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Advanced Authorship: The Deep Dive
Up Close Coverage From SMX Advanced 2013
Recently, I attended the SMX Advanced session, “Authorship: The Deep Dive“, moderated by Elisabeth Osmeloski, and featuring speakers: John Carcutt, Advance Digital, Janet Driscoll Miller, Search Mojo, Mitul Gandhi, seoClarity, and Mark Traphagen, Virante, Inc. There were a number of interesting takeaways.
Mitul Gandhi is up first.
He quotes Eric Schmidt of Google as saying that authorship could become the most important factor for ranking. First, Mitul examined whether Google+ was appearing in SERPs and he found that there was a huge rise in visibility on Google+ pages in SERPs since late last year. And, they were frequently ranking well. They then did random sampling and found 13% of all pages ranking in SERPs had author markup. They had a higher chance of ranking in position #3 through #8.
For some keywords, there is a much higher importance for having author markup.
Tech sites adopted author markup earliest. Shopping sites have a lack of adoption.
Mitul asks “Does it help rankings?” He states that it’s the wrong question – the right question is “Does it help increase my traffic?” “Clickness Matters,” he says – how clickworthy is your result.
Bing is kinda different – “Subjectship”, “Inferred Entity”… Bing is good at identifying subjects in some cases. In other cases, they randomly use images to represent listings (he shows example of clip art showing as author avatar for his homepage in search results).
Is Yahoo! using author markup? Comparing similar keywords that show authorship in Google, Yahoo SERPs do not show it. Bing, in fact, doesn’t show the author markup in SERPs, although Bing representatives state that it will be coming soon.
It’s worthwhile, so take the deep dive soon and incorporate author markup. Mitul Gandhi’s complete presentation is below:
Mark Traphagen is up next.
Mark asks “Is AuthorRank in existence – is it in use now? (Ranking authors by authority around certain topics for related keyword search – Google patents have been registered for this algorithmic method.)
Mark shows an eyetracking/clicktracking heat map study showing that author markup listings in SERPs attract more attention. Analytics show a higher number of clicks for author marked up snippets.
Even Google+ profiles with relatively few followers can outrank other popular pages for keyword searches.
So, one might think that “AuthorRank is turned on.” But, top Googlers state that Authorship is not a direct ranking factor, although they’re experimenting with it, but there’s no direct confirmation of it being in use.
Strikes against author rank as a present reality:
- Low Authorship adoption (not being used by major verticals)
- Social signal parsing infancy (still working to understand social signals)
- Mis-attribution (many mistakes still being made – high doubt factor about content author)
So, what’s up with the higher click rates.
AJ Kohn says that it could be due to CTR feedback – clickthrough rate may be in use as a ranking factor, although Google could correct for that and normalize for the particular result. So, this is inconclusive – we don’t know if they’re using it for rankings.
Profiles Have PageRank – Google+ profiles themselves had toolbar PageRank early on, but it appeared to later disappear. However, the toolbar PR disappeared due to how the URLs were formed – research has since shown that the PR is there. Google+ has internal PR from interlinking within Google+, but there’s also PR on those pages due to inlinks to the Google+ profiles.
Mark cites an anecdotal example where he used Google+ promotion to improve rankings of 3 posts on high PR blogs, improving their rankings from page 8 to page 1 for keyword search.
He recommends www.prchecker.net for checking the rank of pages.
- Authorship vs. Non-Authorship PR – pages with authorship seem to have higher PR on average.
- Authorship is Link Building. G+ profiles pass PageRank!
Janet Driscoll Miller is now up.
Janet is talking about tactics and strategies as well as public relations.
Google is inferring authorship in some cases and in some cases doing so incorrectly. She shows an example from her website with a video snippet – later, Google started showing her face with authorship markup, even though the rich snippet testing tool proves there’s no authorship markup on the page itself. But, it showed because within the page she had “presented by Janet Driscoll Miller” and she was listed as the author for the site. To revert back to the video snippet, she had to remove the “presented by” text.
She later showed a hybrid of video snippet and authorship:
Google infers authorship from content but does not infer from meta data.
For Word documents, “By” may not be the only way Google infers authorship via content. It can be inferred from the end of a document, such as from “about the author ” sections within a document.
PowerPoint also has authorship. Even images like vector art can show authorship. For PowerPoint, Google infers from text, not meta data.
Google Books does not show authorship yet!
Be thoughtful about authorship and how you implement it. Suggestions:
- Only the first author will show in the rich snippet.
- Be sure you get the snippet you want (watch for “by” in text followed by a name). Even editors or commenters can get picked up as the author – so, watch for that type of text.
- Author will only appear once on a page of search results. Example for site search of SearchEngineLand.com for “Danny Sullivan”, and Danny’s face only shows once in the results.
