The Great Authorship Debate

Since the advent of Google+ Authorship, content specialists have struggled to understand exactly what it is and how it can impact their blogs, websites and networks. After two years of tweaking by Google and analyzing by the rest of the world, the verdict still isn’t in. About a year ago, Google threw another twist into the mix with verified Google+ Publisher status, giving brand owners the ability to link their sites directly to their Google+ pages.

Benefits of Authorship

For authors, linking their content to their Google+ profiles enables them to associate content that they’ve generated across the web and track the performance of that content via Google’s webmaster tools with detailed author stats tracking.  Additionally, pages they’ve authored will be presented in the SERPs with their profile photo and byline, adding the possibility of networking the author directly to their target audience if the viewer follows their Google+ profile.

authorship-serp

Recently, Google updated the SERPs so that when you visit a page by an author and spend time on that page, then ‘go back’ to the previous results, you will see additional results by that author injected below the page you just read. Google’s assumption is that by spending time on that author’s page, you found the information useful and will enjoy further answers from that author — this really gets to the heart of what Authorship is meant to be. Associating trustworthy (read “authoritative”)  sources with all the information they provide so that readers can start to build up a trust relationship with the provider of the information. Hooking that information back to the author, and providing the means to follow that author directly via their Google+ Profile is just another way to serve the needs of those seeking the information that the author specializes in.

In addition to the visible SERP benefits, authorship gives content authors the ability to track their content via Google’s webmaster tools ‘Author Stats’ report, shown here:

Sample of webmaster tools authrship stats trackingFor authors who publish their content on many sites, this is a great benefit as it enables you to track all of your posts. However, for sites that have multiple authors, there’s no good consolidated way to track how your individual authors are trending outside of content drill down analytics.  Personally, I’d love to be able to quickly filter analytics by author across a single website, either as a segment or secondary dimension, or add a section to webmaster tools that includes a listing of all authors having listed themselves as contributors to the site, with the ability to click through and view the statistics for their pages on the site.

Benefits of rel=’Publisher’

Sample publisher displayAs mentioned, the publisher relationship is meant to link a brand to their content. This is seen primarily in the content that has started popping up in the SERPs on the right hand side of the page, as seen here for Netflix:

Currently, the publisher information does not display in the search engine results directly, but when running pages with publisher data through the webmaster tools we can see the data presented there as a byline, and there is a great deal of speculation that the result sets will be updated at some point.  The structured breadcrumbs in this preview are not a result of the publisher setting, but are present because our InternationalStudent.com site has implemented microdata for breadcrumbs throughout the site. For more examples of how the microdata is appearing in the rich snippets, simply do a google search for ‘site:internationalstudent.com’

Sample rich snipped test result for publisher

While the immediate benefits are hit or miss, it’s clear that Google has more in store for this particular association and it will be good to build up the relationship between the brand and site pages now, rather than struggling to catch up with it in the future.

So, when is it appropriate to use Authorship?

Google suggests that authorship be associated to a single article that has a single author, not a lists of other articles or an updating feed.  The content should be written by a single author and have a clear byline that is the same as Google+ profile.  The point of this exercise is to associate yourself to content that is written with your voice and contains your own personal perspective on the subject matter, not standard web copy for non-editorial sources of information.  As visitors become familiar with your tone of voice, they’ll come to expect it when identifying your picture with an article.  If the page in question is a group effort, or updated by multiple people on an ongoing basis, authorship is probably not appropriate.

Sounds good…what could go wrong?

Just because your search result displays with your smiling face, doesn’t mean it’s all hearts and roses from there on out.  Having an image show up with the search result makes the result seem more personal, but that’s not always desired and in some cases can lead to lower CTR. For example, if the user is searching for something of a statistical nature, a SERP that implies editorial point of view may seem less relevant to the user and could be skipped over. Likewise, if the image associated with the profile is unprofessional, the resulting page displayed could be presumed to be a less qualified result. If the size of the Google+ circle displayed next to the author’s name is very small, it could also cause the result to be overlooked by savvy users who are looking for more well-known authors.  It’s important to remember the human factor in how the results are processed when deciding what content to add authorship to.

For the most comprehensive collection of information related to authorship, check out the Ultimate List of rel=author Resources!

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