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The Ghost of Google Authorship

Don’t believe everything you read.  Not all the functionality of Authorship is gone.

ghostYesterday, Google confirmed that authorship is no longer supported in web search.  SEO pundit, Mark Traphagen says, Google finally kills authorship and co-penned a detailed article with Eric Enge, It’s Over: The Rise & Fall Of Google Authorship For Search Results with a tag line, Google has completely dropped all authorship functionality from the search results and webmaster tools.

However, this might not be the case.

The Ghost of Google Authorship

True, you can no longer sign up for Google authorship and the authorship photos, rich snippets, and bylines are gone from Google’s search results.  But there are still some traces of Google authorship functionality at work.

Have you ever heard SEOs debate search results.  Common questions are were you signed in to Google or was it an incognito search?  The reason we ask those questions is because we know that the search results can be heavily influenced by our social activity, especially the on Google Plus.  If we are signed into Google we are viewing personal search results which are influenced by our social sphere.  If we are not signed into Google we get a more pure search result with less influence by who we are or other social factors.

Let me show you an example and in the process point how authorship is still at work.

I logged into my test account named Jean and searched, “Matt Cutts and Author Rank”.

Here are the search results with one of my posts that says Al Remetch near the top.  The only reason this post is at the top of Jean’s personal search results is because she has me in a circle and Google thought that if she was interested in me enough to circle me, she might be interested in some content I created that was relevant to her search query.

search results Matt Cutts author rank

Jean is seeing my content because she has me in a circle.

However, if I turn off the personal or private search results and conduct the same search. my post is gone.

search results incognito

For sophisticated Gplussers this is nothing new.  It happens all of the time.  People in your circles can often see your content in their search results. But let’s look a little closer and see what is work here.

But what links my blog post to me?

And the answer is Google Authorship mark up.

Google Authorship Is/Was the Link from Your Content to You and Your Followers

If it wasn’t for my Authorship Markup, Google would have no precise way of connecting my content to me.  But because I had implemented Google authorship markup, Google knew this content was mine and knew that Jean had me in a circle, and as a result placed my content near the top of her search results.

If Google Authorship had not been implemented it would have not been as easy for Google to connect the content to me and show it in the search results to the people that have me in a circle.

Fortunately this aspect of Google Authorship or at least its functionality is still intact for content created before Google phased out Authorship markup.  And I haven’t tested if the relationship between me and my content still exists which will allow people who are following me to see my content in the search results.  This post will be a test.

Maybe Google has figured out another way to connect an author’s G+ profile to their content or maybe it is a remnant of Google Authorship and all of it’s functionality isn’t gone.  Although this might not sound that important now, it could have extreme ramifications in the future.  It would be very interesting if the people who implemented Google Authorship now have the edge over those who didn’t by providing a conduit for their content to their Gplus profile and onward to the people who have them in a circle.


The New Start a Hangout Button

Google has created a new button that can be placed on your website to allow people to start a hangout from your web page.  Here it is just one of the possible buttons.  I had no idea it was so easy.

Here is one example of the code you can use to get a similar button.

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”https://apis.google.com/js/platform.js“></script>

<div class=”g-hangout” data-render=”createhangout”></div>

More information here.

If you click the hangout button you will immediately access a live active hangout.  However, right now, you may be the only one in the hangout.

Thanks Todd Nakamura for sharing this code.




Author Rank – The Debate Continues

The author rank debateIs Author Rank Here or Not

For a couple of years now SEO types have debated whether Google’s author rank has been implemented or not.  For this discussion I’m defining Author Rank as a process in which Google scores an author and uses that score as one of the signals in determining where to rank the author’s content in the search results.  Most of the SEO community doesn’t think it has been implemented yet and two knowledgeable SEO pundits, Mark Traphagen and Eric Enge, presented a hang out today to tell why they don’t think author rank or any variation is live.

I watched the hangout and Mark Traphagen is utterly brilliant with an encyclopedic command of the facts. He is articulate and he and Eric made a very reasonable presentation why theybelieve that author rank or any kind of author scoring isn’t active yet.  However, as good as there explanations were, it is not conclusive and in some cases based on flawed knowledge. At the very least it deserves some more discussion.

