Ever since Google killed off Authorship, speculation has abounded. It all began with a quote from Eric Schmidt in his book, about a conceptual system that ties an author with a verified profile to the content they produce. This system, independent from Authorship, was called author rank.
Author rank has not seen the light of day. As recently as March of 2014, it was stated that author rank is not being used. While it’s possible that it has been implemented in the months since, there’s been very little talk of any concrete implementation. If it’s entering widespread search influence, it’s doing so unannounced and in small doses.
There’s only one area where author rank is being used, and that’s in the in-depth articles section. It’s the only actual confirmation that author rank even exists, for that matter. It makes sense to use in this limited context, at least. When you’re looking to dig deep into a given topic, you want your information to come from recognized authorities in the industry. By linking an author with their reputation, Google can provide information from those authorities without muddling search. Authority authors don’t have to worry about their posts not ranking if they’re on a site other than their normal home.
With a lack of any concrete expansion, the mum’s the word attitude Google has adopted and the death of Authorship, people are wondering; is author rank dead as well, or is it playing the long con under cover?
Why Authorship Failed
Authorship was a valid experiment, and it may have been a cover for Google to test deeper applications of the author rank system. The reason Authorship itself died is actually several reasons.
First, Authorship required the use of Google+. A lot of authors and webmasters were slow to adopt Google+, and despite the massive push towards using it – to the extent that they made it required for many services, at least for a short time – it failed to catch on. Google+ is a losing endeavor, and Google has finally realized it. Any system – email, YouTube, analytics, Authorship – that ties into Google+ as a required service is either going to fail or is going to be split off into its own service again.
Second, Authorship required the use of special markup. In order to use Authorship effectively, it needed to be implemented through special code added to your site. This means the user needed to know how to edit their site, needed to implement the code properly, and so on. This was made even more complex on multi-author blogs and on blogs where content was posted under a pseudonym or general admin account. A linked byline was necessary, but would not serve on its own.
Third, Authorship required knowing about the system and how to use it. In the SEO industry, we take it for granted that we’re going to implement any system that works best for our clients. We learn about Authorship, we learn how to implement it and we implement it for our clients where applicable. The problem is, the SEO industry is like a technically advanced microcosm. For every client we add to Authorship, there are dozens more businesses out there that have no idea how that the system even exists, let alone how it’s beneficial, not to mention how to use it. Heck, just look at how often we need to tell clients that they need a blog in the first place.
Fourth, Authorship could not be made automatic, at least not easily. Just look at some of the failures when Google tried to implement it algorithmically. Their system picked names, often high profile names, with little regard for the actual byline.
How Author Rank Compares
Author rank is a different system, designed to circumvent some of those restrictions. For example, the first issue, that of needing to use Google+, is not relevant for author rank. They ask that you have some kind of verified profile, but that might be Google+, Facebook or even your own personal site.
Second, you have the issue of the special markup code. Author rank is entirely algorithmic and entirely internal within Google’s system, so it doesn’t require special markup. Maybe Google will begin to put a little more emphasis on Schema and the author property, but they are unlikely to make it quite as required as the rel=”author” tag was for Authorship.
Third, you have awareness. The great part about author rank is that you don’t need to be aware of it to use it. As long as you have a byline on your content and you have a verification profile somewhere, Google will be able to draw the connection and give you the benefit of author rank.
The fourth option is perhaps the most damning for author rank, and could be almost entirely the reason it hasn’t been implemented on a broad scale. The system underlying the automatic Authorship attribution is essentially the same as what author rank will have to do. This means it runs into some of the same issues.
However, if you look at that link above, about the Truman Capote snafu, you learn a few things. First, the actual author of the piece didn’t have an active verification profile. The Truman Capote profile was perhaps more active, though because it has been deleted, it’s impossible to tell. Second, the author added Truman Capote’s name to her byline. This was legitimate, of course; as part of a program name, it was perfectly in place. Google just needed a little sanity check to ask itself why a long-dead writer was writing blog posts.
Positioning for Maximum Author Rank Benefit
Author rank isn’t dead, that much is very likely to be true. Google will, in some form or another want to track authors and bring value to people using name recognition. This means some things will hold constant, and you can take advantage of this knowledge to position yourself well for when author rank is widely implemented.
First, you should have a verification profile. Google+ would be ideal, but you should have several social profiles and a personal site all linked together for best effect. Try to keep them all active as well, to avoid the Capote Scenario.
Second, network with other influential content creators. Author rank might not care as much about your social following as it does the people you follow. If Google sees two people writing blogs about wall street, they’re probably going to promote the author who is networked with several prominent wall street bankers over the author with no such connections.
Third, find a valid niche. Author rank will pay attention to subject, and there will be no jacks of all trades. You can be an authority in bagels, but you can’t be an authority in everything related to food, food service, cooking, appliance manufacture, shipping and retail. Focus is critical.
Fourth, write good content! You can be networked with everyone influential and have several well-positioned blogs, but if the content you actually produce is amateur at best, you’re not going to earn the authority label.
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