What does authorship mean for traditional PR and SEO?
- Traditional, offline methods for choosing a reporter to work with may not generate the best SEO. Make sure you work with people who have authorship to get that benefit in the SERPs.
- Does the site allow for authorship?
- Does the author have a Google+ profile? What sites are listed in their “Contributor to” section and other links under About.
- To check: search “site:URL” followed by author name. Ex: site: “nyt.com david pogue”
- Weigh the SEO value – does the author have ‘cred’ with Google?
- Weight the readership value. Realize the value in readers finding your content that contributes to SEO.
- Recognize the level of authority of the publication.
Here’s Janet’s complete presentation:
Finally, John Carcutt is up to give the publisher’s perspective on Authorship.
John’s sites publish many of the top news sites such as Syracuse.com and nola.com, etc. His firm does all tech architecture, training, social for these sites. They use a content strategy team to develop stuff like implementing authorship markup. Then the technology services team implements it. Then they go to the publishers and get them to buy-in and get their writers and editorial staff trained on why it’s important and get the authors – over 1,000 authors that have to be setup to use authorship and to use Google+ as part of their daily routines!
Their challengers were:
- Early adopters – they get caught up in early issues with products. Photographers loved Google+. Writers hated it. Email verification was a major problem. Since articles have both by-lines for photographers and writers on the same page – so, photographers sometimes had the author credit in rich snippet markup, instead of the writer.
- Tech Implementation – It took about three-quarters of a year for it to get implemented.
- Mass Training – 1,000 authors to train on it. They do annual in-person training and monthly internal newsletters. They added creation of Google+ account training, connecting their accounts to the publisher sites, how to manage their “Contributor to” links, having good Google+photos, pushed the effectiveness of Google+ Communities, and training in how to use Google+, overall. They also trained the writers on “why this matters”.
- Author Pushback (Google+ indifference) – adoption has been slow. John stated that he’s happy if 20% are active with it, and he expects increasing adoption over time.
There are some negative factors that they’ve encountered.
Syndicated content – associated press authors can get very high author ranking, based on their articles.
Selling AuthorRank is already happening. John expects this to work for a while, but not for long.
When an author leaves the organization, what happens to their authorship? Their policies:
- They never change by-lines.
- Policy strongly suggests no “Hybrid” account names such as “JimDuncanTP.”
- Authors that have moved on will continue to build their AuthorRank, improving the publisher’s sites in the process. The publisher will continue to benefit from their career development after they’ve left the organization.
- At some point Authorship/AuthorRank will become a hiring consideration.
There were a number of interesting takeaways from the session. Mitul Gandhi’s finding that author markup might be more important for particular keyword phrases strikes a chord with me – I can easily see this being the case.
For instance, a search for “HTC Android stores” might not be desirable for author-marked pages, whereas “HTC Android reviews” well could be. There are some types of sites or pages where authorship doesn’t make sense, compared with subjects that lend themselves to articles or blog posts. Also, the point is well-taken that “clickness” matters – increasing CTR is just as desirable as improving rankings.
I agreed with Mark Traphagen’s exploration that CTR could be the factor involved with authorship that might be influencing rankings. I’ve seen an extremely high correlation between CTR and rankings with a number of instances I’ve researched, and it seems clear that author rich snippets frequently improve CTR by a significant percent. Regardless of the explanation, Google+ profiles can have, accrue and convey PageRank, so they are a valuable tool for the search marketer and a compelling reason to adopt Google+ as part of the overall mix.
Janet Driscoll Miller’s examples of the hybrid video/author rich snippet, and her experimentation at controlling which would be presented in the SERP, was very interesting to me (particularly since I’d recently demonstrated a hybrid rich snippet between recipe/author rich snippet).
Also, her findings that authorship is also showing up for other types of media such as Word docs, PowerPoint presos and such – is compelling and obviously shows that there are a number of types of content that are not widely exploited for grabbing attention in the SERPs at present.
Additionally, the instances where Google may incorrectly choose attributions is important to note – I think people will need to check the SERPs after they create pages to see how the page is represented, and possibly adjust as she suggests to insure the correct person is attributed as the author if needed.
Finally, John Carcutt’s experiences with implementing authorship across large sites was highly informative, since I’ve encountered questions that probably a number of search marketers have also faced when recommending authorship adoption for their clients – “should we do this, since authors could subsequently leave the organization?” – “aren’t we promoting the authors more than the organization?”
His organization’s policies around this are likely to become the foundation of best practices for implementation for publishers. Authorship is a case of co-promotion where both entities will benefit and continue to benefit later, even if the writer leaves the organization, because as they develop their careers, their attribution with all the publishers will continue to provide exposure over time.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.