Search marketing is a rapidly evolving industry - it’s exciting. This rapid evolution has helped us recognize the benefit of being agile in response to change. We’ve seen the landscape change frequently and drastically over the past year which has caused many search marketers and businesses to reevaluate their current online marketing strategies, implement new link building approaches and utilize new marketing channels to drive traffic and conversions. With this has come a renewed commitment to content marketing as an effective approach to earn links and acquire traffic. With that being said, I think it’s important to ask ourselves if we using all the tools at our disposal to maximize these efforts.
I’d like to acknowledge that there are already quite a few great resources on the topic of authorship for your content- specifically Rel=Author and Rel=Publisher. I’m continuously surprised to see how many authors are still not taking advantage of this great resource, which helped me to justify writing another post on the subject. So for those not familiar with the attributes or for others just getting on the band wagon, let’s start from the beginning.
On Tuesday, June 7th 2011, Google announced their support of authorship markup for content. Google said the experiment was to help searchers “find content from great authors.” There was speculation as to Google’s possible ulterior motives as the user adoption rate for Google+ around this time was lackluster to say the least. While we may never know the real answer, (Matt Cutts, feel free to leave a comment), what we do know are the inherent benefits of having rich snippets show up next to your content in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs).
What is Rel=Author?
Rel=Author is HTML markup in the code of a webpage that allows authors to associate their content with their Google+ profile. With this association comes a rich snippet (for our purposes this will be your Google+ profile photo) that appears next to your listing in Google’s SERPs. Even if you’re just now hearing about the attribute, chances are you’ve noticed the snippets showing up in the SERPS next to results. These authors are all using markup to associate their content back to their Google+ profiles.
Why Should You Care About Authorship?
Because you want your content to stand out! These are the best reasons I could come up with as to why all authors should be using this attribute:
- Rel=Author is simple to implement
- Based off of existing patents, it’s likely that in the near future Google will be looking closely at established authors to help determine authority and relevance
- Having a snippet (your Google+ profile head shot) appear next to your result helps to engage searchers by adding a personal touch to your content
- A snippet gives your content a certain amount of credibility when compared with posts on a results page lacking a snippet
- A snippet will help increase exposure. Admit it, your eyes are always drawn to any rich snippets that appear in a results page
- Having your content stand out leads to more clicks (higher CTR) which leads to more traffic and brand recognition
- All of these benefits can help to give your content more opportunity for social engagement. While links still rule the algorithm, social signals are starting to play a larger role in not only helping Google discover content but also as a ranking factor and trust signal.
How Does Rel=Author Work?
Google needs to discover (crawl) the two connecting signals (reciprocal links) you are sending from your Google+ profile to your content and vice versa. Search spiders and robots on an endless hunt for new pages and information and will eventually discover and crawl your content. It’s probably worth mentioning now that Google does allow you to link your content using a few different methods (more on this in a second).
In order for the magic to happen, place a link pointing back to your Google+ profile in either an author bio in your content or in the author page on a website or blog. If you are not linking directly to your Google+ profile in an author bio on your post but have a link pointing back to the author page instead, you will need a link pointing from your author page to your Google+ profile using your name as the anchor text in the link.
What You Need To Get Started
To start, you’ll need a Gmail account, a Google+ profile (simple to set up if you have a Gmail account), some great content and someone willing to post it. Or…instead of a Gmail account (here’s the alternative method I mentioned earlier), you can link to your content using a verified email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for content that’s posted on the same domain (SEO.com).
By verifying your email that’s on the same domain as your content here, your email will automatically show up in the "Work" section of your Google+ profile and Google will add the domain to the “Contributor to” section of your Google+ profile. Google will put a small check mark next to your email in your Google+ profile once it’s successfully been verified. Having these in place will save you the time and effort of adding it for every new post on that domain. It’s worth mentioning that if you have an email on the same domain that you’re posting on, you don’t have to use a verified address and can still use your Gmail address.
You will also want a Webmaster Tools account. While you can still successfully use the attribute without setting up a Webmaster Tools account, this free tool has some great features you’ll want to take advantage of (more on this in a minute).
How To Make It Work
Okay, let’s quickly review what we know. You’ll need a Gmail or verified email address, a Google+ profile, a kick-ass article on the topic of your choice and a link pointing back to your Google+ profile in either the author bio or author page. For your reference I’ve listed the HTML code you’ll use to include the author tag below. Just replace “your name here” and “your Google+ profile # here” with your name and Google+ profile ID number and you’ll be set. It’s important to remember that the Rel=Author parameter after the question mark needs to be included in the link in order for it to work.