Rand Fishkin’s Brush With Author Rank

Mark Traphagen did acknowledge a post shared by Rand Fishkin recently that definitely points to the distinct possibility that authorship or author rank may influence search results.  To briefly recap, Craig Addyman posted an interview with Rand Fishking on his “unauthoritative” blog and it didn’t rank very well in the search results, bouncing between 9th and 12 position for several months. However, when Craig Addyman added authorship markup for Rand Fishkin to the blog post, the article jumped to the number one position in the search results.  Rand Fishkin coyly commented, “Authorship isn’t supposed to impact rankings directly, right?”

But, this authorship markup obviously did impact the search results.  Before authorship it was ranking between position 9 and 12, after authorship position 1.  However, I’d like to insert here that it probably wasn’t authorship that caused the post to move to the number one position.  Most people will agree that the mere existence of authorship will not impact the search results.  If it was just authorship this would work for anybody that has authorship markup.  But it doesn’t. Rather, it was the author represented by the authorship markup, which points more to author rank than authorship.  Rand Fishkin is definitely an expert in his field with a ton of content that receives positive social signals and frequent resharing, all of the suspected ingredients for building authorship.

Mark Traphagen dismisses this saying it could have been something else.  He suggest that  maybe Google thought an interview about Rand Fishkin by Rand Fishking merited top billing.  Although this idea still includes the idea that Rand Fishkin has some klout (author score) it is possible.  But then again it presents just as powerful argument for author rank. And here’s why.

The Core of Google’s Ranking Algorithm

Matt Cutt’s, chief SEO guru, at Google tells us that there are two main elements to ranking content in the search results.

The first is relevance. For content to rank in the search results it has to be relevant to the search query.  This is most easily demonstrated when the keywords in the query are also in the content.

The second is reputation or reliability.  In the past this has often been determined by things like page rank.  If the content is on a web page that has a strong page rank, and it is the content that appears to be the most relevant to the search query than Google can have some confidence that the content is quality content and give it top rankings in the search results.

So let’s look at the Rand Fishkin example again.  The content was positioned between 9 and 12.  The content was probably relevant to the search query to even be this high in the search results, but as Craid Addyman says, it was on an unauthoritative blog.  The blog didn’t have enough juice to give Google the confidence it needed to position this content higher in the search results.

However, when authorship markup for Rand Fishkin was added this content moved from number 9 to number 1.  The content didn’t change.  What changed was the reliability factor.  That reliability or reputation factor was content attributed to Rand Fishkin.  There was something about Rand Fishkin that gave Google the confidence they needed to give this content top billing in the number one position in the search results.  That something could very easily be Author Rank.

More Possible Flaws in Mark and Eric’s Argument Against Author Rank

Also in this hangout Eric Enge told us that Google isn’t broken and reminded us that search was Google’s bread and butter and Google wasn’t going to do anything that would diminish the quality of the search results.  He also said that implementing author rank right now while so many experts aren’t using authorship mark up isn’t likely.  He said it just wouldn’t be fair for a writer who has had authorship mark up to outrank a leading expert in the field, just because the writer had taken the steps to include authorship mark up in his blog.  As esteemed as Eric Enge is I think this is a complete misunderstanding of the ranking process. or at least he spoke without thinking this through.  But before I address that I just want to suggest that possibly Eric is making author rank much more complicated than it needs to be.

Let’s go back to the two core elements of author rank; relevance and reliability.

Obviously author rank falls under reliability.  Author rank isn’t a ranking of authors against each other.  It is a reliability or trust score for specific content that is also relevant to the search query.

Again, Google is going to start with relevance.  Is the content relevant to the search query?

Then is the content reliable.  Google needs some confidence in the content to rank it at the top of the search results.  That confidence can from page rank or it can come from author rank.  I have seen many instances (just like the Rand Fishkin story above) of content immediately ranking high on page one of the search results in the absence of page rank where author rank could have been the only thing creating a reliability score. This does not have to be a major upheaval of the search results.  Google is going to look for a reliability score and if they can’t get it from page rank why not pull it from author rank.

As far as author rank being unfair to established experts who have not implemented Google authorship, that’s a misunderstanding of both Google’s ranking process and author rank.

