02 Feb 2012

Configure Authorship Markup for Google

Jim Boykin wrote about Google’s Agent Rank and Reputation Scores back in May, 2011. Since that time, there have been several developments that demonstrate he had clearly sussed out Google’s big plan. Let’s take a quick dive back in time and see what was said, what has transpired, and what you need to know to take full advantage of these developments.

Jim examined the May 6, 2011 Google Webmaster blog post written by Amit Singhal offering guidance on creating high-quality websites in the new Panda world. Jim specifically pointed to four guidance questions Amit said Google is now asking when it algorithmically reviews site content as indicative of a bigger plan:

  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?

The aggregation of these questions reminded Jim of a Google patent application for something they called Agent Rank. Jim suggested to better understand what Google likely had in mind, we needed to substitute the word “writer” for the word “agent” and reread paragraphs 0026 through 0029 of the document (he provided the rewrite). He speculated that the real intent was that individual authors, and the online reputations they earn, were going to become ranking factors in webpage content assessment.

A mere one month later Google posted an article in their Webmaster blog titled Authorship markup and web search, where they first officially defined support for associating authors to content. I posted an article about creating your digital footprint on Search Engine Land in August. But the story keeps evolving, and it’s time for an update.


Digital Identity

The whole deal hinges on you, the author, having a digital identity that can be associated with content you’ve written on the Web. More to the point, the only digital identity that counts here is the one you create with Google Profiles. There are several implications to this reliance on Google Profile data:

  • You can rest assured that Bing (and their organic search index proxy, Yahoo!), will not use this methodology for the same purposes (especially since there are Google-owned patents involved). Whether or not that matters is another discussion.
  • Google is going to leverage this webmaster-provided data feed advantage for authors as yet another means to build up Google+, their upstart, competing product to the Web’s social network behemoth Facebook. This matters to Google because they cannot readily crawl Facebook data, at least not the password-protected content (unlike Bing, to whom Facebook has given deep data integration into their index).

From Google’s perspective, the deepening of the data for author/content relationships and the content’s assessed quality in their index surely gives them yet another potential ranking factor to use in determining the PageRank of a content page. Google’s required reliance on a completed, data-rich Google Profile and the profile’s interconnection with their Google+ product benefits their efforts in competing with Facebook. Google thirsts for evermore data, and for us as authors to get the potential benefit of possibly ranking better for our good content (which Google also loves), we have to play their game.

With authorship markup, your Google Profile is your digital identity base. You’ll use your profile to both link out to your online content and create links back to from that online content. That closed loop, when done right, is intended to ensure you and only you are identified as the content’s author. And once that circuit is established, Google will likely use that data to help establish a form of author rank for your content.

The quality of your past content will affect your author reputation ranking, and your author reputation ranking will affect the ranking of your published online content – including future posts.


Making the connections

Once you have created your Google Profile, you need to add specific data to it for use for authorship markup. In the profile’s About page, there is a section called Other profiles for adding labels and URLs linking to your author profiles on other sites where you publish work. This assumes, of course, that the sites to which you contribute have such a page in their site structure. Many do, but not all. Note that you can also connect your Google Profile with your accounts in other major content contribution sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and several others (while editing the Other profiles content, use the Manage connected accounts link for that).

In cases where there is no author bio page on a particular site, you can link to that site in the profile’s Contributor to section. Creating these links out to your published online content is step 1. While working in your Google Profile, take note of its unique URL (it ends with a unique, long number). You’ll need that URL in a moment.

Lastly, please note that you also need to post a clear headshot photo of yourself in your Google Profile. No cartoons, animals, plants, inanimate objects, abstract art, or other miscellaneous body parts are allowed. Google is specific and very serious about this! Why? Because Google displays thumbnail photos of authors whom they trust as authoritative in their SERPs, and they don’t want any shenanigans from us pranksters!

Once the Google Profile is completed, you need to go to the content sites where you are published to close the loop back to your Google Profile. Here’s where things can get tricky. There are now multiple ways to do this, depending upon the architecture of the site, how much access you have to edit a page, etc. Let’s go over your options:

Author bio pages

If the site on which you publish has an About Me page (or in the case of a multi-contributor blog, a dedicated author bio page for each individual contributor), add a link to your Google Profile with the rel=”me” attribute using “Google+” as anchor text to that page. For example:

<a href="{YourGoogleProfileURL}" rel="me">Google+</a>

I have seen the Google documentation change over time on whether or not you need to end the anchor text with the + character. Their current docs no longer mention this (it looks like they’ve loosened up the requirements a bit), but the final step in this whole markup process, completing Google’s authorship markup participation form (referenced later in this post), still addresses this issue, so I’m sticking with it.