<a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/your Google+ profile # here?rel=author">Your name here</a>
For your first couple of posts you may want to check and make sure your markup is implemented correctly, otherwise Google won’t display your snippet. Once you have a URL, you have the option to preview your result in Webmaster Tools by clicking on "Other Resources" in the left navigation and then clicking on the Rich Snippets Testing Tool.
If your markup is setup correctly your snippet will appear below your URL. If there is an issue, an option will appear below to verify a company email address. If you’re using your Gmail address and your snippet isn’t appearing, you’ll want to double check your code. If your snippet does appear and you’re using a Gmail address to associate your content, you’ll need to add the URL of your post or article to your Google+ profile. This can quickly be accomplished by clicking on “Edit Profile”, then scrolling down and clicking on to the “Contributor to” or the “Links” section (either one will work), clicking on “Add custom link” and adding your URL with an optional label (title of your post).
When Can I Expect To See My Snippet Appear In The SERPS?
If your code is implemented correctly but not showing up in the SERPS, Google states that it only shows authorship when it feels it will be useful (sorry Google didn’t define useful). Otherwise, how quickly your snippet appears depends on how often both your Google+ profile and the website or blog that’s hosting your content is crawled by Googlebot - allowing Google to make the connection between your content and Google+ profile. I’ve seen it vary from a couple of hours to a few days.
So how often does Google crawl your profile? Similar to websites, YouTube channels, individual YouTube videos and Google+ profiles can accumulate PageRank. We know there is a direct correlation between PageRank and crawl budget. Crawl budget can be defined as the resources Google dedicates to crawling your website or account (Hmmm...I feel another post coming on). Another way to make sure that Google and other search engines discover your new content quickly is to share it across your social channels and networks.
As mentioned earlier, utilizing a Webmaster Tools account is a quick way to see if the markup on your content is implemented correctly. Another useful feature of the tool is to monitor metrics beyond social engagement for the performance of posts linked back to your profile. This becomes especially useful if you’re guest posting or contributing content and you don’t have access to their web analytics tool and data.
With a Webmaster Tools account set up using your verified email or Gmail address, you can track Author stats which include metrics like Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and the Average ranking position of your content. If you are posting on your own website or blog you can use your own web analytics tool to track these and other valuable metrics like bounce rate, entrances, average time on page, search keywords, etc.
During Cyrus Shepard’s MozCon 2012 presentation, he mentioned how “optimizing” his snippet (Google+ head shot) led to a 35% higher click-through-rate for his posts. Because he had the patience and insight to test, he was able to optimize this aspect of his content marketing efforts.
The question on many people's minds after Rel=Author was released was how would we be able to use markup to connect businesses and brands to our websites and content. Google responded with Rel=Publisher which is supposed to work by adding a link from your website’s home page to your Google+ page which would allow a snippet from your business or organizations Google+ profile to show up for navigational queries (branded queries). Below are screenshots of the source code from Starbucks’ home page as well the result for the query “Starbucks” in Google.
As you can see using Rel=Publisher provides information for the organization’s latest posts on Google+, (not their website), the number of circlers, company logo and also the option for searchers to follow the company on Google+.
If you’re having trouble getting your snippet to appear using this attribute you can send in a Google+ page verification request (Google seems to be very selective with who Rel=Publisher will work for). It’s interesting to note one of the requirements on the request form is to have a “meaningful number of followers” and even more interesting to note that a few top businesses and brands on Google+ pages are showing up for navigational queries without using Rel=Publisher on their home page (I’ll let you do your own research here). It’s also possible for organizations, businesses and authors to get a snippet to appear in the SERPs by posting content to their Google+ profiles (another way for Google to encourage activity on their social networking service).
What Lies Ahead?
There are rumors based on existing patents Google owns that the search behemoth plans to roll out an AuthorRank algorithm update which would help established authors and brands dominate the SERPs for a query based off of a reputational score. Some in the online marketing industry have predicted a shakeup in the SERPs that could be on par with significant algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin and suggest that preparing now would be wise.
As the SERPs continue to become more competitive, we are continuously on the lookout for ways to make our results stand out. By utilizing markup like Rel=Author and Publisher, one wonders if ranking position in the SERPS will continue to be the sole determining factor in the percentage of clicks a listing receives.
By utilizing these attributes, we are not only getting the opportunity for additional real-estate in the SERPs but also the ability to make our content stand-out and achieve a higher CTR which hopefully is reason enough to make authorship part of your content marketing strategy.