Google Authorship Update: Where Is Google Going with rel=author?

Matt Cutts answers a rel=author question.UPDATE: Google Authorship Intelligent Author Attribution?

21 August 2013 – My friend Mike Arnesen yesterday published what looks like a possibly amazing revelation about how Google may be moving forward with both Authorship attribution and author subject relevance.

In his post Authorship Update: Intelligent Authorship Attribution, Mike starts out by telling us that several months ago his agency launched an entirely new website. Whether by oversight or design, he doesn’t say, they did not put any authorship markup on the new site. But the other day Mike was doing a site-specific search for their domain and made a stunning discovery.

Google had not only attributed authorship to some of their pages (which we’ve seen happen before), but all the attributions were “correct” from a topical standpoint even though those pages not only didn’t have authorship markup, they didn’t even have the names of the people involved!

Let that sink in. Because of past associations, Google was able to make an assumption that Mike and some of his co-workers were likely authors on the Swellpath site. But Google went beyond that to make a (highly-accurate, as it turned out) educated guess as to which subject pages ought to be associated with each author. Which means (it appears) that Google has a good understanding of the topical authority of each of those authors, one of the very foundations of what we’ve been calling Author Rank.

We’ll need to watch this carefully, and I’d like to see more corroborating examples. But it feeds my growing hunch that some kind of topical authority, perhaps just for best-known authors, is already in use. Stay tuned!

Another Authorship Development: In their announcement about their new In-Depth Articles in Search feature, Google included as one of their suggestions for how to qualify for the feature having Authorship connected to your articles. Click the link in the previous sentence to get my take on the implications of that for Google Authorship.

Here’s my original post:

Google Authorship Update

I should probably take a temporary suspension from my reputation as an Authorship expert for having missed this Google Authorship update video from Matt Cutts back in June. But it’s still valuable information, so allow me to make up for lost time!

In the video embedded below, published 9 June 2013, Google’s Matt Cutts answers the following question:

“Will Google be evaluating the use of rel=author moving forward as more sites use the feature on generic, non-article/news pages, such as on a home page or about page?”

Matt’s answer has several interesting nuggets that I’ll outline for you here. Watch his complete answer below.

1. Google is moving forward with Authorship/rel=author

Matt says that he remains very excited about the possibilities of rel=author, and if Matt remains excited about it, then it’s a fair bet that Google still is. I always keep in mind that Matt and his team select which questions get answered in these Webmaster videos from the many hundreds (thousands?) of questions they receive. Therefore it makes sense to believe that they are strategic about their choices, and aren’t going to waste time answering about features that Google plans to abandon. It’s worth noting that there have been several videos related to Authorship in the past few months.

2. Authorship will be used to boost subject authorities

Even though the question didn’t ask about this (the question was really about whether rel=author might have a negative effect for spammy uses), Matt launches right in with the reason he remains excited about Authorship: it will help Google identify genuine subject authorities. And why else would Google care about “identifying” those authorities but to give them a boost.

3. Authorship will boost content of a trusted author even if its posted on a low-authority site

This is a very significant reveal, one we haven’t heard before to my knowledge. Matt uses the example of Search Engine Land editor in chief Danny Sullivan posting something of value on a low Page Rank forum. Matt says that even though the forum itself may not have much value, Danny’s content on it still does, just because it was created by Danny. Matt says he’d like to know about such a post. And how else would he get to know about it but by a rankings boost for that post?

4. Authorship may be used to identify and devalue spammers

There has been speculation that Google might use Authorship to sniff out spammers stupid enough to connect their suspect content to it, and this is the first time we’ve heard Matt Cutts seem to confirm that. While he doesn’t come right out and say Google will do that, he does say in the video that one of the benefits you get “for free” is that “it’s harder for the spammers to hide over here in some anonymous corner.” This could mean both that Google will devalue all the content of Authorship profiles that are connected to lots of low-value crap, and/or that anonymous content that is not from a trusted author will be harder to rank in the future.

5. Authorship and Author Rank are still in their early stages and not “ready for prime time”

Matt says, “It was a lot of fun to see the initial launch of rel=author,” but they will probably “take another look and see what else [they] need to do to turn the crank and iterate and improve how we handle rel=author.” It’s something they will continue to explore and find new ways to use as a signal. He says it’s all part of Google’s philosophy of moving away from dependence on keywords, from moving from “strings to things” (with one of those “things” being “trusted, authoritative authors”). People in the search quality team “continue to work on” how to use rel=author as one more way to improve the search experience. Notice all the language here continues to be future tense. It’s possible that Google may at present be experimenting with incorporating signals from Authorship in search rankings, but any major effect is still off in the future. But…it sounds like the project is very active and that they are determined to make it work. Someday.

