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. See, Google has been fighting to clean up the quality of results for years, but in recent times, the search engine has been more aggressive in ensuring quality content populates the results by implementing algorithmic updates like Panda, along with other campaigns like Google Authorship.
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:
This is what 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.
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 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 taking the first step into Google Authorship, 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. Those dimensions were just recently super-sized to 2120 x 1192 pixels.
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 a couple different ways you can do this. The first is way works if you have an email address that matches the domain of the site you contribute to. The second option allows you to link your Google+ profile to your content through the rel=author markup. (Note that you can do this for guest posting individual articles, and it works in most instances but depends on the website).
Google offers easy-to-follow instructions here on how to accomplish both. And because the process is a continuous development, checking back with the linked-to Google help files should offer the most up-to-date information on how to do this.
In addition to Google's instructions, we also recommend you install an author bio plugin for your blog that renders on individual author posts. This makes it easy and intuitive to link to and from the Google+ profile as necessary.
Unique Scenarios for Claiming Authorship
If you are in a situation where you don't want to or can't add a plugin for a bio at the end of the content, there are other ways to go about attributing authorship. For example, our newsletter articles don't have a bio at the end, so we took a slightly different route by linking to an author page. Let's quickly walk through the process we implemented.
We made sure to have bylines on each article first:
Those bylines are hyperlinked to an author page, and anchored to the individual author's bio, like so:
The bio for the author then links to the individual's Google+ profile.
And don't forget about other things like your YouTube account. Google owns YouTube, and authorship for videos is an option now.
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 begin to track your author analytics through Google to see how your content is performing.
Content Ownership for Companies
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.