How To Create Your Digital Footprint With Links

At the SMX Advanced Conference in Seattle last June, Google announced it was supporting the HTML5 “rel” attribute in anchor tags for the “author” and “me” variables. To me, this was very interesting news. I have been in the business of content development for a long time (stretching back deep into the 1990s), and Google’s announcement meant they were interested in tracking who was authoring what content.

This makes sense, as Year 2011 for Google has been all about their multiple Panda algorithm updates, which favor higher quality content as a page ranking factor. If Google can identify authors who consistently produce high-quality content, wouldn’t that be useful in their quest to serve the best content in their search engine results pages (SERPs)?

Certainly this is a good development for writers.

How many authors out there would appreciate earning some institutional authority for their consistent excellence in writing?

Even if the online author gets a byline (and many good writers do not!), does a search robot even know to interpret an author’s byline as an indicator of their authorship? Or does it simply see a byline as just more text in an article, meaning nothing more than any other name dropped within an article (such as the subject of an interview or biography)? And even if it could interpret a byline as an author attribution, can a simply byline be trusted? Content scraper sites plagiarize good content every day – how much work is it to add a false byline?

Now that Google is now actively collecting author information, even advocating that authors take steps to associate their content with their online identities so that Google can establish an author-content connection, can we assume that one day authors might earn some level of authoritative status?

If so, that would affect the page rank of content they publish. And if this strategy succeeds in defining higher quality, more trustworthy content for Google SERPs, how long can Bing (and their search index proxy, Yahoo!) ignore this author attribution as a ranking factor?

Get In On The Action

To make this author attribution plan work, you need to create links, using the correct attributes, within a feedback link loop framework between your content and Google—specifically, your Google Profile page.

There are several ways to properly build this link circuit, all using Google-recommended methodologies (with even a touch of ambiguity for fun – but hey, it’s new functionality for them, and I presume the wrinkles will eventually be ironed out). Let’s get down to specifics here so you can start earning author credit for your work from Google.

Google Profile page

You need to start with your Google Profile page. You say you don’t have a Google Profile page? Think again. If you already have a Gmail account, use a Google product, or belong to Google+, then you’ve already got a Google Profile. If you are actually the last person on earth who does not yet have any accounts with Google, then you’ll need to create your Google Profile.

Go to the Google Profiles page, log in (or create your account), and start filling out your profile. Much of the content in the profile is superfluous to earning author credit, but pay close attention to the Links section on the About tab.


It’s here that you’ll want to create links to the Web content you authored, be it individual content pages, your authoritative biography page (such as an About Me page on your site or an About <author> biography page on a multi-contributor blog), or simply the home page of sites that host content you’ve authored.

You’ll also want to upload a good-quality head shot photo of yourself in the profile, as Google has already started using verified author data to associate an author’s Google Profile photo on SERPs containing links to content attributed to them.

Tip: Skip uploading cartoons, photos of your dog, or an abstract pieces of art for your profile image; only head shot photos are eligible for SERP thumbnails.

The photos that appear in the SERPs are linked back to your Google Profile, of course, so readers can learn more about you and find more of your expert content.

Google’s goal with this is to help humanize the Web, and by applying a human face (literally) to the links, they hope it builds trust in the linked content. At a minimum, authors can hope that this functionality will help writers earn credit for their good content when so often nefarious content scrapers republish copied content and search engines have trouble identifying its original source.

Content Pages

Once you have your Google Profile built and linked to your online content, you need to create links in your content pages back to your Google Profile.

This closed loop will associate the content pieces you wrote to you as their author. From anywhere on the pages containing your content (header, footer, nav bar, etc.), create a link to your Google Profile page that includes the data “rel=author”. There are multiple ways to do this. For example, you can add rel=author as a URL parameter, such as in this example:

<a href=”{YourGoogleProfileURL}?rel=author”>Google+</a>

Note that in this case, Google encourages you to use anchor text with a + at the end. The Google Webmaster Tools Help page Author information in search results specifically recommends it.

However, you can also add rel=author as a new attribute to the anchor tag. Doing so appears to negate the need for the + at the end of the anchor text, as the discussion of the process in another Google Webmaster Tools Help page, Authorship, completely ignores that earlier advice.

Indeed, per the YouTube video with Googlers Matt Cutts and Othar Hansson in which they explain the rel=author linking process as an anchor tag attribute, they advise that you can also use the Google+ logo button, your own photo, or simply your name (as Matt himself does) as the link text to your Google Profile, as shown in the example below:

<a href=”{YourGoogleProfileURL}” rel=”author”>Your Name</a>


Alternatively, if you’re not able to set up a direct link from the content page to your Google Profile (or if you already have a lot of content on that site), you can instead link the individual content pages to your author biography page in the same site using the same rel=author attribute, such as in the example below:

<a href=”{YourAuthorBiographyPageURL}” rel=”author”> Your Name</a>

However, if you take this last route, you’re not done yet. You still need to close the feedback loop to your Google Profile. You do that on your author biography page.

