When it comes to hunting for reliable sources, credibility is vital to how useful (or useless) a source may be. The same goes for sources on the Internet. But, as most of us know, identifying credibility on the web can be tough. Google wants to make it easier with authorship markup.
The relatively new project, which officially started being supported by Google in June 2011 and is still in its beta stage, sounds familiar. It allows websites to publicly connect individual authors to their respective content across the web by adding the rel=author tag to content.
"We hope to use this information - and any information - as a ranking signal at Google," Othar Hansson said in an official Google video discussing authorship markup between him and Matt Cutts. "...we'd want to get information on the credibility of authors, from all kinds of sources, and eventually we'll use that in ranking."
Google will use this information "to help people find content from great authors in search results," according to its official Webmaster Central Blog.
Pages using authorship markup are represented by a rich snippet in search results. Visually, the rich snippet link offers much more. In addition to the standard search results we see every day, rich snippets offer additional intertwined information that separates it from non-rich results.
The top search result shown above is a rich snippet. It offers standard search-result information plus rich media like Bas van den Bald's picture as he was the author, a link to the author's Google+ profile, structured data from Google+ (in gray), and links to more work by the author.
But what does authorship markup mean for search engine optimization? Here are four ways authorship will serve SEO:
1. Authentic, credible, trustworthy sites will be easier to find. Think about it: current standard search rankings are pretty anonymous. Those of us searching for something specific don't really know how to differentiate which results are more useful - or authentic, credible, and trustworthy - other than whatever shows up at the top of the of the first search engine results page (SERP) is expected to be most useful. Sometimes that is the case, but not always.
2. Websites will be on a more level playing field. Authorship markup allows low-ranking sites with original content (oftentimes overlooked because the content has been recreated on different, higher-ranking sites) to rank higher on SERPs because of factors we addressed in the above bullet. Authorship offers another algorithm element to better serve search and it will be noticeable in instances where useful but low-ranking sites show up high on SERPs.
3. Search is becoming more social. By combining both social search and regular search, Google is tying a reputation to an individual, not just a specific site or company. This is making search more social than ever before. Many will say this is a shameless way to make authors join Google+, and they're probably right. But it also places a name, face, and reputation on results. Now, that's social!
4. The addition of another algorithm influencer takes weight off others. Authorship markup allows Google to further modernize its algorithm to keep pace with the natural progressions in the changes in the way people expect search to work. This is not ideal for businesses that have thrived off of maintaining the status quo of SEO, but it is good for the humans using Google. No longer are big sites able to sit back and expect to show up at the top because of who they are. Changes and new functionality such as the authorship tag are sure to continue and it's critical for search marketers to continue adapting along with it.
A SearchMetrics study published in late April 2012 illustrates that approximately 17 percent of search queries included at least a single instance of authorship markup within the first 100 search results. A million keywords were analyzed and more than 170,000 of them offered rich snippets somewhere on the first 10 SERPs.
Authorship markup, now on the cusp of being a year old, is clearly having an effect on search. And it's only going to increase. Curators of the web need to be mindful of the effects rel=author has, and use it to better serve search across the web. Have you already implemented the authorship tags on your site? If so, have you seen any gains in visibility, clicks, and conversions?
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