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INTERNATIONAL: Implement rel="author" for Enhanced Search Listings

by Matt Slater, May 24, 2012

In June of 2011 Google announced the release of rel="author", a tag which can be added to any article written on the Web and will enhance listings within Google Search and News results.

The author tag can be implemented quite simply and Google’s guidelines give an easy-to-follow guide with one of two options:

googleplusauthors

To make this process as easy as possible and to avoid any errors when implementing the tag, Google provides a Rich Snippets Testing Tool which ensures they can correctly parse the markup while providing a preview of how the tag would be displayed when appearing in the Google search results.

Everyone Wins

As the rel="author" mark up approaches its first anniversary there are plenty of reasons that have been suggested as reasons for the introduction of author verification by Google, which generally follow a couple of schools of thought:

  • The SERPs won’t be ignorant of social signals as a major factor in their rankings for too much longer. From Google’s perspective, there is a seemingly obvious lean towards integrating Google+ into influencing the SERPs.
  • Google can give an element of trust to links from marked up articles consequently providing a scalable measure of authority. Imagine if every online article was marked up with author tags - trust could be measured against each profile and be given a score relative to authority on the Web.
  • While it appears that in Google’s ideal world each and every article would be marked up, there has to be a carrot dangled in front of online authors to give them reason to markup their content. And the chance to stand out in the SERPs appears to be that carrot.
authormarkupserp

The markup, when displaying in the SERPs, adds your Google+ profile picture, name (with a link to your Google+ profile), and (occasionally, not always) the number of Google+ circles you are in.

The main take away from the enhanced listing is the obvious potential for an increased CTR. A visually different and stand out article, in comparison to a regular search result, is reason enough for many to add the rel="author" tag to their articles. Recent reports coming from SMX West 2012 suggest anywhere between a 36% to 400% uplift in click through rate for marked up articles.

Early Adopters

To say that the rel="author" tag has been a success to date would be an understatement. In less than 12 months it has been reported that 17% of SERPs in the US are showing the author tag while (according to econsultancy) the number is a slightly lower 13% in the UK. Still, when you take into account the number of articles on the Web then this is a particularly high figure in a relatively short amount of time.

Granted these estimates are based on a sample of the web and there are many people who are writing articles that probably don’t even have a Google+ account, but on this evidence it is fair to say that in such a short space of time, the rel="author" tag has seen a high number of keen and early adopters.

Leveraging Author Data In Your Niche

The introduction of a new dimension to search has also encouraged innovation within the search industry and the best of these so far provides some potentially invaluable data.

Being an expert in your industry or niche there’s a good chance that you’re aware of many of the leading voices that speak out via the web.

But the truth is you won’t know everyone and there’s a good chance there’s others writing about your niche that you should be aware of. Thankfully there’s a tool that can help discover these people, as well as turn up a mountain of useful data.

Released by Tom Anthony at the LinkLove Conference in London at the end of March, the Author Crawler Tool allows you to access author data linking to your site (or any site of your choosing) by pulling the top 1,000 links to the home page and crawling them for the rel="author" tag.

The most interesting data however, can be found using the Author Intersect tool which finds the links to other sites in your niche (as well as your own) and pulls the author data together to give you what many would consider a comprehensive list of authors writing about your subject area online.

The full data in the report can be used in a number of ways, a few ideas are:

  • Reach out and build relationships with relevant and respected industry figures.
  • Highlight them as an authority to receive links from.
  • Give them the opportunity to guest post on your blog or vice versa.
  • RSS their blog to receive the most up-to-date industry information.
authorstable

The Future of Authorship

It’s evident that authorship has been so far well received and the opportunity to distinguish and enhance a search result so easily is a rare one.

It would be fair to assume then, that the use of rel="author" should continue to grow thus enabling an element of authority to be attached to links provided by specific authors. The only obstacle that may hold author markups back is the potential opportunity for the tag to be manipulated by spammers and is something that Google will probably be keeping a close eye on.

And while Tom Anthony’s Author Crawler Tool provides some great insights into any industry, it’s worth remembering that this tool is still proof-of-concept and stronger, faster and more durable tools are likely on the horizon.

Rel="author" looks like it is here to stay and should be considered a standard when publishing any article on the Web. And with more insights becoming available, the opportunity to leverage fresh data could prove invaluable in ultimately understanding your niche.


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