Google Continues To Experiment & Expand Authorship

If one theme was abundantly clear at SMX West in March, it was the question over the importance of authorship and how it might impact future rankings in Google.

During the “What’s Needed For SEO Success In 2013 & Beyond?” panel, I asked Matt Cutts if Google planned to expand authorship credit (and potentially the rich snippet) beyond just written content (like blog posts) and begin incorporating other content types.

In reality, content creators could truly author various types of content, including photos for photographers or video for videographers. Just because a piece of content isn’t part of the written medium doesn’t mean that content has no author.

Matt indicated that while the majority of content that Google sees on the Web is written, there are clearly other types of content Google indexes and wants to be able to understand authorship for.

Google is certainly doing its part to infer authorship of content, even when authorship markup has not been applied to a particular page. Over the past six months, there have been several examples of Google erroneously crediting the wrong authors with content, such as when a New York Times article credited Truman Capote with a new article, even though Capote has been deceased for nearly 30 years.

Google has even inferred authorship over other types of semantic markup on the page. On my own site, our archived webinar pages, which are coded with video schema and previously were displaying a video rich snippet, suddenly reverted to authorship instead, even though the page was not coded with author data:

Authorship - Author Not Video

After reviewing the page copy, we realized that this video page contained the words “presented by Janet Driscoll Miller.” Could the word “by” be causing Google to infer that particular line was a byline? We reworded the content of the page, removing the phrase, and waited for Google to re-index the page. Low and behold, Google then returned the rich snippet to a video thumbnail:

Authorship - Video Snippet

A few weeks ago, we also started seeing authorship and video snippets combined on a result:

Authorship - Video and Author

This page contains the word “by” and is also coded with video schema, so it appears that Google is recognizing both in this result. In a recent blog post, Ann Smarty also recognized a similar pattern with the word “by” even in cases where she was not listed as the author, but rather, the editor.

It also now appears that Google has extended authorship to content in PDFs, as well:

Authorship - PDF Author

This PDF file data lists me both as the author in the file’s meta data, and the cover page of the whitepaper contains the phrase “written by Janet Driscoll Miller.”

Authorship - PDF Properties Cropped

So, which does Google seem to be relying on to infer authorship for a PDF – the PDF meta data or the PDF content itself or both? I tested this with an older PDF I had on hand that lists me as the author in the meta data but also lists the author as “written by Search Mojo” in the PDF body copy, therefore not showing an individual author. The meta data authorship alone did not cause Google to generate an author snippet:

Authorship - PDF wo Snippet

However, testing a PDF with the body copy showing a byline with an actual author but where the author meta data from the PDF was blank did yield an author snippet:

Authorship - PDF w author

So, it appears at this point, Google continues to rely on the content within the body copy, both in PDFs and other website pages, looking for a written byline with an author listed.

In the case where there are two authors listed on a PDF, Google appears to use the first author listed:

Authorship - 2 authors

So, if you’re prepping content either in PDF or HTML, note that Google is inferring authorship through identifying the word “by” followed by an author name, and you should be cognizant of how you use this combination in your content. Otherwise, you may generate authorship without intending to or Google may accidentally infer authorship that is not correct.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Google: Authorship | Google: Rich Snippets


About The Author: is the President and CEO of Marketing Mojo. She regularly blogs on a variety of search engine marketing topics, often focusing on technical solutions. You can find her on Twitter @janetdmiller.

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  • Ken Morico

    The “by” keyword is something to keep in mind. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Gianluca Fiorelli

    Hi Janet, actually authorship to videos was already visible one year ago, as well reported – amongst other things – by Andrea Pernici in this post on SEOmoz:

  • brandon

    If there is only a byline and no markup, how does Google know what Plus profile to use in the result? Decided algorithmically?

  • Gianluca Fiorelli

    The Algo may know that usually an author signature is just under the Title (usually an H1) of the article/post or at the end of the article/post itself.
    Actually, it may even recognize the classic “Author box” many sites/blogs use, because those boxes have quite easily to recognize patterns.

  • Alessandro Geminiani

    Interesting tips thanks!

  • Jan

    For me the BIG question , How to use it for e commerce ?and especially for product descriptions ? Does anyone have tips ?

  • Nick Stamoulis

    For months I have been trying to implement the re=”author” tag and even though the tester shows it’s working fine the rich snippet isn’t appearing in the SERPs. I even have the “by” on every blog post. Anyone got any workaround tricks?

  • Keith Brown

    I think there is a glitch in the rich snippet tool as well, things don’t appear to match up with what Google is showing in the SERPs and what the tool is previewing. Interesting thoughts by AJ here:

  • Bojan Jovanovic

    If author has verified e-mail address from that domain, having byline is enough. No links required:

  • Bojan Jovanovic

    It appears that Google also plays a bit with showing only images for authors added to certain number of circles. Not many people added me to circles and recently my image disappeared from SERPs :( I got it back two days later however.

  • Brandon Hite

    Ah, thanks for the answer Bojan :) that makes sense. So Google detects byline, matches it with verified email addys from that domain, shows corresponding Google+ page in search result. Cool.

  • Andy Kinsey

    i can only see authorship increasing hugely over the next 2 years, the method of identification may change but we just need to wait and see

  • Link Worx Seo

    I originally had the authorship showing for the main website, but eventually Google stopped showing my pic in the results. This is the strange part about it all. I have done several other websites with authorship the exact same way, but yet those sites show authorship appropriately in the results unlike mine. Since no code was changed on the site or the other sites. It has to be some kind of bug with Google or Google is actually singling out certain industries.

    Any suggestions on why it would be working fine and then stop?


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