Here’s the full video. See below for my takeaways, the practical steps I think you should be taking now and in the future to benefit from Authorship.

Authorship Tips and Takeaways from This Video

  1. Authorship is something to implement today even though many of the benefits may be future. As the Author Stats in Google Webmaster Tools show,* Google is actively tracking and collecting data on content creators using Authorship right now. When something like Author Rank kicks in, it will be important to have a long track record of content in your main topic areas that gets a lot of clicks and engagement. History counts for a lot with Google.
  2. Concentrate on your areas of expertise. While you should not hesitate to create whatever content you like, you will want to make sure that you are regularly creating content that demonstrates your expertise and value in your main topic areas. In conjunction with that you need to be building up influential social networks and relationships that will help get that content exposed, recommended, reshared, linked to, and engaged with. All of those will become valuable signals that will build up your Author Rank subject authority.
  3. Be strategic about attracting high-authority authors to your site. Matt said that it makes sense for Google to value content by a trusted author even if its posted on a low PageRank site. That means content from authors that Google trusts will bring more traffic to your site. If you are working hard to make sure everything else on your site is high value, than you may be able to attract some of those new visitors to look around, and they may begin to share out and help build the authority of your whole site.
  4. Your trusted author status will become a highly marketable asset. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: authoritative authorship linked to a social-network-supported personal brand will be the entrepreneurship of the coming years. You are your own start up. This has implications for marketing yourself for new or better jobs. Companies will want to hire proven content producers who already bring high Author Rank with them. It will make you more sought after for producing content for the very best sites and blogs. Trusted authors will get more conference speaking invitations, book deals, etc.
  5. Do not connect authorship to anything and everything on your site. Use it only for truly unique and valuable content pages. There are a lot of sites right now connecting authorship to things like product pages and about pages and home pages, things that don’t really qualify as unique or valuable content. That may be working right now as a short-term strategy, because if those pages show a face photo in the SERPs they may get higher CTR, but I think it will fail as a long term strategy. As Google moves more toward implementing Authorship as a search ranking signal, they are going to want to devalue any rel=author profile that is connected to a lot of non-authored pages.
  6. Do not connect authorship to low-value, “only for the link” content. Same reasons as in #5. If you insist on producing or purchasing crappy content that only exists to try to create manipulative links, at least don’t connect your Authorship profile to it.

Here’s more! Google recently published answers to advanced questions about Google Authorship.

Any tips you would add? Do you think I’m over-reading Matt Cutts’s statements? Do you think Google really will move toward something like Author Rank in the future?

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  1. Agree strongly that Matt’s comments here are important. I saw this a couple days before I was presenting on Authorship to WordCamp Milwaukee (siides here: http://www.slideshare.net/WorkingWriter/building-authority-and-audience). I think the whole presentation turned on this quote: “We’re moving to a richer, more annotated Web. Away from keywords, from strings to things.” Yes, authorship is definitely one of those “things.”

    I only hope we’re not dreaming when we talk about authorship as a “highly marketable asset.”


  2. Michael, I think that will come when major publishing sites and brand sites begin to observe that sites with authoritative authors tend to do better in Google search.


  3. This is the most exciting aspect for me:
    3. Authorship will boost content of a trusted author even if its posted on a low-authority site

    If I understand this correctly, then freelance content creators like myself will be able to add even more value, correct?


  4. Kimberly, sounds that way. I still would be wary of having too much of my content on low value sites, but this is the first indication we’ve had from Google that in their eyes the high value of a trusted author would override the crappiness of the site. That should alleviate the fears I’ve heard in the past that publishing on a lower value site might “penalize” one’s authorship.

    Of course, if you are still working on building up your Author Rank, if you are not yet one of those highly-trusted authors in Google’s eyes, then I would still advise striving to publish mostly on high-value sites. Until you’re a rock star, you will be judged by the company you keep and the neighborhoods in which you hang out.


  5. A couple of thoughts:

    1) They’re still having trouble getting authorship markup to work consistently, so I imagine they’ll want to get that sorted out before moving on to anything more ambitious.

