The Definitive Guide To Google Authorship Markup

At SMX Advanced 2011, Matt Cutts announced the Google initiative to begin attributing content to original authors. Since that time, the process in which authors and websites attribute content to authors has evolved. A lot. Many times over, in fact.

If you’ve heard about Google authorship markup, but have been confused as to how to get started with it, you are definitely not alone. I’ve been writing about this topic since August of 2011, and have worked to get this process up and running on three separate blog sites (Search Engine Land, Internet Marketing Ninjas, and The SEO Ace– all coincidently, sites that publish my content!).

I’ve learned a few things along the way, right and wrong, but I’ve gotten it properly set up and now my goofy mug usually graces the Google search engine results pages (SERPs) when you search for content I’ve written.

More importantly, the content I’ve written on SEO has established me as a known author on that topic. And while I don’t have specific insight into how Google’s algorithm works, it’s a safe assumption that when the Google crawler discovers a new piece of SEO content written by me, my existing author rank has some influence on the page rank of that new content (assuming it’s up to snuff). So how do you get in on this? I’m happy to show you.

Normally I’d start off with some contextual information on why it’s important for all content creators to establish their own author branding in Google, but this post will be long enough as it is (this process isn’t exactly tic-tac-toe, my friends, so please stay with me).

For good introductory information on Google authorship markup, check out a couple of my previous posts, How To Create Your Digital Footprint With Links and Configure Authorship Markup for Google.

The Authorship Process

What you need to know is that Google needs to complete a circuit of verified trust between it and an author’s published content. For you to participate in this program, you need to have two things:

  1. A verified digital identify owned by Google that links to your published content (a Google+ profile)
  2. Your published content needs to reference you as the author and link back to the verified digital identity

As of this writing, Google supports three methods of verifying that trust. The methods approved by Google include a 3-link, a 2-link, and an email verification method. Let’s define these methods:

  1. 3-Link Method. The 3-link method is used with sites that host content pages that link to an author biography page on the same domain. All of the content pages link to the author biography page, the author biography page links to the author’s Google+ profile, and the Google+ profile links to the author biography page, as shown below:
  2. 2-Link Method.The 2-link method is for content pages that do not link to an author biography page. Instead, they typically contain a mini author biography snippet at the bottom of each post. These posts link directly to the author’s Google+ profile, and the Google+ profile links to the home page of the publishing site, as illustrated below:
  3. Email Verification Method. The email verification method can be used when the author does not have control over author biography content anywhere in the content page (but its use is not limited to that scenario). In that case, an author byline links to an email address using the same domain name as the content page, and that email address is registered and verified in the author’s Google+ profile, as shown below:

The above set of descriptions were all high-level overviews; there are many details that must also be addressed. But as you can see, all three methods share the same requirement: a verified digital identify in the form of an author Google+ profile. Let’s first cover how to set up the author’s Google+ profile for authorship markup.

Setup Your Google+ Profile For Authorship Markup

If you have any existing Google account (Gmail, Google docs, Google Webmaster Tools, etc.), then you already have at least a stub Google+ profile. Perhaps yours is already somewhat filled out. But Google authorship markup mandates specific data requirements in that profile, so let’s get it set up right.

  1. Browse to
  2. Sign in to your Google account (or create one if necessary).
  3. When prompted, upload a clear facial, head shot photo to the profile. No abstract art, no cartoons, etc.
  4. Click Continue until Finish appears, and then click Finish.
  5. Click Continue to Google+, click Profile, and then click Edit Profile.
  6. Click +1’s, select the Show this tab on your profile checkbox, and then click Save.
  7. Click About, click Other profiles, click Add custom link, and then add labels and URLs for each of your other social media account profiles, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, etc. Click Save when done.
  8. You may optionally complete the sections about your occupation, employment, and other pertinent information pertaining to your areas of expertise. While these ancillary elements are not required for authorship markup, they can often contribute an added degree of credibility to an author, which builds up your reputation as an authoritative source on the topics you cover.
  9. When you are done completing your Google+ profile, be sure to click Done editing to save all of your changes.
  10. Copy the 21-digit ID number used in the URL of your Google+ profile. You’ll likely need it momentarily.

Note:You’re not completely done yet with your Google+ profile edits, so leave that browser tab open.

Setup Your Published Content Pages For Authorship Markup

Which steps you’ll take to set up your content pages and finish configuring your Google+ profile depends on whether you’ll be registering content pages using the 3-link method, the 2-link method, or the email verification method (which depends upon how your Web content was published).

You may end up using several methods if you publish content on multiple sites (but only one method is needed per site). Pick and choose the sections below that apply to your situation.

