I Believe that Authors are the Future – BrightonSEO Presentation
One again I had the pleasure of speaking at BrightonSEO – which is probably has the biggest SEO conference audience in Europe. I presented a 20/20 on the subject of authorship and what it will mean for SEO. The video and slide deck are below and I’ve included a transcript of the talk. Kudos if you know who the middle author is.
1. If we think about search rankings, they’re really quite anonymous. Before search plus your world, there aren’t really any people signals alongside rankings. While an SEO know why results are as they are, but it’s not so easy for users to find this out. In short, my housemate Tom doesn’t know where his rankings come from, and he doesn’t care.
2. What’s wrong with that? Well, because Google over relies on links in its PageRank algorithm, it’s been rather too easy to game the system. It’s all very possible for an SEO to buy links that enhance their ranking, but very difficult for Google to police. SEO as an industry has been playing a sort of cat and mouse game with Google ever since both existed.
3. There are new factors on the algorithm such as social shares that can enhance ranking, but as yet, they haven’t added all that much weight. Link building is far from dead, and pursuing social shares instead of links is like a rush for Fools Gold. But Google needs to do more to make its results of higher quality
4. The major step in 2011 was to add Google Panda, which knocked out sites of largely lower quality scores. The update took particular dislike to user generated content that filled up websites, and was effectively a reaction against the cult of the amateur that was often replacing quality journalism in search results. – particularly in the long tail.
5. The next natural step is to introduce the authority of particular authors. Google patented Agent Rank as early as 2007 – here’s patent blogger Bill Slawski talking about the effect this could have. Content creators could be given reputation scores, which could influence the rankings of page where their content appears, or which they endorse.
6. With this step, we enter a phase where there are additional factors in the algorithm (thanks to Simon Penson for this slide). It goes by the name Agent, Trust or Author rank, but it’s all largely the same. Who wrote it (and what their history of) + traditional PageRank + who shared it (each with their own score) is a simplification of how things might be in the future.
7. So how does Google measure this? A Google profile effectively works as your online ID card. A HTML5 snippet informs Google that an author has written a particular post via the Google profile. This profile then links back to the homepage of the site and Google possibly acknowledges the PageRank of the post + your face might show up on the SERPs.
8. Implementing is dead easy. On single author WordPress sites you can just link your author name to your Google+ profile. Just include ?rel=author and add a + to the anchor. You can edit the theme editor index.php and single.php files to switch out with a HTML link. You then link back to your blog from Google Plus. Test it out with the rich snipper tool.
9. For sites with multiple authors Google says the best way is to verify by email on every page. I don’t really want my journalists getting hustled, so I copied Search Engine Land’s implementation. This links the rel=”author” to an author profile on a site, then this links through to Google+ using rel=”me” markup.
10. Grazia Daily gets a good amount of traffic and I wanted to see if having an author’s pic on a search result would make any difference. Basically, it’s really difficult to tell at this stage. The best article I found had a really lame data set. It’s probably a good thing – Tom Anthony has built a tool called SERP Turkey if you want to test it out, but I just use my intuition.
11. But that’s not all. There could be an author ID to every action an author takes – they could author an article, interview someone in a video, take pictures and write comments. All of these things could be given particular weight, and they could all gain more weight if shared or linked to. For instance, I reckon we’ll soon see a Google comment system with plus one integration.
12. The technology to measure author rank effectively already exists. Chartbeat and Parse.ly Dash are tools that can rank authors according to metrics such as pageviews and social shares. Tom Antony (again) has also built an author ranking tool. All of this contributes to measuring journalism – and authorship gets rather more competitive.
13. Basically authors will create value through the system. If you had the ghost of Joseph Pullitzer writing for you (and he had a Google+ profile), you’d probably get a higher authority score than Katie Price’s forays into journalism. Authors build their own authority, and this means they create value for themselves and become transferable.
14. Authors will become more authoritative at the verticals that they are specialists in. For instance, if you wrote for Grazia, you’d hopefully become more authoritative in fashion, not football. What’s important is that it’s hard to build up authority, but easy to lose. If you start giving irrelevant endorsements outside your vertical, you’ll likely lose it.
15. Could you game the system? Possibly. Using ‘personas’ you could use fake profiles to build up authority in certain niches, but it’s my reckoning that if they became anywhere near popular you’d get found out. There’s a fair amount of authentication involved in this system, and it’s possible that content strategy will need to move inhouse.
16. On the second part of the ‘don’t be evil’ school of thinking, the new system could also mean that piracy won’t be quite as virulent as it currently is. An author might be seen as the creator of a piece of content, and once recorded it becomes incredibly difficult to rip. SOPA clearly wasn’t such a great idea – but this is.
17. It’s a hard time to be a journalist, but thankfully due to Google Panda (yes, I said that) and authorship, perhaps the tides are turning and the Demand Media’s and Mahalo’s of the world need to think about recruiting top notch journalists rather than amateurs. If you’re getting knock off copy to spin articles, it might be time to reconsider.
18. To have a serious effect, I’d expect this to take around 18 months. Authorship markup is less than a year old, and it’s not that widely adopted. Additionally, Google has only just levelled the playing field and allowed everyone’s snippets to show up. It’ll take a while for Google to properly understand the authority – and there’s even a chance it will ditch it!
19. But why not do it now? It’s easy to implement. I’ve done it across four sites. Same brief every time, and generally content management systems can make the changes fairly easily. If you’re using WordPress, I’d imagine turnaround time to be half an hour. The biggest pain will be in your writing staff or client setting up Google+ profiles (I’ve found!)
20. And I think you should do it because search results already look like this on Google.com, and it’ll be coming to a SERP near you soon. Google+ (and hopefully other social networks) will begin to influence search results and make them really rather unfamiliar to the SERPs we know. This means your social, search and content strategies need to work together – it’s an integrated future.
The reaction was great – it seems like people certainly enjoyed it:
After party was insane. I’m so hungover (still)