    2) AuthorRank could be a mixed blessing for freelancers. On the one hand, it could give freelance writers with good AuthorRank another selling point. But at the same time, big-name publishers (the Huffington Post, for example) will be able to use the opportunity to earn AuthorRank as a substitute for pay, as they already do with the promise of “exposure.”


  6. Durant, some good thoughts there!

    I agree with #1 and have cited that frequently as one of the reasons I believe Author Rank is not yet considered a strong signal for search.

    As for #2, that’s always going to be a trade off that has to be considered by both publisher and author in a free market. When I say “marketable” I don’t necessarily mean, in every case, “it will earn you money (directly).” We can be critical of what HuffPo does, but the truth is they have no shortage of people willing to write for them for free. I have several friends who regularly write for HuffPo and consider it well worth it for the notoriety and resume-boost it gives them.


  7. It’s coming…..

    From Eric Schmidt:

    “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”


  8. Corey, I’ve written quite a bit about that quote. While it does seem to be speaking about Authorship, and is very interesting, we need to keep it in its context. It is in a book about the personal speculations for the future by an ex-CEO of Google. I wouldn’t necessarily take it as gospel or doctrine on Google’s exact plans.

    That being said, the statement does seem to line up with where Google seems to want to go. In recent videos and talks, Matt Cutts is careful to defend the value of anonymous content under certain circumstances (such as political persecution), but outside of those, maintains that anonymity connected with content is generally not a good thing, and that Google is going to move more and more toward promoting content from trusted, identified authors.


  9. I particularly enjoy your fourth point here Mark. It is a long climb to build the right type of presence to make yourself valuable as an author. It can entail resetting new structures in your life for the right posting in only the right places. But with the potential future results, all the work is worth it. It is as if we are working today to build a future marketability. As I speak with others who want instant results and will not get them at the speed they desire, It feels good to have a posture of patient building. I like the future this is describing. Thanks for sharing your views in such detail. Very helpful!


  10. Pepper, the more I work with online businesses, the more I realize they fall into basically two groups: those who are in it to make whatever money they can as fast as they can, and have no concern for a long-term vision, and those who want to build a long-lived brand that will attract respect, repeat business, and recommendations from satisfied customers. I suppose there’s a place for both, but they are going to need very different marketing plans. Authorship is obviously for the latter group.


  11. It would be interesting to see how this would work with e commerce stores, where it is difficult to write totally different content, when you have a lot of similar products to write about.


  12. Wolfgang, it’s interesting you brought that up, since the question to which Matt Cutts is responding in the video makes reference to that sort of content, non-editorial content such as about pages, home pages, and product pages. Characteristically, Matt doesn’t answer the details of the original question, but the answer he does give leads me to believe, as I said in this post, that rel=author should not be connected to such content. The intention of Authorship, and especially of any kind of “Author Rank” scheme Google has described in its patents, is to evaluate the kind of content we normally associate with “authors.” That is, highly original content that adds some kind of thought value for the reader. About pages and product descriptions don’t fit that. It is my contention that linking your authorship to those things will end up being detrimental to your author standing.


  13. Hello Mark, Thank you for highlighting that for me, it now makes more sense to me.



  14. Thanks for writing this. I had actually made the mistake of replacing rel=publisher with the rel=author when it first came out because I thought it was an upgrade. I didn’t take into account that they would be complementary and could both exist on one website in different ways.


  15. That’s correct Heather. rel=author is for content pages authored by identified individuals, and should be linked to their respective G+ profiles. rel=publisher links to your Google+ brand page and is for verifying your official brand site with Google.


  16. What about, for example, The Economist? It’s a very trusted website with great articles – and without authors’ names. How will Google calculate thrust factor for them? Google is trying to collect more and more data and it is obvious now that it doesn’t care for users at all.


  17. “What about, for example, The Economist? It’s a very trusted website with great articles – and without authors’ names. How will Google calculate thrust factor for them?”

    By “them,” I assume you mean the anonymous authors, and the answer is simple: Google won’t calculate trust/reputation/authority/whatever scores for those authors. On the other hand, The Economist’s Web site will continue to have plenty of authority, inbound links, etc., so searchers (who are Google’s target audience) won’t be deprived of exposure to Economist articles.

    It’s worth remembering that the point of authorship isn’t to help corporate writers escape the yoke of anonymity: It’s to help searchers find good content.