3-link Method On Sites Using Author Biography Pages

Assumptions for this method:

  • The author biography page is located in the same website domain as the content pages that link to it.
  • Each content page link to the author biography page includes the author’s name in the anchor text.
  • You have access permission rights to make source code edits on these pages.

Follow these steps:

  1. On the author biography page, add a link for the author’s Google+ profile using the anchor text “Google+” (omit the quotes).
  2. In the anchor tag code for the Google+ link, add the anchor tag attribute rel=”me”. The following is an example of such tag source code (be sure to use your own 21-digit, Google+ profile ID number):
    <a href="" rel="me">Google+</a>
  3. In each content page, edit the existing link to the author biography page by adding the anchor tag attribute rel=”author”. The following is an example of such tag source code (be sure to use the URL to your author biography page in the href attribute as well as your name as the anchor text):
    <a href="{AuthorBiographyPageURL}" rel="author">Author Name</a>
  4. In your Google+ profile, click Edit Profile, and then click Other Profiles.
  5. Click Add custom link, and then add a label and the full URL for the author biography page.
  6. Click Save when done, and then click Done editing.

If you have no more content profiles to add, skip to the section titled Verify the Google authorship markup code is valid.

2-link Method On Sites Using Author Bio Snippets At End Of Each Post

Assumptions for this method:

  • Each content page contains a boilerplate author biography sentence or paragraph snippet that contains a link to the author’s Google+ profile.
  • You have access permission rights to edit the author biography text snippet.

Follow these steps:

  1. In the author biography snippet, add a link to the author’s Google+ profile using the anchor text “Google+” (omit the quotes). The following is an example of such tag source code (be sure to use your own 21-digit, Google+ profile ID number):
    <a href="">Google+</a>
  2. In your Google+ profile, click Edit Profile, and then click Contributor to.
  3. Click Add custom link, and then add a label and the full URL for the publishing site’s home page.
  4. Click Save when done, and then click Done editing.

If you have no more content profiles to add, skip to the section titled Verify the Google authorship markup code is valid.

Email Verification Method

This method is very helpful to authors on sites in which they can’t edit any anchor tag code, but its use is not limited to that scenario. As long as its criteria are met, email verification can be the primary method used for establishing authorship verification.

Assumptions for this section:

  • The content page must include an author byline that starts with the word “By ” followed by the exact same author name used in the Google+ profile.
  • The author name is linked to an email address that uses the same domain name as the site hosting the content.

Follow these steps:

  1. Browse to the Google+ page Link your Google+ profile to the content you create (you must sign in to your Google account to complete this procedure).
  2. Type or paste the email address used in your content’s byline link into the Step 4 text box, and then click Signup for Authorship.
  3. Look for a verification email from Google sent to that email address. Once received, click the link within the email to verify you own the email address. Google will then automatically add the verified email address to the Work section of your Google+ profile. It will also add a link to the domain name used in the email address in the profile’s Contributor to section.

If you have no more content profiles to add, skip to the section titled Verify the Google authorship markup code is valid. However, if your content is published on a WordPress blog, read on.

WordPress Sites Require Additional Configuration Work

By default, WordPress strips out all of the “rel=xxx” anchor tag attributes used in Google authorship markup. As of this writing, there are a number of WordPress plugin solutions that override this limitation. However, they typically remove more than just the rel=xxx anchor tag attribute limitations in links. If your site hosts a number of authors whom are not fully trusted, this solution may expose the site to a security risk.

In its Authorship support article, Google itself links to a post that specifically advocates the use of the WordPress plugin Allow REL= and HTML in Author Bios. However, that non-configurable plugin solution, which opens up WordPress to allow any HTML in author biography pages, states unequivocally:

 “WARNING: CAN BE USED FOR EVIL! Make sure you trust authors!”

I don’t know about you, but as a publisher, I wouldn’t be comfortable with that solution.

It’s clear why Google has no safer solution to offer for WordPress. As of this writing, WordPress itself has no specific, core solution to enabling the anchor tag attributes required for authorship markup.

On top of that, each theme in WordPress has its own potentially unique PHP source code. And as a secure, code-based solution for one theme is likely incompatible with other themes, Google’s tacit endorsement of the plugin is the lowest common denominator solution available to mass audiences, even if it does expose a security risk.

In this section, instead of endorsing Google’s de facto endorsed plugin to enable the “rel=author” anchor tag attribute code needed for authorship markup, I will recommend using the dynamic URL variable to achieve the same rel=author link connection to Google+. That means I’m going to focus on using the 2-link method, which means applying an author biography snippet at the footer of each content page.