Using the rel=me attribute is an easy way to close the profile loop as long as every piece of content you publish on that site includes a link to this bio page using the rel=author attribute. Let’s cover that detail next.

Content pages which you can edit

From each page containing content you authored, you need a link containing the attribute rel=”author”. You can either link to your author bio page on the same site or you can link directly to your Google Profile (if there is no author bio page available).

Google suggests the easiest way to do this is to add a linked Google+ image to the content page. Perhaps it’s easiest because Google will write the link source code for you (as long as you know the URL for your Google Profile). Go to the Google Profile Button page, paste the URL for your profile in the text box provided, select the size of the image you want to display (the image source is remote on Google servers), and copy the resulting code into your page. Voila!

Google+ logo iconI’m not sure how much easier this technique is over creating a plain text link, but of course, displaying a nice image helps Google promote the Google+ product. They like that.

Alternatively, if you want something more subdued, you can use a plain link to get the same effect. Here is an example of the code Google suggests you use for a direct link to your Google Profile:

<a href="{YourGoogleProfileURL}?rel=author">Your Name</a>

Note that rel=author is not an anchor tag attribute, but instead is a URL parameter. It appears to work either way.

If your site does have that author bio page discussed earlier, simply link to that with the rel=author attribute:

<a href="{YourSameSiteAuthorBioURL}" rel="author">Your Name</a>

Content pages you can’t directly edit

Sometimes you simply don’t have access to the page on which your content appears. Google has recently anticipated that situation and offers yet another solution. As long as the content page has your name and a link with your email address on it, simply go into your Google Profile, click Edit Profile, and then add the URL of that site to the Contribute to section. Then you also need to add the email address used in your post in the Work Email section of your Google Profile. Google will send you an email with a link to verify you own that address. Click the enclosed link to verify your identity.

Google offers additional information on this process. Check out their Author information in search results and their Authorship pages for more information. I also found the rel=author post on Yoast helpful.


Confirm your work

OK, so you got this far – congratulations! But now you need to test this closed loop to ensure Google recognizes the work you’ve done (and to verify you’ve done it right!). Go to the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool. Paste the URL of a content page in the text box and then click Preview. Hopefully you’ll see a line in green text stating that the authorship markup is verified. Check to see whether or not it makes a difference if your rel=me links have anchor text that end with the + character. Be sure to run this verification test for content page URLs on all of the sites you’ve added to your Google Profile. If you see an error message in red text, review the message carefully to find where the break in the loop is occurring so you can fix it.

Lastly, once everything is verified as working, let Google know you’re onboard with the process by submitting your data to their Authorship request form.


So how’d you do?

Once you have your Google profile updated, edited pages posted and everything verified, check to see how you’re doing. Google has recently introduced a new tool in the Labs section of their Webmaster Tools to measure your author markup traffic. Called Author Stats, the tool shows analytics-style search traffic statistics on your authorship marked up pages. Note that it is a Labs tool, so that means it’s functionally a beta tool, and the data it reports may not be perfectly accurate (if it even exists). Plus the tool may not last. But it might. Simply put, your mileage may vary. But give it a look, anyway.

Keep in mind that merely participating in the effort on your part does not mean Google will immediately start putting your mug in their SERPs when a blue link to your content is shown. The process, just initiated in mid-2011, is still in a slow roll-out phase. But getting the work done on your end now means you’re ready for when Google does expand the program to include more authors in the program.

And given that displaying a headshot photo of the author, linked to that author’s profile in Google, to a SERP result will likely engender more trust in that particular link (especially if the searcher is familiar with the author), Google has high incentive to expand this program sooner rather than later. So take the effort to set the ball up on the tee now so Google can take its swing when it’s ready to do so.

The worst that can happen is nothing. But if you are a serious content developer or an influential person in your niche, your reputation can positively influence traffic to your sites, and when Google sees that, it’ll likely have a positive influence on your content’s page rank. There are no promises, of course, but it’s certainly a good bet.