Google’s Author Tag: The Biggest Signal Since Links?

One of the highlights of Day 2 was the session the afternoon’s Google Author Tag session which featured an all-star panel of Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Jim Boykin, and Brian Clark. Jim Boykin joked that “authorship” has been the buzzword of Pubcon and the past few months and, well, he’s not wrong. I know it’s something we’ve been talking about a lot internally. With Google working harder to connect the dots between your online profile, building your AuthorRank is no longer just an option, it’s a serious Must Do. Google is adding context to content and it’s in your best interest to help them. Brian Clark started off the session talking about the idea of authority. The days of spinning blog posts or outsourcing them to India is over. You have to start paying for content and find a way to make yourself an authority, to make a rockstar out of one of your writers, or suck it up and hire someone who already is a rockstar and get them to write for your site. In today’s Web economy, the actual writer matters for ranking and it matters for links. It comes down to great content and relationships. Just like in the offline world. If AuthorRank is so important, how do you get set up? Stephan helped break it down.

  1. With a verified email: If you have an email address on the same domain as your content, you can go to plus.google.com/authorship to verify it. Using the form on that page will add your email address to the Work section of your profile, which by default is viewable only by your circles. You can keep your email private if you wish. It will also add a public link to the domain of the email address to the Contributor to section of your profile.
  2. Without a verified email: If can’t verify an email address on the same domain (say if you’re a contributor to the Huffington Post but don’t have a Huffington Post email address) you can still link your content to your Google+. In these circumstances, you’ll want to do it from your Author page on that site. Just link to your Google+ page in the bio area and Google will be able to pick that up. You can do it directly from the content, itself, but you don’t have to. You’ll also want to add the rel=me tag.

Stephan recommended using the Google Structured Data tool to make sure you’ve set it up correctly. During his time, Eric Enge reinforced the importance of using this tool to make sure things are set up correctly and outlined a number of issues you could have if you’re not careful. For example:

  • Overtagging: If you tag your pages improperly (maybe using two rel=me tags) Google doesn’t know what to do with this.
  • Conflicting author tags
  • WordPress issues

Eric mentioned that WordPress’ default is to strip out rel=author pages if you try to embed them in your content. Google recommends using a plugin to remedy this, however, be careful. If you use this tag your authors can place ANY HTML in their bio…which could lead to less than desirable sites, so just something to keep in mind. Eric also talk about the other signals Google is looking like, for example – as has been mentioned many times during the show – if you spend more than two minutes reading an article you find in the SERPs and then hit the back button, Google will prepopulate other articles by that author in the SERPs under the original listing. Their thinking is that if you read someone’s content for that long, you obviously like what they have to say. At the same token, if you routinely ignore posts written by a certain author, you’ll start to see them less, as Google will assume you’re not interested in their opinion. Jim Boykin rounded out the panel and spent his time stressing the importance of creating great content and investing in great writers and attracting attention from them. Google is using AuthorRank to fill in the blanks of your Web presence. They already know about content tied to your email address, your Twitter account, etc, now they’re looking for us to bring it all together for them. Similar to the way PageRank measured the authority of the page, AuthorRank now measures the authority of a piece of content. Some writers are 10s and others are 0s. Articles written by authors with high reputation scores will rank better than articles written by authors with lower scores. As a result, blogging for the sake of blogging is not going to help you. You need an expert writing for you. As mentioned above, you either need to create an expert or hire an expert. Outsourcing your writing to someone who’s first language isn’t English, will hurt you. Google is evolving beyond links, and we have to, as well. Jim sums things up nicely stating, “If you’re not going to write great content, don’t bother write at all. If you are going to write, get your content cited by trusted people.” Amen.