You may need to determine how to enable author biography snippets in your theme. Some themes use the content written in the user profile Biographical info text box, whereas others allow author information to be added as posts are written in the WordPress editor. Check your theme’s documentation for its specific implementation.

WordPress & The 3-link Method: Sites With Author Biography Pages

Unfortunately, there is no clear, secure and universally compatible WordPress solution for both single author and multi-author blogs that employ author biography pages. A solution would need to modify the link in each content page to the site’s author biography page to include the “rel=author” anchor tag attribute and, in addition, create a link to the author’s Google+ profile in the author biography page using the “rel=me” anchor tag attribute.

Webmasters for single-author blogs can follow the advice and insert the custom code snippets found in Joost de Valk’s blog post, rel=”author” and rel=”me” in WP and other platforms. That works well for single-author blogs.

Alternatively, for those who don’t want to fiddle with or have the resources to do custom PHP coding and are not interested in applying potentially risky, generic plugins that may open up potentially large security holes in your sites, you might consider either consulting with a clever PHP/WordPress theme developer for a custom code solution, or perhaps changing to a WordPress theme that already has published, working custom code solutions available.

For most WordPress users, I recommend using a WordPress theme that enables author biography snippets at the end of each post and using the 2-link method for authorship markup. That is the best secure, universally-applicable solution available in WordPress.

WordPress & The 2-link Method: Author Biography Snippets On Each Post

A number of WordPress themes enable authors to create custom biography snippets in their WordPress User Profiles, which are shown at the bottom of each post. For themes that don’t support this feature, site administrators can add this specific feature with the WordPress plugin WP Biographia.

By including a link to the author’s Google+ profile using rel=author code in the biographical snippet in each post, no author biography page is needed, eliminating the need for rel=me code. Follow these steps to make this 2-link method work:

  1. Log in to the WordPress site.
  2. From the Dashboard, click Users, and then click Your Profile.
  3. Scroll down to the About Yourself section. the Biographical Info box, add a few brief lines of text to serve as your online biography snippet, then add a link to your Google+ profile using the anchor text “Google+” (omit the quotes). The following is an example of the tag source code (be sure to use your own 21-digit ID number):
    <a href="">Google+</a>

Note: The above procedure assumes the location of the author biography snippet is the User Profile. If your theme allows for author information within the built-in post editor, add the link from Step 3 there.

Verify The Google Authorship Markup Code Is Valid

Once you have the Google+ profile and your content pages configured using either the 3-link or the 2-link method described above, you need to validate your work. Google makes this easy to do.

  1. Browse to the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool page.
  2. Type (or paste) the URL of a content page in the text box and then click Preview.
  3. Review the results for errors.
  4. If using the 3-link method with an author biography page, type (or paste) the URL of the author biography page in the text box and then click Preview.
  5. Review the results for errors.

In both cases, you should see lines displaying the following data:

Extracted Author/Publisher for this page


linked author profile = {URL to your author biography page, if used, or a link to your Google+ profile} google profile = {URL to your Google+ profile} author name = {Author Name} Verified: Authorship markup is verified for this page.

If any of the above author results contain red text, that indicates something is not configured correctly. Carefully review the steps above to debug the work. Note that the email method is automatically verified when you use the Link your Google+ profile to the content you create tool to register and then verify your email address.

Note: Google also recognizes the attribute rel=”publisher” to identify the site that originally published the content it contains. However, the rel=publisher attribute only needs to be used on the site’s home page.

According to Thoughts from Geeks blog, if it’s used on content pages in addition to rel=author code, rel=publisher takes precedence over rel=author. In that case, any authorship rich snippets will not be displayed in the Google SERPs.

In Summary

That’s Google Authorship Markup in a nutshell. One huge, complicated nutshell, filled with caveats. But given Google’s active pursuit of verifiable, trusted expert content to improve the quality of their search results, author rank will only increase in importance as this technology becomes more widely adopted. And as that happens, well-configured author pages containing consistent, valuable content will likely see even greater lift over time, and any existing author rank may well influence the ranking of new content on the same topic produced by that established author.

Ultimately, Google’s desire to identify high-quality sources of original, expert content is a good thing for content authors. You won’t be lost without it, but you may benefit from taking the time to work out the configuration details of implementing Google Authorship Markup on your website or blog.

About The Author

Karen DeJarnette
Karen DeJarnette is a senior SEO Strategy Analyst at Expedia Inc. Previously, she was in-house SEO at and was 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. She also randomly adds to her own blog, The SEO Ace.