Last month, an excerpt from Eric Schmidt’s forthcoming book came out where he discussed how identity and authorship might be used to better rank search results. Since then, I’ve seen that widely cited as proof Google is already doing “Author Rank.” It’s not, nor was Schmidt describing a Google-specific system. But that could come, and Google’s existing authorship program may be a part of it.
Schmidt On Potential Future Of Profiles & Ranking
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.
Since that time, I’ve read and heard people cite this as proof Google is already doing some type of “Author Rank.” Not in that fashion. In fact, Schmidt’s more extended quote explains that Google might not even be the holder of these profiles.
Here’s the longer passage on page 33, from my copy of the book:
The basics of online identity could also change. Some governments will consider it too risky to have thousands of anonymous, untraceable and unverified citizens — “hidden people”; they’ll want to know who is associated with each online account, and will require verification, at a state level, in order to exert control over the virtual world.
Your online identity in the future is unlikely to be a simple Facebook page; instead it will be a constellation of profiles, from every online activity, that will be verified and perhaps even regulated by the government.
Imagine all of your accounts — Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Google+, Netflix, New York Times subscription — linked to an “official profile.”
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results.
The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance; even the most fascinating content, if tied to an anonymous profile, simply won’t be seen because of its excessively low ranking.
Some caveats. This passage is all one paragraph in the book, and I’ve broken it up to make it more readable on screen. This is also from the uncorrected proof, so the text might change — I’ll be checking back with the publisher when the final text is available and make any amendments, if some happen.
Having said that, it becomes clear that Schmidt isn’t talking about what Google is doing now nor even about what it might do with a Google+ account. He’s speculating on how governments themselves might change, and in turn, try to control information. Part of that might be to require official profiles which could be extended to exert control over things like search rankings.
Google+, Author Rank, Authorship & Ranking
So, where does that leave Google+ and Google’s authorship efforts? Just as important as they were before, for real reasons that exist now and perhaps for some ranking benefits that might come, but in a different way than Schmidt outlines.
Being on Google+ alone is a potential ranking boost, one that can sometimes trump all other factors, including links. I reconfirmed this twice in sessions involving Google earlier this month, at the SXSW conference and our own SMX show. If you’re signed in, are on Google+ and are connected with other people or companies that are on Google+, you’re more likely to see content from them in your search results.
Signed out, it’s another story. Google flat-out won’t confirm whether aggregate Google+ data, things like the number of +1s or the number of followers an account has, will influence whether content from that account will rank better for signed-out users.
In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. Google continues to say such factors aren’t really used. It’s not completely ruled out, because as Google distinguished engineer Matt Cutts said on an SMX panel this month, maybe there are some minor “edge cases” he might not be aware of.
If Google+ data isn’t being used — and since authorship is so closely tied to that — then is the whole idea of Author Rank a myth, and being worried about authorship a waste of time?
Let’s first revisit the whole “Author Rank” thing. That’s a term that’s largely come from the SEO space, not from Google, to describe the idea that content might have some type of ranking boost based on who authored it.
It actually all started with Google’s Agent Rank patent, then gained renewed attention after Google+ launched and clearly became a platform that Google started building authorship upon.
For more background on all this, these are good pieces to read:
- Agent Rank, or Google Plus as an Identity Service or Digital Signature, from Bill Slawski in Nov. 2011
- Author Rank, from AJ Kohn in March 2012
- Google Authorship: Does It Affect Search Rankings? Google Official Speaks Out, from Mark Traphagen in July 2012
- How to Prepare for Author Rank and Get the Jump on Google, from Mike Arnesen in Sept. 2012
- Understand What Eric Schmidt Really Said About Authorship & Author Rank, by Ruud Hein, Feb. 2013
To date, there’s no “Author Rank” that Google’s acknowledging comes to serious play in its rankings, nor are the experts watching this particular space closely seeing it. Rather, they’re predicting it may come and advising people to be prepared.
This all leads to authorship. That’s a real program that Google has right now, which provides as the primary benefit, the ability to have an author’s picture appear next to their listings in search results, along with potentially more additional links to their stories.
For more about setting this up, see our excellent guide, The Definitive Guide To Google Authorship Markup, by Rick DeJarnette.
Could authorship at Google lead to actual Author Rank benefits? Many believe so, and since there are already benefits to doing authorship, that remains the best way to prepare.
For more thinking on authorship, including from Google and Bing, I’d recommend these stories out of sessions we had about authorship at our SMX show:
- Matt Cutts on What’s Needed for SEO Success in 2013 and Beyond – Live Blogging
- From Authorship to Authority: Claiming Your Identity Online And Why You Should
- Build Your Authority Not Your Author Rank
- From Authorship to Authority: Why Claiming Your Identity Matters
Fortunately, Eric Schmidt’s speculative world of some governments requiring verified profiles, if authors want to rank well in search engines, isn’t a reality. Neither is Author Rank at Google. But, authorship is, and the use of authorship as an SEO ranking factor does seem likely to come.
I hope to see many readers out there for the show, June 11 & 12. Remember to book soon. Super Early Bird rates expire this week, and the show always sells out — last year, six weeks ahead of the event. So register soon to save and to ensure you can get a ticket.