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.
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).
(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.
Pro-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.