What Google’s authorship markup means for SEO

A distinguished looking authority figureBack in June of 2011 Google announced their support for authorship markup.

The initial impact of this markup was that Google would modify the appearance of the search results to show a picture of the author, as shown in this example search result:







To make this work, you need to have a Google Plus profile, and then you need to properly tag the pages of your site to claim authorship of your articles. You can see a definitive guide to setting up rel author here, and the interview I did with with Google’s Sagar Kamdar on rel author here.

In today’s post, I am going to focus on one main point:

Why Authorship Will Become a Ranking Signal

I will give you 6 reasons, starting with 2 “socially” oriented reasons, followed by 4 more targeted reasons:

1.  Because people relate to people

Interacting with corporate behemoths just does not have a very personal feel to it. People like relating to people. Once someone begins publishing content they begin to reveal bits and pieces of who they are, and other people can relate.

Tracking these interactions (more on this below) can provide a strong indication of how much authority a person has.

The search engines want to figure out what set of SERPs can provide the best result for users, and the existence of these interactive relationships is a strong leading indicator of a satisfactory result.

2.  Because it is no accident that the word “author” is a subset of the word “authority”

People who write presumably know something. At least they think they do. If they don’t the web will clearly send signals that their stuff stinks. At the very least, the people who have something valuable to say are going to draw a lot of extra attention.

3.  Because there is a ton of great data for measurement

Google has access to a lot of information on each author with a profile. Here are the most obvious ones:

  • Comments on the posts
  • Shares of the post
  • Tweets the post receives
  • +1s the post receives
  • Likes the post gets

Google could measure the authority of the people taking these actions as well. Have your article shared by a bunch of known authorities in your space? Great stuff!

These are the simple signals. There are more sophisticated signals they can look at as well. We already know that Google is tracking how long people spend on your site and having that impact your authorship results is something I discuss in point 6 of my recent post at Search Engine Watch: SEO Revelations for 2013.

4.  Because an author will show their stripes

You may have a small-ish blog that you are trying to build up. Think about the implications to Google if you manage to get yourself a guest posting gig on a major site, such as the New York Times or the Huffington Post. Think that might convey some authority to your blog?

On the other side of the coin, think about what happens if you write a few articles on very high quality sites, Google then shows your blog more highly in the results, you get lots of traffic, and no one interacts with it.

That would be an uh-oh.

The music world is filled with one hit wonders, and so it is with writers. The most authoritative writers keep delivering time after time. Not everything has to be a hit, no one does that, but repeat hits over time would be a great thing.

5.  Because you can see Google investing heavily in it

As I showed above, basic markup showing your picture next to your articles is a great thing. A quick search on rel author CTR shows articles claiming an increase in the CTR (click through rate) on their articles ranging from 30% to 484%!

Part of Google’s investment in the concept has them looking to track authorship even if you don’t use rel=author tagging.

Here is an example of where they found my author name on a page and attributed an article to me.
















The irony of this is that the post has rel=author markup on it, attributing it to Stephan Spencer. However, Google saw my name further down in the attribution for the article, and used that to decide that I wrote the post.

Google has since fixed this problem, so the article now shows the article properly tagged:












Even though they fixed it, the point is that they are looking to determine authorship of content with or without the markup.

6.  Because Matt Cutts already hinted it will

Not with me on this yet? Let’s see what Matt Cutts said in October:

“…over time, as we start to learn more about who the high quality authors are, you could imagine that starting to affect rankings.”

Note the focus on rankings benefits for “high quality authors”. The main trick that Google will have to come up with is a way to adjust for the fact that many people who are high quality authors will not use the rel=author markup.

They also can’t give you a bonus simply because you use the markup. If you use it, and you write crap, I would bet that it will hurt you. And, as I noted above, I believe that they will continue to try and determine authorship with or without the markup in place.

3 take aways for SEO content marketers

I don’t think that authorship will become a dominant signal, but I do see it bringing significant benefits to those who have a strong trail of articles and posts that are well received on the web.

If you are considering content marketing as part of your promotional mix, make sure you do three things:

1. Strive for the highest possible quality content. Make sure you track and measure user interaction to help you see what works and what doesn’t, and adjust your content plan accordingly.

2. Post great stuff on your site, and find other very high quality sites for posting your articles as well.

3. Use proper rel=author markup to make it easier for Google to know where your content is showing up!

As a bonus, consider getting high authority authors to contribute content to your site too. That association with you would help as well!


About the Author ~ Eric Enge 

Eric Enge is the CEO and founder of Stone Temple Consulting. Eric publishes regular columns at Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, and the Stone Temple blog. Eric is also co-author of “The Art of SEO” along with Stephan Spencer, Rand Fishkin, and Jessie Stricchiola.

You can follow Eric on Twitter and Google+.


photo thanks to 85photo

Want to become an authority in SEO copywriting? Check into the SEO Copywriting Certification training, now 20% off thru Feb. 20th! Use coupon code UPDATE.



6 replies
  1. Katherine Andes says:

    It’s very cool to have your pix show up in a Google search. I set mine up last year. It took me an entire day. I followed Google’s directions (I thought) to the letter and it didn’t take in their tester. So I went to the page of someone like you where it did work, studied their code, and copied it on my pages. It worked! My only other problem is that I set up one of my client’s with a Google account and somehow Google transferred their gmail email address to my Google Plus account! I’m afraid it’s going to be a mess to clean up!

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      You’re right, Katherine – it is VERY cool, but still very glitchy. I know a few folks going through some authorship “challenges” right now – good luck untangling your situation. Here’s hoping that everything goes smoothly! :)

  2. craig wright says:

    What worries me about all this is – what if I don’t want some of the stuff I write to be attributed to me? For example, let’s say I post a comment on a potentially controversial topic…would that result in attention that I don’t mind being attributed to me personally, but I don’t really want to be associated with my business? Where will Google draw the line between a writer acting as an individual and a writer acting as a contractor/freelancer/employee? It is already bad enough that you have to think twice about posts between friends because of companies looking at Facebook etc.,but what if the whole web became like that? Big Brother is here all right, it is just that it is in the form of corporations and not governments.

    Now you’re all going to go searching for my outrageously offensive comments on the web, aren’t you?!!

  3. Mark Traphagen says:

    One more tip: be active and build a good influential network on Google+. Your Authorship connects to your posts there as well, so I believe it will help you build that Author authority


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.