07/22/2014

Author Rank – Big Bang or Already Here

Author Rank - big bang theoryIf you are thinking there’s been so much said about Author Rank can there possibly be anything new and why should we even care, keep reading.

Author Rank’s Big Bang

Respected authority on Author Rank, AJ Kohn has said:

AuthorRank could be more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined.

That sounds pretty big, more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined. Obviously if that is the case, there won’t be any question when Google rolls out Author Rank.  We will know!  And that is at the top of the list on reasons why some people think that author rank hasn’t been rolled out yet.

Let’s Be Clear About Author Rank

Before we explore this further let’s define exactly what we are talking about. Google filed a patent US 2012/0117059 A1 on November 9, 2010.  This patent is entitled Ranking Authors in Social Media Systems.

The overview of the patent says:

The author ranking technique described herein is a technique to rank authors in social media systems along various dimensions, using a variety of statistical methods for utilizing those dimensions…. (much more)

AJ Kohn reports this language from Google’s Agent Rank patent:

The identity of individual agents responsible for content can be used to influence search ratings.

Assuming that a given agent has a high reputational score, representing an established reputation for authoring valuable content, then additional content authored and signed by that agent will be promoted relative to unsigned content or content from less reputable agents in search results

I don’t know if Mr. Kohn is referring to Agent Rank patent US 2007/0033168 A1) which was filed in 2005 and seems to be more about ranking linked information or if it was a misnomer for the most recent patent filed in 2009, Ranking Authors is Social Media Systems.  But it really doesn’t matter, it is the definition guiding most discussions of Author Rank.

So let’s break it down.  This is essentially saying that authors will be ranked and given a score that will be used in determining search results and authors with a high score and reputation will have the edge over agents with a lower score and reputation.

The patent goes on to discuss how this score will be calculated but that isn’t important for our discussion right now.

And guess what.  That’s all we know for sure about Author Rank.  Google isn’t telling us much more other than Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt’s,  recent statement:

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification….  Eric Schmidt

Everything else you read or hear from me or anybody else is pretty much speculation based on this information.

But what we do know for sure is that Google has a patent on a process to evaluate an author’s content and to use that information as ranking factor in the search results.

Most experts say this hasn’t happened yet but many other regular users think they are seeing signs of some sort of author ranking system at work now.

Google Has Been Ranking Authors for Years

If we are just talking about a mechanism for evaluating the content of an author to use as a ranking signal this has been going on for quite awhile.  Looking at the facts, the agent Rank Patent was filed in 20o5, the most recent patent for ranking authors in social media was filed in 2009, and in at WordCamp, a WordPress Conference, in 2010 Matt Cutts confirmed Google looked at ways to evaluate the credibility of authors on Facebook and Twitter.

People just don’t file a patent based on an idea.  Wikipedia states:

To file a patent the patent must disclose how to make and use an invention in sufficient detail so that other persons of ordinary skill in the art of the invention can make and use the invention without undue experimentation. Wikipedia

So we have to assume that by the time Google filed a patent in 2009 they had made significant progress in their objective to score authors and use it as a ranking signal.  And since it has been four years since they filed that patent they should be real close to implementing Author Rank, if they haven’t done so already.  I think we can see signs of author rank right now.

However, a large contingency of Author Rank experts and hobbyist say No.  Maybe there are waiting for AJ Kohn’s predicted pandemonium that will be worse than all of the Panda updates combined.

This is a possibility, but let’s look at another possible scenario.

Google filed for the patent in 2009.  They have had four years to ready Author Rank and roll it out.  Since 2009 they have created Google Plus and implemented Google Authorship, two important ingredients.  Google Plus, a social network to gather social signals and Google Authorship, a process to identify authors and the content they write.  Add this to Google’s extensive experience in gathering data and social signals and you have all of the elements needed for Author Ranking.

So is it active or not?  No big bang.  No major disruptions.

Author Rank Might Be Active

I don’t think the implementation of Author Rank has to be that disruptive.  I’m not a software engineer, but sometimes common sense and logic work.

The purpose of Author Rank is to evaluate the content that authors create and measure it based on the social signals that content receives.  Then that score will influence the ranking of that content in the search results.  In a sense, this is just another ranking signal in addition to the over 200 other ranking signals in the Google algorithm.

Should it be pandemonium.  Maybe not.

If Google were to blow away their current methods of ranking websites and the content on those websites and replace it with Author Rank it could be extremely disruptive.  But there’s no reason to do that.  The current ranking system will probably stay in place with just one more ranking signal to better rank the content created by individual authors.

