Rel="Authority" - Revisiting Author Rank!

By: Daniel Imbellino
May 2, 2014

It’s no secret that search engines today like Google are throwing their weight behind credible quill penauthors and content online. One way for Google to gauge the authenticity, credibility, and worth of content on the web was to implement Authorship, providing the entire internet, including themselves, with a way to find trusted and credible content on the web. However, the argument over whether Google Authorship plays any role in ranking has long remained a debated issue by the professional internet community, until recently that is, as Google’s Matt Cutt’s has now clarified that Authorship is in fact taken into consideration within in-depth articles in their search results, among others which it hasn’t publicly announced.

Being as Authorship remains so deeply misunderstood by the internet community I’m going to explain how and why it does in fact play a role in ranking, however indirectly, and why bloggers need to get on board with it.

The Problem with Non Credible Content:

We all search the web for information at some point in time or another, and we all hope to find accurate, credible information that will help to solve whatever problem we were seeking answers for. Unfortunately, most of the content on the web, likely more than 90% is actually false, misleading, and hardly credible at all. Anyone can write an article about a given subject, claiming to be an expert on the topic they’re covering, and swearing their ideas are true and correct, all because they said so.

Take the often flocked to website Hubpages, for example. The site is filled with millions of articles, encompassing any and every subject you can think, from authors all over the world. One thing the majority of these authors happen to share in common among one another is the fact they actually have no educational or real world experience that would make them credible sources of the subjects they write about or the information they portray; and they often provide their readers with no way to prove their true identities, in effect causing you to have no way to verify that they actually are who and what they say they are, or if the messages they portray are actually useful at all.

The results, millions of articles full of misleading and often down-right false information have been dumped there over the years. And it’s not just Hubpages, it’s the entire web that is now overrun with useless information that will only cause people more problems than it ever solves.

Just because someone writes about a given topic, does that make them an expert on that subject? I would like to think not. Having tons of non credible content, from non credible sources is part of the reason why sites like Hubpages have gone through years of struggles.

Google’s Focus on Credibility and The Role of Authorship in Ranking:

While Google keeps quiet over much of the controversial subject of Author rank, it’s obvious where they are focusing their attention today, which is to the hands of credible authors and sources of information on the web, including those who use their Google+ platform. Social metrics from their network alone tell a startling tale, alerting the search giant to many clues as to who is credible and who is not, what is popular and what is not, what people actually like, effectively weeding out all the “fluff” and zeroing in on the true credibility of authors and the content they portray on the web.

One thing to keep in mind here, just because you use Authorship does not mean you will rank! In fact, it won’t make you rank at all on its own. It could however inadvertently cause content to rank simply because of the credibility and authority of the source at hand. If Google see’s Authorship in place, now they know the source of the information, which obviously helps them to determine the credibility of not just the content, but the person in question, or the domain at hand, based on data they’ve previously gathered on a particular author or entity on the web.

Authorship, unlike the traditional “by line”, provides Google with a way to actually verify all authors who use this feature, doing away with hearsay on the web. With Authorship, content now comes from a credible source, or it’s just another piece of wasted space on the web.

Authorship itself does not tell Google what your credibility is directly, and this is where those extra social clues start to become a factor. You see, Authorship provides users and Google with a way to identify with an author of content on the web, this is truly its purpose. However, if that author is deemed credible in the subjects they write about, an authority if you will, now Google has more reasons than one to rank that content higher. Those who are an authority on their subjects win out on the web today. Google has even publicly stated they were planning to give a boost to those who were an authority on their subjects, and it appears this is exactly what they have already been doing all along.

So what role do those social metrics play in determining the authority and credibility of an author and their corresponding content? The answer is simple, what are people saying about you, your content, your website, etc? If thousands of people are telling others that you are a credible expert in your field, then it’s likely you actually are. You think Google doesn’t analyze public social data from its own network or across the web? Better think again!

It’s not just their own network they look for clues, but also the entire open web! They can analyze conversations anywhere that are in plain text. If they can access your site and crawl it, and you have a comment section in place, they can and do in fact gather this data, and it’s more than likely they do take into consideration what people have to say about you and your content, or even your domain for that matter.

