Google Authorship: 1 Completely Unscientific Experiment + 13 Killer Resources
David Portney Dec 10 2013
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder who writes up the documentation for Google. When they first announced the rel=author tag and Authorship configuration procedure on one of Google’s 11 blogs that I subscribe to, I jumped right on it and devoured the information and the process they described.
Then I read it again… and again. And I felt pretty stupid because it seemed really confusing. But despite that I pressed on and managed to bumble through the steps and get the whole thing up and running on Google+ and one of my websites.
Then I needed a cigarette and a nap. And I don’t even smoke.
Oh – I should back up for a minute here: I’m assuming you know what the rel=author tag and Google Authorship is and why it’s super-duper important. If you’re not up to speed on that, I suggest you go read Mark Traphagen’s excellent post about all that here. Mark’s a very sharp guy and he’s been making Google Authorship a bit of a pet project, so you can’t go wrong there. And he’s a really nice guy to boot. So go read that and meet me back here.
Okay, so whether Mark’s post cleared things up for you or not, let’s press on together because things will all make sense by the end of this post.
The future of Internet marketing: REVEALED
I mentioned that Google Authorship is super-duper important for you to set up. The writing is already on the wall for the future of internet marketing. How so? Google (a publicly traded company, let’s not forget) was publicly embarrassed back in 2011 by high-profile articles appearing in the New York Times here and the Wall Street Journal here about how J.C. Penney and Overstock used manipulative linking practices to game Google’s PageRank algorithm in order to rank higher in the non-paid search results.
News flash: publicly traded company stock prices can plummet on bad news.
What’s Authorship got to do with all of this? First of all, it centers on linking to your Google+ profile; now you may think Google+ is a social network and just designed to compete with Facebook. I did when it first came out too.
Sure, it is a social network but it’s much more than that – I highly, highly recommend you read more about that here as soon as you can, but for now, you could simply think of it the way Mike Arnesen puts it when he talks about the possibility of AuthorRank – I’m paraphrasing what I heard him say in a presentation at an SEMpdx workshop, but it went something like “Google Plus is really an identity verification system.”
See how all of this is tying together? – Google got sick and tired of people gaming their PageRank algorithm and also had its fill of people posting crap content and “building” crap links to their crappy content in order to get their crap sites ranking highly in Google’s non-paid (organic) search results.
The search giant may seem unstoppable and un-toppable (grist for a different blog post), but people are fickle and tides can turn quickly (just ask MySpace or Friendster)… they had to make changes, and quick.
One of those changes is finding a way to be able to trust content that’s posted on the Internet – and, have a way to trust people too.
Meanwhile, back at the Google Authorship ranch…
Okay, so I promised you a completely unscientific experiment.
It all started on Halloween this year when a good friend of mine named Jason Wright – who is an online marketing and web technology expert by day and budding film director by night – carved the letters “SEO” into a pumpkin and posted a picture of it on Twitter comparing it to Matt Cutts’ hair (you’ll have to ask him why; looks like gratuitous pandering to me).
I IM’d Jason and asked him to put a link in the “contributor to” section of his Google+ profile (you did read Marks Traphagen’s post I linked to above… right??) and point the link to one of my 32 test websites (yes, I only have 32 websites, don’t judge me).
Then I slapped up a quick couple of sentences in a new blog post on that site with a unique Title Tag and “closed the Authorship loop” by linking back to Jason’s Google + profile in the HTML.
Because I wanted to know: for a crap website like this particular one of mine, how long would it take for Google to index this new crap blog post since I had the Almighty Power of Google Plus going for me. I’d read articles online in the past about new content being indexed very, very quickly by linking to it from a G+ post – would Google do the same for my junky blog post content?
Attempting to load the dice in my favor, I slapped up a quick post on my barren Google+ profile pointing at my new junky post on my junky website.
If patience is a virtue…
I’m not a patient man, so right away I did a Google phrase-match search on the title of my junky blog post “The SEO Pumpkin Transformation” and here’s what I found:
My Google+ post was already appearing in search results. Google evidently likes (and trusts) its ID verification / social network enough to get that baby up right away.
Hmm – would my junky sites URL already be indexed? – I had to look:
No dice. So much for loading them… at least for now; I went about my day.
Later, at the end of my workday, I did the same thing – first the phrase-match search:
Hmm. Now my Google+ post and my Google+ profile were showing. Okay….
Now for the URL test in Google’s search box:
Um, Okay; My G+ profile is showing up for URL search. Hmm… Mr. Traphagen might have something to say about this!
What a difference a day makes
The next day I eagerly performed the same searches and here’s what I found – first the phrase-match search on the Title Tag of my blog post:
And checking the page’s indexation in Google:
Hey! My junky post is now indexed! Fun with Google Authorship!
But what I found interesting about this is that while my blog post was indexed, it was not appearing in search results for a phrase match search on the title tag.
In my mind (or, in reality I guess…) Google was favoring its own property (Google+) over my site – albeit not the highest quality site or blog post page in the world – and that also made me say “Hmmm” to myself.
Just for grins and giggles I tried a broad match search on the title tag:
Yep, pretty much as I suspected, Google+ wins again.
It’s tomorrow already
The next day; a new day full of hope and promise… what would we find? I’m sure you’re as curious now as I was then, so bring on the screenshots!
First, the phrase-match search on the blog’s Title Tag:
So far so good: just like yesterday my page is still indexed and Google+ still loves itself, all is right with the universe.
I also did an info:url search:
Those are fun and useful because you can instantly see information about a page like a snapshot of Google’s last crawl of the page by clicking on “Google’s cache” which also then provides a link to view a text-only version of the page which means you can see how Search Engines see your page. As you can see in the screenshot here there are other links too like finding pages “similar to” yours (hello! competitive research…) but forget about the pages that “link to” link because that’s completely useless…
Nothing new for today.
