BACK TO BASICS: Claiming Your Authorship on the Web
At SMX West in March, one hot topic was Google Authorship and "Author Rank" — a term that's come to fruition in the marketing industry based on "Agent Rank," a patent Google has on algorithmic signals intended to identify and rank content producers. And in fact, we're already seeing favorable outcomes for those who have claimed authorship in the search results, in some instances.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves; many content producers haven't even set up and verified Google Authorship yet. And since Google Authorship is ultimately a factor in the Author Rank scenario, this is an important next step if you create content for the Web.
In this Back to Basics article, we'll break down the concept of authorship, why it's important, how Google+ factors, and offer step-by-step guidelines for how to claim your authorship today.
What is Authorship?
Google Authorship is a program that ultimately helps the search engine on its mission to clean up the content on the web. Google has been fighting to clean up the quality of results for years, and in recent times the search engine has made aggressive moves to ensure quality content populates the results by implementing algorithmic updates like Panda, along with campaigns like Google Authorship that ties content to its author, creating and incentive for publishing quality content.
How Google Authorship Works
Google Authorship starts with you. First, are you a writer on the web? Do you publish to your own site, someone else's blog or your company blog? If so, then you want to tell Google that it is, in fact, you who is the author of that content.
Once you tell Google and Google verifies you as the author, then your content will start showing up in the results looking something like this:
The image alongside the description is referred to as a "rich snippet." It's an enhanced version of your search results listing, and with Google Authorship it can show up in several ways.
For example, it can show up next to an individual post the author wrote (as in the example above), or as an image that represents an entire website, like this one:
The Britney Spears example works well for when a brand can be represented by one individual. How we come to either one of the results shown above depends on how we implement the authorship coding in HTML. More on implementation below.
How Google+ Factors into Authorship
It's been more than a year since we wrote about Google's "Search, plus Your World," when we all stood up and realized Google+ was going to be a huge factor in changing the SERPs as we knew it. And now we know how Google+ ties into claiming authorship on the web, and just how important that is to brands, publishers and writers online.
If you have any Google accounts at all — be it for analytics, a Gmail account or any other product Google offers, you have a Google+ profile by default that's tied to the email you use to access those accounts.
But until you actually go in and edit it, it'll just sit faceless, without much information attached to it. It'll look something like this:
To see what your Google+ account looks like today, go to the Google+ home page and sign in with your username and password.
Signing Up for Google Authorship
If you're interested in being confirmed in the Google Authorship program, there are a few things to get in order.
1. Go Prep Your Google+ Profile
Individual authors should set up their Google+ profile by doing a couple things at minimum, like uploading a headshot, and filling out the "contributor to" information in the "About" section. The specs for the main profile pic are 250 x 250 pixels in size, and should be a quality, recognizable image of your face.
Note that the "cover" image section is where you have additional opportunity for branding your business or yourself. As of November 2013, the cover image displays on a Google+ profile at a 16:9 aspect ratio from a recommended dimension of 1080 x 608 pixels. You can upload an image as small as 480 x 270 pixels for the cover image and as large as 2120 x 1192.
For now, Google+ participants can get by with just having the bare minimum information on their profile to be verified as authors, but it's wise to get a leg up and start optimizing your profile and engaging with your community sooner than later, even if it's just minimal. This article by Bill Slawski at SEO by the Sea suggests that Author Rank could take signals into account like frequency of posts by authors on Google+ and much more.
2. Verify Authorship with Google
There are two ways you can do this. The first way requires an email address that matches the domain of the site you contribute to. The second way links your Google+ profile to each individual piece of content you write using a bi-directional (reciprocal) link and a piece of code called rel=author markup.
Google offers easy-to-follow instructions here on how to accomplish both. And because Google is always updating its processes, you may want to check back with that resource as Google help files offer the most up-to-date information on how to do this.
Implementing the Reciprocal Link Method: Rel=Author Code
This method is most likely the one you'll use if you write content for multiple publications. This is the most flexible method because it can be applied to every site and piece of content you have authored. It requires you take two steps — the first is to include proper rel=author code on every web page with content you wrote and the second is listing that publication on your Google+ profile. Read the "Option 2" steps on this Google support page for detailed instructions, which we also describe here:
1. On the web page with content you wrote, link to your Google+ profile with this code:
<a href="[your Google+ profile URL]?rel=author" rel="author">Google+</a>
For example, if Bruce Clay wanted to include rel=author markup on content he wrote he would include this link on the page:
Follow me, Bruce Clay on <a href="https://plus.google.com/108709924006660387529?rel=author" rel="author">Google+</a>.
2. On your Google+ profile, link to the site from the "Contributor to" section.
You can add publications to the "Contributor to" section by viewing your profile, clicking the About tab, and clicking "Edit" in the "Links" section. You only have to do this step once to add new sites that you contribute to. Once you've added them here, you don't have to do this again no matter how many times you publish content on this domain.
While you're adding to your Google+ profile, link up your profiles and all properties where you publish under the "Other profiles" section. If you publish content to YouTube, for example, include these YouTube channels in "Other profiles"; Google owns YouTube and you can benefit from specified markup Google has for authorship for videos.
For sites or blogs on WordPress, we recommend installing an author bio plugin as it streamlines the markup process by automatically including it on every post. On the Bruce Clay, Inc. blog, we have installed an author bio plugin so that every post written by a single author includes the necessary rel=author markup for that author. This way the necessary Google Authorship code shows up on every post automatically and the author doesn't have to include the code within their post each time they write. We recommend installing and using an author bio plugin if your blog is in WordPress.
Verification Can Be a Waiting Game
Once you've take the appropriate steps to verify authorship with Google, it can take up to several weeks or more for you to start seeing the results. If you've gone the "verify your email" route, you'll get a confirmation that your submission was received. You should also then get a confirmation email that welcomes you to Authorship, once you're verified.
If you've gone the alternate route and linked your Google+ profile with the rel=author markup, and you haven't heard anything about your verification, chances are it's still moving forward if it's been done correctly. Check out the structured data testing tool that helps you verify it's been set up right.
Once you've been verified and/or notice your search results are rendering properly, you can use one of the major benefits of the Google Authorship program — viewing your author analytics through Google to see how content you wrote is performing.
Content Ownership for Companies: Rel=Publisher
If the person signing up for Google Authorship is also the "face" of the company (as we saw in the Britney Spears example earlier in the post), then Authorship works well. But what if it's a situation where a company website wouldn't be appropriately represented with one person's face attached to it in the results?
This is where the Google+ pages come in handy. These pages are more appropriate to tie a company website to Google+. Head spinning yet? Here's the breakdown:
You can use both options on your website as needed. You can use the rel=publisher on the home page, which connects your Google+ page to your website and its content. And you can use the rel=author on your blog pages, tying individual posts to authors.
Google gives instruction on how to implement rel=publisher markup here. In WordPress, it's usually as simple as adding the Google+ page link to a field in the dashboard.
Google Authorship — Where to Next?
If you create content on the web, whether you're a company or writer by trade, Google Authorship is and will continue to be important to visibility and trust signals in the search engine. While Google+ has been met with mixed feelings since its introduction, we simply can't ignore its current and potential impact on a business's or individual writer's brand.