  18. Perfect answer, Durant. Thanks!


  19. What is your suggestion about establishing authorship on several sites within the same niche area? In other words if you produce three sites on the same general subject–with unique content and different areas of emphasis– have you seen any results which demonstrates that Google may favor one site over the others and the other sites are somehow penalized?


  20. That’s a difficult question to answer, Jonathan, as Author Rank does not appear to be active yet, at least not in any way that we can discern and test. That being said, the Agent Rank patents that underly Google’s Authorship project talk about being able to rank a particular author on a variety of subjects. In other words, it recognizes that human authors often write about more than one thing, and that their level of authority on each topic will vary and should be individually scored.

    As long as all the content you are connecting to your Authorship is good quality, I would not worry about getting “penalized” by Authorship. The reality just is that you will inevitably rank better for some subject areas than for others.


  21. I assume using authorship on articles submitted to an article directory would be a bad idea then?

    Also how would you establish authorship for directors of companies (some don’t really want to write content), couldn’t they use ghost writers of some sort to do the writing for them? I wouldn’t really want to associate my authorship to multiple niches.


  22. Sure, directors of companies, celebrities, etc. could hire ghost writers, and Google wouldn’t know the difference. But so what, as long as the reader’s interests were being served? Politicians have speechwriters, but they generally get credit for what they say when they’re reading words from the teleprompter. There’s no reason why AuthorRank shouldn’t follow the conventions of the physical world.

    As for not wanting to associate your authorship with multiple niches, that’s your privilege, but–again–there’s plenty of precedent for not writing about just one thing in the carbon-based world. John Dvorak of PC Magazine is best-known for his tech columns, but he also used to write a recipe column for BOARDWATCH Magazine. As far as I know, his taste for a side dish of food writing hasn’t hurt his career as a computer-industry journalist.


  23. I was more worried about how some website owners can change your articles, couldn’t that have a negative effect on authority.


  24. It shouldn’t. Even at university presses and scientific journals, writers have editors.


  25. Hey Mark,
    Insightful as always. II’d say we’re on the grey zones of #5 and some of #6, and we’re trying to create more #4’s within our own organization. Fortunately we’re ready to “clean up” when the time comes. It’s still the wild west when it comes to authorship.

    Here’s my two cents as to why you should educate your employees to use authorship – As they become more authoritative, anything they write about will get a lot more visibility – and this is true whether they’re in or out of the company.


  26. I’m still glad that Google authorship’s been bringing me positive results consistently considering how a lot of marketers out there are claiming that their ranking and traffic has been suffering TREMENDOUSLY because of authorship.


  27. I have not seen a single one of those claims that even came close to proving that authorship was their problem, and in the most famous example, the next day Matt Cutts revealed the site had a Google penalty unrelated to authorship!


  28. Why doesn’t Google follow their own guidelines? Anybody ever actually read and see their guidelines on Google’s authorship? There example is a direct violation of there own guidelines!


  29. Samuel, can you explain exactly where you see a violation?


  30. Mark, your response to Heather on August 5th…

    So as I can get a clear picture of this. If i was to Add rel=author To my website and link back to my personal google + page. It would help my site ranking By basically following my content writing around the Internet ?

    For example if I wrote articles in my industry forums, Or contributed to blogs Within my industry or even my own blog This would increase my websites page rank.

    Throughout the years I have been very active on a few of my industry forums and have contributed content. So if I added Authorship now Would it take into account previous articles that I have written before the rel=author was Implemented To my Google plus and website ?

    Thanks mark


  31. Thanks for the guide. Your points make sense that a trusted author’s post would rank well even if it is published on low authority site but how about those new authors who are publishing on high authority sites. Will the high authority sites loose rank where they are publishing posts from new or low-trusted authors.


  32. I have the same problem with my website. The image used to disappear for a few days in the google search results, but it always returned. Now the image has been gone for about 2 weeks now. I used to the test to verify that the image appears – it still tests okay. But it doesn’t appear in the actual google search results. Suggestions on what to check would be appreciated!



  33. Just for kicks, try this:

    – Pick another result on a SERP where your photo and byline used to appear.

    – Click the inverted green arrow next to the result.

    – Choose “Similar.”

    You may see (as I do) that your photo and byline appear on the “similar results” SERP even if they no longer appear on the original SERP. If nothing else, this will tell you that your authorship setup and image aren’t likely to be the source of the problem.



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