This could be a slow process that may have already started.  An author creates content and Google indexes the content and assigns an author score to that content.  When that content is relevant to a search, Author Rank will be one more ranking signal to determine the contents position in the search results.  It doesn’t have to be a catastrophic upheaval, but a simple additional signal.  We have to remember that probably 90% or more of the web consists of generic content with no author tags, so author rank can slowly be blended in.

So what proof is there that Author Rank or some other ranking mechanism for authors is at work?

And what proof is there that it isn’t?

I asked the Google Authorship and Author Rank community how do we know that Author Rank hasn’t been implemented?  The people I talked to, including some recognized experts, didn’t have an answer.  The said it was impossible to prove that something didn’t exist.  That’s reasonable, however, nobody was able to paint a picture of what we would see once Author Rank was implemented, except that we will definitely know.  That could be the case, but I still think I see small signs that there is some for author ranking happening right now.

I think one of the most obvious cases that authors are being ranked are embodied in Mark Traphagen   Mark has a very unique attribute.  On Google Plus, Mark can share somebody else’s post and often that post will quickly appear on the first page of the natural organic search results.

My question is how does he do it?  If we approach this from a traditional SEO perspective we don’t see any conventional ranking signals.  This G+ post is not on a website so there isn’t any page rank driving the top rankings in the SERPs.  Mark didn’t write any content so it isn’t his content that warranted top ranking in the search results.  The only thing you can pinpoint is Mark Traphagan. Google has determined that Mark Traphagan is a reliable source and that content from him, even if he didn’t write anything himself, is safe to rank at the top of the SERPs.  This meet the definition of what Google wants to do with Author Rank which is identify authors who have high reputation scores and favor that content in the search results.

There could be other explanations.  Some people say he might have a high page rank on his G+ profile.  Call it what you want, but is there really any difference in this case between a person and their G+ profile.

Other people say there is a preference for G+ in the search results.  I don’t doubt that. But millions of people are posting on G+ and very few of them experience this kind of success in the search results.  So it can only be something about the author.  The author is the unique identifier here.  There is a force, an author rank, that gives favorable ranking to Mark Traphagen.  Although it’s possible that somebody might hypothesize another reason for this behavior, it is just conjecture as well.  And sometimes the easiest most logical answer is right.

There are many similar cases to Mark Traphagan’s in which people are getting this kind of ranking with none of the traditional ranking signals that one expects.

I’ve had my own experience of what I think is the effect of Author Rank.  I started a new blog and created a few simple posts that didn’t appear in the search results.  Then I took a deeper look at Author Rank and what the experts were saying one should do to make author rank work. I followed the advice and in a short amount of time I had content instantly appearing on the first page of the search results.  I attributed this to Author Rank.

It wasn’t my website’s strength. It has a page rank of 1 with only 4 subscribers and less than 30 posts.  Not the kind of scenario that one expects in the SEO world to generate top rankings in the search results.

However, what I had going for me was lots of people who had circled me, a body of work centered on a topic that was getting decent socials signals, and one post that did really well, was given numerous +1 and frequently shared.  All the requirements for a good Author Ranking.

The people still waiting for the Big Bang of Author Rank, however, gave me many other possibilities for my top rankings in the search results.  But most of those scenarios were strained, didn’t align with traditional SEO concepts, and couldn’t be duplicated.  The easiest answer was that Author Rank was performing as expected.

Although there were some other convoluted ideas about what was driving the top rankings in the search results, Author Rank makes the most sense.  And just because other hypothetical theories existed, it did not negate that it was possible that author rank was also a possibility.

Some people have also tried to negate this example because they say that social signals exist already and it’s not Author Rank.  Just because social signals are already a part of the of Google’s ranking algorithm doesn’t mean they can’t also be a part of Author Rank.  In fact, it is one of the basics of Author Rank.  Author content will be measured with social signals and ranked accordingly.

The Good News You Can Use

It defies logic that Google would take a patent out for Author Agent or Author Rank 4 years ago, develop it, and not use it.  It could be rolled out slowly, almost a must because in the total scope of things not that many people are using Google Authorship yet.

I can’t say unequivocally that Author Rank is active, nor can anybody actually prove it isn’t active.  The fact that there hasn’t been an event more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined isn’t enough to go on.

But what I can say is there are a few scenarios of content ranking in the search results that can best be answered by the existence of Author Rank.

Google is under no obligation to announce the existence of Author Rank.  They don’t talk much about the 200 or more other ranking signals that they are testing and altering every day.  Why do they have to immediately announce Author Rank?

Now the good news.  Whether author rank is live or not if you follow the suggestions for building author rank like I did, you will have an easier time of getting your content on the first page of the search results like I did.