Google needs a reliability score. That score will either come from among other things page rank or author rank.  For the expert without authorship to rank he will need his content to be on an accredited source, a website or blog with a high decent page rank.  If Google is already ranking him or her because of who they are, than that is just more evidence of author rank.  Now as far as Eric’s concerns about a possible injustice of author rank allowing a regular person to outrank an esteemed expert just because the regular person embedded some authorship code, that’s not going to happen.  That’s not what author rank is.  That is authorship.  For a person to develop an author rank score that will outrank other content, that person will need a significant body of work with positive social signals to demonstrate they are indeed an expert or authority on that top.  And if they do have these positive signals that have built up their author rank than they are just as viable authority as the expert who isn’t using Google authorship.  And before semantic search the expert would have little chance of ranking if he or she didn’t have a strong reliability signal in the form of page rank.

Author rank is not like to upset the apple cart of quality search results because search in most cases search is so specific, especially so with advent of semantic search.  A person will usually be searching for some specific piece of information.  Only limited content will have the exact answer to the query.  With ten search results per page there will be room for both the established expert with no authorship and other experts with high author rank demonstrating their expertise and author.

Let’s Not Forget the Why of Author Rank

Finally, let’s go back to one of the original goals of author rank  Google wants to display the best content, the most relevant and reliable content, for any search. If Google limits themselves to just accomplished website with high page rank, they know this may not always be the best content.  Page rank determined by inbound links is often flawed.  There’s the well known problem of fake purchased links, but there is also the problems of webmasters determining who get a link and who doesn’t.  This isn’t always the best indicator.  And if it is the only indicator, lots of great content on low page ranking websites would be ignored.  However, identifying and scoring experts on a topic eliminates this problem.  It is what caused Rank Fishkin’s content on an unauthoritative blog to jump into the number one top ranking.

Author Rank is Next

Matt Cutts at Pubcon 2013


Matt Cutts told us at Pubcon in Las Vegas last October that Google that they were tightening up Google Authorship.  He said that Google wanted to make sure that the people they show as authors are high quality authors and that if they reduced the amount of authorship by 10 or 15% they would radically improve the quality of the search results.


Barry Schwartz reported in Search Engine Round Table that there has been indeed a sharp decline in the number of authorship snippets in the search results. He even has a graph to prove it.

Author Rank

Since Google quickly made good on its promise to scale back authorship snippets in the search results it might be wise to re examine what Matt Cutts had to say about Author Rank.

Cutts said that Google was looking at detecting and boosting authorities in the search results. He said that if you are an authority in a particular topic to keep writing about that topic and deepening the amount of content that you have.  He said that you really want to be a resource and an authority.  And if you do turn out to be an authority you are more likely to be boosted in the search results by these Google changes.

Later in his address Cutts talks about the effects of social on author rank.  He says that plus ones, retweets, etc will not have an effect on ranking in the short term but left it open for the future.  He said that although it’s not the case that +1′s give you a boost in the rankings right now, however in the long term having good social signals is a reflection of being an authority and the type of person that people listen to. And if social signals reflect that you are the type of person that someone wants to listen to, then search engines want to listen to you as well.  His advice was not to get it backwards and strive for +1′s, but rather to become an expert that people want to listen to and attract the social signals that will also signal the search engine that you are an authority and boost you in the search results.

Action Steps

We’ve been reading for a couple of years what it takes to build author authority and improve your author rank.  Obviously it starts with good content.  Just as Matt Cutts said you need to become an authority in your field and create content that garners social signals in the form of +1′s, resharing, etc.  However, although it starts with good content, if you want it to appear in the search results don’t forget good old fashioned SEO.  Google still depends on keywords to determine if your content is relevant to the search query.

Also, don’t ignore creating a large body of work around your field of expertise.  Cutts said to keep writing about your particular topic and deepening the amount of content that you have.  This means creating original content and creating it on the web, not on Gplus, although you most definitely have to share it there.  I think many people initially flocked to Gplus because they had a hunch that it would ultimately boost author rank, but it is probably not going to happen if you are just resharing other people’s content.  That doesn’t make you an expert or an authority.  You need your own content and I suggest creating it on a blog.  It’s been my experience that unless you are a very heavy hitter with lot’s of Google juice your Google Plus posts will not rank as fast organically as a blog post in the search results.  Usually the Gplus posts that you see in the search results are personal search results that only you and the people who have you in a circle can see.

See this post to get links to validate content mentioned above.

