I was pleasantly surprised when I saw an email sitting in my inbox by a member of my readership, Ruwanthi (hi Ruwanthi! :-) many thanks for your email!). Among many other great content ideas she threw at me, I was asked to touch upon Google’s author/agent rank. So I thought I’d quickly put together a list of some awesome resources that’ll help you get a better understanding of what it is, why it matters, how it will impact web documents along with a quick guide to setting up authorship tags on your blogs or websites.
So, let’s start at the beginning shall we? We can’t really talk about authorship and it’s importance without reading and understanding the patent titled “agent rank”. Click here to access the original patent document. You can also find the latest continuation patent here.
Personally, I think one of the most comprehensive posts on author rank was written by AJ Kohn. If you don’t read anything else on the topic, be sure to read his (trust me, it’s all you really need). Find his blog post here.
If I’m not mistaken, the first person to break the news about ‘author/agent rank’ is none other than the great Bill Slawski on Search Engine Land back in 2007. Check out the post here. He’s usually the first to discover cool stuff like these, so I can’t recommend that you follow his blog highly enough. Additionally, since back then, he’s authored a number of continuation posts on agent/author rank like this one, and this one, and this.
Also, Kevin Gibbons shared his slide deck yesterday on the topic of Author Rank 10 ways to maximise your content performance which I also highly recommend that you check out.
If you manage to read and understand all of the above recommended resources, you could probably claim to have a half decent understanding of what Google’s trying to achieve with agent rank and also possibly, make better sense of what Google’s trying to achieve with Google plus (if you think it’s just another social network, well then, it isn’t).
OK if you’re lazy like me and can’t be bothered to actually read through all these articles of pure awesomeness, then here’s a brief summary of my personal thoughts on what I think author/agent rank is all about:
- Agent rank is basically a digital signature for authors to assist Google in identifying, verifying and assigning authority to documents based on author reputation (for some odd reason, in patent, research paper and proper geek speak ‘web pages’ are referred to as ‘documents’).
- In addition to identifying who the author is and where the content originated from, agent rank adds a quality score to the webpage based on the reputation score of the author.
- Agent rank goes beyond popularity of a page, but tries to assign ‘authority’ [though a post may be popular (like a newspaper or magazine article), it may not be the most authoritative (like a research paper on the topic)]. Agent rank helps Google to better make this distinction.
- Agent rank helps Google assign authority almost immediately to fresh content (pagerank needs links and it takes time for links to build up). But Google can go by an author’s previous reputation and rank documents (I mean web pages) highly without needing to wait for links to build up, making it easier for Google to rank fresh content better.
- Setting up authorship helps against Panda and is the first step in implementing agent rank in its fullest. I think we’ve only scratched the surface with Google’s authorship and rich snippets. Semantic markup is pretty much going to fall within the remit of SEOs in the very near future (i.e. if it hasn’t already).
- Search Engines historically have had issues ranking user generated content (UGC), like on forums, social networks and sites such as Quora. Agent rank helps Google to assign authority to comments, status updates, responses to blog posts, etc. too.
- Author rank helps fight spam so much easier for Google. Rubbish content will be easier to spot.
- For blogs and publishers it becomes more important to invite authors with higher reputational scores. I wouldn’t be surprised if people start selling Google plus profiles with decent history, activity, and engagement for a good price in the near future.
OK, so now if you’re like “this is all cool, but how do I actually set up authorship?” well, it’s pretty simple:
But before we proceed, you will need the following:
Google’s structured data testing tool: This tool will give you a glimpse of what Googlebot sees on a webpage and will help you check to see if your markup is set up correctly. Click here to access the tool. It’s now become one of my most used and can’t-live-without-tools in recent times!
A Google plus profile. If you don’t have a Google plus account yet, then you’ll need to set one up (even if you absolutely loathe G+ with a passion).
Ability to include a link to your Google plus profile page: obviously, if it’s your own website, you’d have full control of the links you add to your page. However, if you contribute to a magazine or a separate website that you don’t own or run, then you’ll have to talk to the editor or webmaster and convince him/her that you need to add a link to your Google plus profile from your blog post page. I’d suggest including this on your author bio section at the end of each post like what I’ve done below in my author bio.
Right setting up authorship is pretty straight forward, all that you’re really doing is including a link to your Google plus profile from your article (this is your way of saying to Google, “hey! Look it’s me, I wrote this blog post”) and then you need to verify that you actually wrote it by accessing your Google plus profile and letting Google know that you’re a “contributor to” that particular website. In short you are sort of agreeing to reciprocal linking with Google.
The thing to remember is when you link to your Google plus profile, include the following bit:
So for example, if I want to set up authorship for this particular blog post I will include the link to my Google plus profile along with the above ?rel=author bit. So the link should look like this:
As I mentioned before, once you have set these up, make use of Google’s structured data testing tool to make sure it’s all set up correctly.
I’ve tried to make this post as useful to you as possible, but if I have missed anything (it’s 11:30pm right now, so I probably would have), please do feel free to add to the discussion.
Once again, massive big up to Ruwanthi
Here’s an interesting thread started by Lyndon NA on Google plus that might be of interest to you.