Digital Marketing, Search Marketing Advice

Boosting Content and Fighting Spam Using Google Author Rank

Google is constantly trying to stay ahead of the spammer curve by making improvements to its search engine system. These improvements usually take the form of tweaks in the algorithm to keep spammers off guard and ensure we see relevant, valuable search results. In fact, there have been several changes in just the last few months designed to frustrate low quality content providers and other spammers. Less frequently, Google makes structural changes that have even more dramatic impact on search results. Recent examples include search plus your world and the recent inclusion of the knowledge graph. Taken together, these changes can signal a larger trend and hint at where the search “game” is heading.

The Problem with Links

As you are probably aware, links (and all the various sub-signals that links encompass) continue to represent probably the most important algorithmic signal that determines rank within a Google search result. These important factors include the number and quality of inbound links, the anchor text of those links, the acquisition of new links over time, the location of those links on the linking page, and many other factors related to links.

SEO ranking factors

According to SEOMoz 2011 Ranking Factor survey the top two factors influencing rank are link related.

In the abstract, Google counting a link from one web page to another web page was a stroke of genius. It brought the science of information retrieval and document citation into the world of web search, and leveraged an existing class of assets (links) that was free from manipulative intent. Before Google came around, the only reason to link from web page A to web page B was to send readers to web page B.

Unfortunately, Google’s success as a search engine perverted the entire link ecosystem. Suddenly there were reasons to go out of your way to deliberately acquire links – because they helped you rank well in Google. Thus was born a whole variety of methods to acquire links: link exchanges, link rings, link systems, reciprocal links, paid links, link bait, links in blog comments etc… The problem is that none of those links is naturally occurring. Not one. As the web world came to understand the importance of links, new methods of procuring links were invented – all with goal of ranking higher in Google.

Today, Google is a victim of its own success. Valuing links created a better search engine. But it also created incentives to manipulate those search results by acquiring links that Google would prefer not to count. It’s a never-ending downward spiral – an un-virtuous circle.

One of the overarching trends over the past 18 months in ranking factors is the increased importance of social signals. Links from Google+, Twitter and other social media players have become factors in calculating rank – and they are growing in importance.

The Rise of the Author

Over the past 18 months there has been increased speculation that the concept of “author rank” will play a more important role in determining the value of content (including links) that gets shared, especially on social media platforms.

A tweet and a link shared by Danny Sullivan (especially a tweet that has content about search engines) should be more valuable than a tweet from a brand new twitter account. After all, Danny is a known expert on the subject of search engines. Based on an analysis of his twitter content, on the number of twitter followers Danny has and on the relative “value” of each of those followers, on the number of times his tweets are re-tweeted and responded to by others who share an interest in search engines, it would be easy to determine his relative expertise algorithmically.

In the same way that Google can construct a link graph to determine the value and worth of a link, the same can be done with the social graph by mapping out the relative value of specific “people” in the social sphere. (In many ways this exercise is not unlike what Klout and other “influence” companies are trying to construct).

But today, Google can go beyond the mere construction of a social graph that consists solely of how many connections one amasses on Twitter or Facebook. For the first time, Google has the capacity to value content you create on other platforms. Google can even begin to value your contributions based on its assessment of your actual identity.

How does it do that exactly? And how can you position your content to ensure it is valued in this way?

Claim Your Content Using “rel=author” Tag

About a year ago, Google began supporting the rel=author tag in search results. It identifies authorship in search results which can impact the click-through patterns in search results. For that reason alone it is worth implementing the rel=author tag on your blogs and websites. There are a variety of ways to implement the rel=author tag (3 different ways as of this writing, none of which are particularly easy to accomplish).

Google Author Example(Note from Jay: Paul Gailey Alburquerque, an SEO consultant and all-around great guy helped us implement rel=author here on Convince & Convert. Thank you Paul! It’s not hard, but it is a bit complex. It’s also worth it.)

I’m convinced that Google will find a way to include this claimed content into a larger “author rank” calculation (if it has not already done so). One of the ways to combat spam is to ensure transparency – transparency of intent, of purpose, but most importantly of IDENTITY. How many spammers do you know that use their real names while conducting their spamalicious activities? Not many.

The only way to claim your content is by signing up for a Google+ account with your real name, and linking that content on other third party sites up with your Google+ account.

Jay Baer Google Plus ContributorPro-tip – you can use the rel=author tag in your guest posts on third party sites as well. Use the Contributor section of your Google profile for this.

What do you think? Will Google begin to use the concept of identity transparency to combat spam? Do you think they are already doing so?

Please share your thoughts below in the comments.

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  1. bsoist says

    I’ve been planning to look into rel=author for a while now. I should do that soon. 
    You are spot on about the problem with links. I have been saying this, along with some other people, since Google was very young. Any attempt to use the nature of the web to rank it will lead to a change in that nature.

  2. ChrisQueso says

    Got us setup with rel=author at the Nao blog about two weeks ago. I’m excited about the developments. Sean, meant to speak with you more at Social Slam. I’m about to take on some attorney clients and would love to connect with you. Good post sir.

  3. KristaKotrla says

    Ah, I’ve been wondering about Google Author Rank, since hearing you mention it at Social Slam… thank you, @Sean McGinnis!! Any idea if this possible to implement on HubSpot supported blogs?

    • says

       @Mountain Jim Fisher  @Sean McGinnis Thanks Jim. I should have dropped in a link to Brian’s in particular, since he’s a supporter of C&C. My bad. 