Next I decided to try a couple of different Google Authorship configurations (if you were waiting for ‘completely unscientific’ this may be your favorite part).
By the way: if it’s not completely apparent to you by now that Google Authorship is important for your business so you can establish yourself, your staff blog writers, and your business as a Trusted Entity in Google’s eyes, keep in mind there’s a huge benefit I glossed over (actually didn’t bring up yet) and that is this:
A picture of your smiling face shows up in the non-paid search results – and that increased visibility of your listing can increase your click-through rate which means more visitors at your site to fill out lead-capture forms, download whitepapers, watch videos, buy stuff… and generally do whatever you consider a “desired action” or conversion on your site.
Can you dig it? I knew that you would…
When you’re testing your Google Authorship to make sure everything is configured correctly, you need to use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool (the tool formerly known as the “Rich Snippets Testing Tool”) and you can enter a live URL or even just some HTML.
I like this Chrome Extension to do testing. It’s faster. I like faster. You push a button and boom! – Instant authorship testing.
I tested my blog post and found this:
As you can see, Jason’s smiling face is shown and – again – the idea here is that this increased visibility in a search result listing can increase click-through to your site. Whether Jason’s face in particular will encourage you to click or not is a different story.
The bottom line is if that’s surrounded with other search results listings that do not have a picture, you may get the click even if you’re being outranked!
Don’t believe me? Take a look at this:
Which would you click on? Huh? HUH? Yep, I thought so… Doesn’t Cyrus’ smiling face make that listing stand out to your eye more than the listing that is outranking him? I knew that you would dig it.
I bet you’re ready to abandon reading this right now and rush to set up Google Authorship, #amiright?
I mean, c’mon – you increase Google’s ability to trust you by getting into their Identity Verification Program AND you can increase your click-through rate AND probably even get the click over your competitors who are ranking above you.
Back to the point: you have to configure it properly.
Remember that whole “Google Authorship can be confusing” thing I brought up in the beginning? Notice by those search results (about 41,000) that I’m not the only one who thought so.
I messed with a few variations of the set up – and this post is long enough as it is and my memory breaks down a little bit about how many different ways I tested the configuration in the Structured Data Testing Tool because I only wrote down a few of them but it goes something like this:
- I cross-linked the blog post to Jason’s G+ profile.
- I created a bio page for Jason on my site, linked the post to the bio and cross-linked the bio to Jason’s G+ profile.
When I did that last thing, here’s what I got:
As memory serves, I tested links in the <body> and <head> tags but still ended up with my picture and profile.
Which brings up a good point: your mileage may vary and you need to test your configurations and not trust what I say, Mark says, or what anyone says – oh, and if that’s not disheartening enough for you, be sure to keep in mind that even after you get yourself all Authorship-configured and such, it’s totally up to Google whether they show your picture in the search results or not. And back to configuration: I know you’re busy and you just-wanna-know-the-one-right-way-to-do-things (and I really get that) but don’t take anyone’s word for anything, test it and find out for yourself.
Now I’m going to contradict my sidebar comment above and actually give you a “one right way” to do this:
The “lazy man’s” guide to quick ‘n easy Google Authorship configuration
One configuration that worked instantly (in the rich snippet tester) every time was this:
- Have your blog post author go to their G+ profile and add a link to your website home page in the “contributor to” section noted previously
- In any blog post they write, create a link to that author’s G+ profile
All that junk about “link from the post to a bio page which cross links to the G+ page and where does the rel=me link go vs. the rel=author links and does it work only in the <head> section or will it work in the <body> too and what about if I want to do that in a sidebar widget of my website is that okay too and what about that whole the first author listed is the one that will show up as the rich snippet in search results even if you have everything else correct…”
All that noise goes away.
Authorship configuration is easy to do on the fly; just make sure anyone who writes for your blog adds a link to the “contributor to” section of their G+ profile, then add a link to that profile from any blog post they write – you could just have a sentence at the end that says “this post by _____” and link to their G+ profile.
How easy is that?
Bonus Round: if you’re a business be sure to set up rel=publisher; it’s pretty much the same as what I just described but you cross link from your home page <head> section to your business’ (not a person’s) G+ profile. Super simple and easy to do. So get to it if that applies to you.
TL;DR plus a few more really cool resources you must check out
The future of Internet marketing is now. The writing is on the wall. You must get your Google Authorship and/or Publisher configuration correctly up and running as of immediately, if not sooner. Doesn’t matter if you use or like G+, it’s a must-do-right-now situation.
Here’s some stuff you absolutely must check out:
- Mark Traphagen’s posts about rel author and publisher here and here
- Mike Arnesen’s write up on AuthorRank For Brands
- Ian Lurie’s presentation “The Next Web”
- Google’s documentation on the topic here and here
- Janet Driscoll Miller’s authorship troubleshooting flowchart here
- Justin Briggs’ excellent post on how Authorship impacts click-through rate here
That oughtta keep you off the streets and out of trouble for a while.
Now I hand this off to you, Dear Reader of the Portent blog; I look forward to hearing what you have to say in the comments.
UPDATE: Some folks have contacted me – evidently they skimmed this post instead of reading it – about G+, Authorship, and the potential to have an impact on rankings… which is not the topic of this post. So, for those of you who are interested in that you can read about it here and here and here and especially here. Enjoy!
I’m David Portney, an SEO Strategist and Analytics Geek here at Portent, Inc. Yes, I’m very into SEO & Analytics but let’s call it a passion and not an obsession, okay? Find me on Twitter @dportney. I enjoy public speaking very much so feel free to contact me if you’d like me to speak at your event. Read More