one of their big writers changed jobs and took their content with them. As long as the publisher site keeps pointing to the content, they won’t lose authority. The system would kind of fall apart if they did. New Things They Are DoingGreg mentions something I hadn’t heard before, which is Google showing more content from authors when a user has shown an interest. For example, if I come across an article from Matt McGee in the SERPs and spend time reading it, if I hit the back button Google will automatically update the SERP page to show more content from the same author under the initial listing. Google is going way beyond the simple connection. They’re crawling pages and making those connections. Where Things Are Going?Greg shared a lot of great insight and anecdotes during his talk, but where is this all headed? What do we have to know? It’s headed toward Human Pagerank. Greg talks about new language that was added to a recent filing by Google. It reads:

“…if the signer has a large reputational score due to the agent having an established reputation for provided accurate reviews, the rank of the referenced content can be raised accordingly.”

This means that links on the Web will be weighted more by WHO the link comes from rather than WHERE the link comes from. A link from Mashable is great…but it now matters who wrote the piece. Putting it into search times, Greg says that a link from Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land is going to be worth more than a link from Barry Schwartz because Danny has a greater circle. Greg lists off two great tools to help you identify important influencers so you know whom to go after – AuthorCrawler and FindPeopleOn Plus – because more than ever it’s important who is linking to you, not just where that link is coming from.