Author Biography Page

If you choose to point all of your content pages’ rel=author links to your author biography page on the same site, then simply create a link from anywhere on that author biography page to your Google Profile using the rel=me attribute, as shown in the example below:

<a href=”{YourGoogleProfileURL}” rel=”me”>Your Name</a>

Going this route means you then don’t need to link to every piece of individual content from your Google Profile. You can instead simply link out from your profile to your author biography page, which has inbound links using rel=author from all of your content on that site.

Confirm Your Changes

Once your changes are in place, Google suggests you go to their Rich Snippets Testing Tool to see what author data Google can pull from your newly marked up pages. Note that the tool only works with one URL at a time. You’ll need to run this test on each page you want examined.

That said, I also saw in a post Google linked to in their Authorship Help topic that you may need to wait for Google to enable this functionality for your site. Keep this caveat in mind as you check your pages in case you get unexpected results. Also note that the tool is in beta, so your mileage may vary, anyway.

Lastly, once you are done with the rel=author updates, go to the Google Authorship request form to let Google you are actively using this linking functionality.

The form states that they might get back to you with any implementation issues they discover. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but showing interest by actively participating in a program like this won’t likely hurt and may help you in your quest to be recognized as the author of your own content.

Benefits & Concerns

Ultimately, this is a nice strategy for Google. It helps them identify another content value criteria as a potential ranking factor (in the aforementioned YouTube video, Othar clearly states this is the long-term goal for this functionality). If an author writes consistently strong and valuable content, then that has value to Google’s customers, so it has value to them.

Not coincidently, it also requires the use of Google Profiles pages as the lynchpin for connecting authors to content. And if you sign up for Google+, which is a highly strategic product for Google in the social media war with Facebook, your profile page becomes a Plus Page! And of course, a deeply-detailed personal profile is a great and valuable tool for collecting all sorts of personal information about an individual. Of course, that data has enormous value, as it can be monetized.

The benefits to authors is still speculative as the introduction of rel=author functionality by Google is so new. However, the promising potential to existing, authoritative (not to mention well-linked and eagerly participating) content authors of automatically earning some degree of page rank lift for newly published content is compelling.

Who wouldn’t want to earn an edge for consistently doing hard, legitimate work?

Ultimately, we’ll need to see how well this linking technique is adopted by the webmaster and Web author community. It could offer genuine value to the producers of high-quality content Google is trying so hard to emphasize as of late.


It could also benefit searchers with higher quality, more trustworthy SERPs, and as a result, thereby benefit Google as well. But it could also go the way of Google Wave. As a content author myself, I really hope for the former.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Accounts & Profiles | Google: Rich Snippets | Link Week Column


About The Author: is an in-house SEO at, and was previously part of Microsoft’s Live Search and Bing Webmaster Center teams, serving as the primary contributor to the Bing Webmaster Center blog and then later as an in-house SEO for the Bing content properties. He also randomly adds to his own blog, The SEO Ace.

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  • MarkUpshaw

    Great post. The detailed instructions are appreciated. I was able to follow them and complete the task for my Squidoo content. I had avoided tackling this until I read your post.

  • Glenn Ferrell

    Wow – and as if simply giving us an analysis of the implication of these new moves by Google were not enough, you provide a detailed roadmap to take advantage of them !

    The fact that Google is tracking authorship should encourage more sites to allow more detailed (and identifying) bylines for their authors since it is now a win-win for both. The facial recognition aspects are something I had never thought about — perhaps we’ll start seeing more head shots on Twitter. Actually (sidebar) there is even some PR crossover here. Companies who have known authors on board, who publish photos of their management in news releases, on company blog posts, on about pages (believe it or not, about a fourth of my small business clients don’t want their photos on their About page) — all of this may eventually influence SERPs. (Will pages with Steve Jobs’ photo get higher page ranks ? hmmm….)

    Most of all here, I appreciate your detailed instructions on how to leverage the ‘author’ and ‘me’ variables, configure your Google profile, etc. Great work. Thanx !

  • Miriam Schwab

    Really useful post!

    One thing isn’t quite correct though. You wrote:

    “If you already have a Gmail account, use a Google product, or belong to Google+, then you’ve already got a Google Profile.”

    Should say “except if you use a Google Apps account. Google Profiles are not enabled for Google Apps users.”

    I’m still waiting for Google to enable Profiles for us Apps users….


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