If you really want to get into specifics, there appears to be a strong correlation today between the content that people like and trust, and the content that actually manages to rank. For years Google looked toward back links as a metric of trust, popularity, and worthiness, only to find themselves with a search engine full of spam, and pissed off people. They had to change the system, and now they partially rely on the word of the very audience they serve, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to game their system and rank with poor quality content, from non credible sources. If people don’t like it, don’t expect Google to get excited about it either.

After spending this past year constantly analyzing social and technical data day after day, in a never ending cycle of confusion, I think it’s safe for me to say that positive engagement, along with quality content, from a credible source will out rank anybody and everybody on the web! I guess what I’m trying to say is, if people like your content and they trust your word, so does Google! Throw Authorship into the mix, now you and your content are easily identifiable by Google, and you will rank as a result.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the skills, expertise, and ability to compete in the content market online. For many just starting out, the prospect of building back links with the use of guest posts in hopes of ranking was a snake oil tactic that only caused bloggers to drown before they ever swam on the web, with Google’s Matt Cutts recently stating “stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.” It’s a shame so many bloggers today have put all their energy into back links, and completely ignored the factors surrounding the quality of content they produce, including the audience they produce that content for.

Even if you had high quality back links from high ranking sites, your content still won’t rank if it’s lousy. Little do all these bloggers know, simply implementing authorship into their posts could easily have had a more profound effect than any back links they could attain from guest posting, regardless of the rank of the linking domain in question.

All in all, those who are an authority in their subjects and have the ability to exercise strong writing skills will see a big boost if they implement Authorship into their content and publishing strategies in the future. For those who don’t have what it takes, Authorship will do nothing for them! Either you have something of value to offer the entire world, or you’re just another average blogger. While bloggers run amuck trying to create as many back links as possible, little do they realize their efforts are pointless. If it’s high quality back links you seek, the weight falls on quality, credibility, and authority, nothing else matters. People will and do naturally link too and reference credible sources of information on the web.

Making Authorship Work For You:

If you want to take advantage of Authorship and get better coverage in search results, such as with in-depth articles for instance, then you will have to establish yourself as an authority surrounding your subject matter, which means you will have to have a real influence on the audience you serve content too. The part of being influential is going to be the most difficult part for the world to grasp.

There are a few things bloggers can do however to make Authorship work in their favor. For one, those who are truly influential and stand out as an authority on the web are also the same people who spent thousands of hours researching the subjects they write about. In case the world didn’t realize it, research is what drives innovation and solves real world problems, and those who stand on their own aren’t just masters of their subjects, they are real researchers, and the area of research is where authors need to focus their energy today.

I for one have been in the IT game long enough to know when content I come across on the web is credible and informative, or if it’s just more worthless information being broadcast by bloggers who don’t have a clue as to what they’re talking about. You can’t fool the experts!

Besides the prospect of being a good researcher in your field, those who manage to reach out and get recognized by other influencers and experts in their same field will obtain an even larger boost in rankings. If the educational community, other bloggers, and the well known experts in your field happen to recognize you as being a major influence, this will only count in your favor. This also isn’t something that happens overnight. I for one did get recognized for my expertise almost immediately after I began blogging, but not without cause. Before I ever started blogging and interacting on social media I already had over 30,000 hours of experience working in IT and being a real researcher in my field, even designing markup languages in my spare time. The point is, I had something to offer the world from day one, what will you have to offer?

All being said try and tap into the knowledge you already do have and share your experiences with the world. This is what I did, and being I’ve seen it work for myself, it’s more than likely it will work for you as well. Another thing to consider here, it’s often thought it takes an average of 10,000 hours working in a particular field before you will have the ability to become a true expert in your profession. Based on my own experience, I have to agree 10,000 hours is definitely sufficient, but to remain as an expert over the long term means you will have to continue learning new things, or you will fall behind with the times. I’ve seen this happen with web designers from the 90’s who ditched the profession back in the early 2000’s only to find themselves lost today.

In the end, It’s not Authorship that will make you rank, since its purpose is merely to identify the originating source of a particular piece of content, and it serves no other purpose. Its only benefit depends on the person who is actually using it. Those who are true experts (researchers, innovators) and have a real influence (solve a problem or share worth reading experiences), will be the ones to benefit from this often misunderstood element of the web. The good news is those who work hard to be the best in their fields will definitely benefit from the use of authorship, and many already are.