      • Mountain Jim Fisher says

         @JayBaer  @Sean McGinnis   Joost’s WP SEO plugin now incorporates the google author rank capabillity…pretty cool.  now, to figure out why some russian guy (DimitrisAlexoglou) comes up when you click on my name in your response…sigh. lol

  4. says

    From day 1 of G+ – what was coming was obvious.
    But Google are still not 100% happy with the Signal to Noise ratio,
    nor are they convinced about the degree of influence it should have.
    As and when (I don’t see an “if” in any of this as G needs it so badly), Google live AuthorRank as a ranking factor … it is likely to be ugly for a while.
    We’ve already seen the mess they made when Social came into play.
    Though I can see what and why … I do still have reservations.
    Unless they are dealing with miniscule differences – they will merely be reinforcing the existing status-quos and positions.  Those already at the top due to LinkValue/PR will merely consolidate their position with AR.  I can see this easily resulting in a major divide, and widening the gaps that already exist.
    A fine example will be the issue of Brand sites.  Those that are established and have the resources will be able to maintain position – newcomers will struggle to get a foothold, as they will not only need the site, SEO and marketing – they will need to break the social barriers.

    • frasercain says

      Brands will have an early head start, but individuals with high personal authority will be able to take that with them from job to job, or writing gig. I can imagine writers getting jobs based on their personal authority.

      • says

         @frasercain I agree – and as much as I despise Klout in some ways, the whole concept of AR is one that is very similar in theme and tone to what Klout claims to provide.
        Whether the measurement is “influence” or “authority” the bottom line is a well understood social graph may provide a authority signal for a search algorithm than a well understood link graph – or at least a link graph that has been polluted with a decade of manipulation in search of better rankings.

  5. frasercain says

    Of course, it’s more than just putting in your rel=author tag, you have to create content that gets a lot of reshares and tweets within your niche.
    You can imagine a near future where the search engine rankings are dominated by documents which have a high personal authority and a high domain authority.
    Google can get a rough idea of your Twitter and Facebook popularity, but they have deep knowledge of your Google+ activity. So consider that another reason to give Google+ a serious investment of your time. I think you’ll find it’s actually a really amazing and entertaining network as well.

    • says

       @frasercain Absolutely! Identifying yourself as the author of mediocre content isn’t going to get you very far. Take it from a guy with experience in that department. :)
      You’re right, of course. Creating great content, regardless of the medium, is of critical importance. I think the point I was trying to make (with varying degrees of success) is wrapped up in the notion of identity v anonymity. I think we’re headed toward a search world where identity based content creation is granted some additional bump in value – because people will be less likely to associate crappy content with their “real” selves.

      • frasercain says

         @JayBaer That’s why I really think people’s attitude towards G+ is totally misguided and lacks imagination for the future. As Mike Elgan said, “we’re on a marathon, into mile 10, and most people don’t know the race has already started”.

  6. says

    Wait, is this THE @Sean McGinnis ?  Thanks for the rundown on the rel=author tag; it is tricky, especially if you’ve done lots of guest blogs in the past, and your bio didn’t include the tag.  I haven’t decided if it’s worth the work to go back and try to fix those…

    • says

       @rosemaryoneill That’s a great question, and an interesting idea Rosemary. I suspect the process would not bee too dissimilar to what happens with asking for revised links after a domain name change – some publishers would probably be fine with adding the code, while others may see it an unimportant and just not do it. I’d be interested to hear how it goes if you decide to try it out.

  7. says

    hey @JayBaer  thanks for the shoutout!  – Right now, I really think there is still ample space in the Search results to standout with rel=author.  The Searchmetrics blog showed in April some 17% of SERPs (search results) had authorship displayed and that was even examining non marketing/tech sectors. For pro marketers it’s becoming de rigueur.

  8. says

    SEO is really frustrating. I don’t think playing fair and square can win you in this game. Author rel tag could probably change all that, but I guess the future of SEO means having great writing skills as well.

    • says

       @IamRex Sorry to hear you are frustrated. I disagree with your main premise, especially post Panda and Penguin updates. White hat tactics (done really well) have always been the way to go. It takes a LOT more work than most people realize, but it is possible to compete, IMHO.

  9. says

    Great article!  I just started a study in ranking my name up in the search results (to grow my reputation as a writer and industry professional)  So far my About Me on my website/blog is on page seven for Justin Murray after only a few days.  It’s a pretty competitive name.  Including the rel=author tag is definitely key and i’ve been working on the quality of my About Me page (content, pagespeed, etc) and adding links to my other social network profiles.

  10. says

    Great article!  I just started a study in ranking my name up in the search results (to grow my reputation as a writer and industry professional)  So far my About Me on my website/blog is on page seven for Justin Murray after only a few days.  It’s a pretty competitive name.  Including the rel=author tag is definitely key and i’ve been working on the quality of my About Me page (content, pagespeed, etc) and adding links to my other social network profiles.

    • says

       @Justin M Murray That’s great Justin! Reputation management online can be a difficult endeavor, especially for competitive names. If you contact me directly (my email is sean at I can direct you to some solid resources that may be able to help.

  11. K Singh says

    Google Authorship is widely acclaimed and the next big thing in content marketing. It is not just a buzzword but is actually an excellent concept. I can see how it is here to stay. It has all the right characteristics to become the standard authority measure in publication. Just can’t wait to see how other social channels will find a way to integrate Google authorship into their content.

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