View Matt Cutts keynot address at Pubcon



Did Matt Cutts Announce Author Rank and Nobody Noticed

Matt Cutts at Pubcon 2013I think Matt Cutts announced the existence of Author Rank at Pubcon 2013 in Las Vegas and nobody noticed.

Let’s begin by reviewing what Author Rank is.  Some of the best information on Author Rank comes from AJ Kohn.  In an article in Blind Five Year Old, AJ says.

The idea behind AuthorRank is that your reputation as a content creator will influence the ranking of search results.

He then provides 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.

Now let’s jump to Matt Cutts keynote at Pubcon 2013.  Matt Cutts begins by telling us that one of the best ways of looking at where Google is going is looking at where Google has gone. He then goes through a list of recent Google’s activities and talks about voice search, conversational search, Google Now, Panda, and subtly slips in what looks like author rank.

Matt Cutts said Google has been looking at detecting and boosting authorities.  He gave an example, “If you are an authority in the medical space we want to be able to know that and start to push you up a little bit higher whenever a medical query comes along.  He says this isn’t done by hand and applies to thousands of queries.

This is what is described in the Author Agent patent.  Google is identifying authorities and giving those authorities a boost in the rankings.

So, why didn’t Matt Cutts identify this as author rank?  We can probably get a hint from what he said about Page Rank.  He addressed the popular question when are the page rank scores going to be updated.  He said that internally the page rank scores are updated every day but that the pipeline feed to the Google tool bar broke earlier in the year.  When deciding whether to fix it or not, they chose not to do so right away because people were already obsessing too much over page rank.  My guess is Google probably wants to avoid the media frenzy and obsession with author rank if it were specifically identified.  Instead they casually announced the functionality of author rank as described by AJ Kohn and in the patent.  A quiet nondescript roll out just like Hummingbird.

If you have any doubt that authors are being scored you only have to fast forward to the end of keynote when Matt Cutts talks about tightening up authorship.  He said that Google wants to make sure that who Google shows as authors are high quality authors and if they reduce the number of authors they show by 10 to 15 percent it radically improves the quality of authors that they show.  He would not be able to make such a definitive statement without having some kind of score on all the authorship authors.

The facts for this article have been extracted from the video below.

1:28 The best way to look at where Google is going is by looking at where we have gone.

9:15 Looking at detecting and boosting authorities

23:50 Tightening up Authorship

To more easily access the time time code snippets go here.


Buy Shares of Al Remetch
Buy Shares of Neil Feree
Buy shares of Mike Allton
Buy Shares of Jeff Buyers
Buy Shares of Christine DeGraff
Buy Shares of Daniel Campbell

Where did the 7 Pack Go – Local Search

A huge change in the local search results.  For approximately 300 business categories the familiar local 7 pack has been replaced by the carousel search results and only the carousel search results.

wedding carousel replaces local listings

You’ve probably seen the carousel for various search results.  For select business categories, primarily around the dining and entertainment, when a search was conducted the carousel with thumbnails appeared at the top of the page.  And the familiar 7 pack or 3 pack (SEO talk for what essentially looked like telephone directory listings) appeared in the body of the search results.

7 pack auto insurance

But now, the directory like listings of the local search results is gone and only the carousel listings remain.

This may create some backlash from both customers and businesses.  With the traditional local 7 pack listing it is easy to see a list of businesses, their address, and phone numbers. But now, with just the carousel across the top of the search results it isn’t as easy to access the phone numbers.

To see the phone number and address for a business you need to click on the thumbnail in the carousel. You are then greeted with a search result page completely dedicated to that business. The familiar Google directory listing is at the top of the page and there is a large information card for the business in the right column with the business name, address, phone number, reviews, and other relevant information.

Carousel search results page

Although this page provides the customer with just about everything they would like to know about the business it isn’t as convenient to readily see addresses and phone numbers for several businesses at once.  However, it is possible that consumers may like this new layout better once they get used to it.

The experience on an iPad search is interesting. If you use the Google browser the search results appear in the familiar 7 pack.  However, if you use the Safari browser the search results also appear in a carousel across the top.  When you touch a thumbnail, the critical information for that business immediately appears on your screen.  Interestingly, on the iPad it seems easier to quickly compare the information from each business.

On the iPhone, the traditional 7pack appears on both the Google browser and Safari. And it also appears that way in the Google browser on Android.