Could Author Rank influence the display of Authorship snippets?Comments

Author rank seeks to highlight influential authors based on links, citations and peer review but how will this be presented to the public? Could Author Rank influence the display of authorship snippets in search results?

Author rank seeks to highlight influential authors based on links, citations and peer review but how will this be presented to the public? Could author rank influence the display of authorship snippets in search results?  Google authorship and the concept of author (or agent) rank has captured the popular imagination in a way virtually nothing else search related has been able to do.  Authorship is so easy to set up that anyone can do it but a misguided belief that authorship equates to author rank means that many feel their rankings will improve just by ensuring their rich snippets show up in search.  Author rank, as is widely understood, doesn't exist yet (as far as we know) but according to David Amerland in a recent conversation, search expert and author, Google uses the term "author rank" internally to refer to a number of different values relating to authority via "relational extraction mapping" or the detection of semantic relationships between items: who, what, how, where.  So, author rank per se doesn't exist (yet) but key signals which will contribute to it are already in use and being used in such a way that they emulate/pre-date an actual author rank system.  I have mentioned before that Google and Bing appear to be heading towards a similar destination but via different paths - that destination is relevance and authority.  I asked if we actually needed authorship to help establish authority as other signals can be used to determine the creator of a given piece of work.  Bing seeks to identify "people who know" using these signals and display them separate from search within the social sidebar. Google always seeks to return the most relevant links but author rank is designed to highlight significant people rather than pages as its algorithm aims to determine our search intent using semantics.  As has been said before, with authorship, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web so that we know who is responsible for content but could a combination of author rank and authorship actually go one step further?  A number of reports and anecdotal articles point to authorship having a quasi-SEO effect with enhanced click-through rates (CTR) from search results when, all else being equal, an authorship snippet is visible. A frequently quoted increase in CTR is around a third.  Previously, search results included the profile photos of those in our social circles who might have recommended an item but this was dropped as Google found they had little impact on item CTR. It is argued that there must be some truth to enhanced click-throughs for those items displaying authorship snippets or Google would no longer have them in our SERPs.  I have previously expressed the view that snippets are currently of benefit within search results but that benefit will be lost once all results display an authorship snippet. Consequently, it is not in the interests of content creators for authorship to fill our SERPs.  We know that setting up authorship is no guarantee that the associated snippet will show on any given set of results so, is this designed to ensure that they continue to have an impact?  Why do snippets have an effect on CTR?  An obvious answer is that they make specific results stand out from the rest but could it also be that snippets are introducing a perceived indication of authority?  Is this where authorship is heading? Could Google use author rank as a means of filtering search results so that only those items by the most relevant and influential authors display authorship snippets regardless of whether authorship is correctly established?  Would it make sense to transform this perceived notion of authority into an actual indication of it?  Brian Clark at CopyBlogger has already asked "What if Author Rank never happens?" but others argue that, in a sense, it already is but both sides meet in the middle on what is required to build reputation and authority.  At its heart, author rank is a relevance engine where decisions about reputation and authority are crowd-sourced. Any implementation of such a system will be just another signal contributing to our search results but, by connecting people to pages, Google has the option of using this authority to visually influence our SERPs by filtering which results should, or should not, be accompanied by authorship snippets.  As Google is intent on bringing us the most relevant results and it is accepted that authorship snippets drive traffic, Author Rank could be a valuable tool in ensuring that searchers are directed to the most relevant results.Google authorship and the concept of author (or agent) rank has captured the popular imagination in a way virtually nothing else search related has been able to do.

Authorship is so easy to set up that anyone can do it but a misguided belief that authorship equates to author rank means that many feel their rankings will improve just by ensuring their rich snippets show up in search.

Author Rank

Author rank, as is widely understood, doesn't exist yet  - as far as we know - but in a recent conversation David Amerland (search expert and author) advised that Google uses the term "author rank" internally to refer to a number of different values relating to authority via "relational extraction mapping" or the detection of semantic relationships between items: who, what, how, where.

So, author rank per se doesn't exist (yet) but key signals which will contribute to it are already in use and being used in such a way that they emulate/pre-date an actual author rank system.

I have mentioned before that Google and Bing appear to be heading towards a similar destination but via different paths - that destination is relevance and authority.

I asked if we actually needed authorship to help establish authority as other signals can be used to determine the creator of a given piece of work.

Bing seeks to identify "people who know" using these signals and display them separate from search within the social sidebar. Google always seeks to return the most relevant links but author rank is designed to highlight significant people rather than pages as its algorithm aims to determine our search intent using semantics.

Faceless

As has been said before, with authorship, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web so that we know who is responsible for content but could a combination of author rank and authorship actually go one step further?

A number of reports and anecdotal articles point to authorship having a quasi-SEO effect with enhanced click-through rates (CTR) from search results when, all else being equal, an authorship snippet is visible. A frequently quoted increase in CTR is around a third.

Previously, search results included the profile photos of those in our social circles who might have recommended an item but this was dropped as Google found they had little impact on item CTR. It is argued that there must be some truth to enhanced click-throughs for those items displaying authorship snippets or Google would no longer have them in our SERPs.

I have previously expressed the view that snippets are currently of benefit within search results but that benefit will be lost once all results display an authorship snippet. Consequently, it is not in the interests of content creators for authorship to fill our SERPs.

We know that setting up authorship is no guarantee that the associated snippet will show on any given set of results so, is this designed to ensure that they continue to have an impact?

Why do snippets have an effect on CTR?

An obvious answer is that they make specific results stand out from the rest but could it also be that snippets are introducing a perceived indication of authority?

Remaining relevant

Is this where authorship is heading? Could Google use author rank as a means of filtering search results so that only those items by the most relevant and influential authors display authorship snippets regardless of whether authorship is correctly established?

Would it make sense to transform this perceived notion of authority into an actual indication of it?

Brian Clark at CopyBlogger has already asked "What if Author Rank never happens?" but others argue that, in a sense, it already is but both sides meet in the middle on what is required to build reputation and authority.

Relevance

At its heart, author rank is a relevance engine where decisions about reputation and authority are crowd-sourced. Any implementation of such a system will be just another signal contributing to our search results but, by connecting people to pages, Google has the option of using this authority to visually influence our SERPs by filtering which results should, or should not, be accompanied by authorship snippets.

As Google is intent on bringing us the most relevant results and it is accepted that authorship snippets drive traffic, Author Rank could be a valuable tool in ensuring that searchers are directed to the most relevant results.

Images by myself and thegloaming.

Could Author Rank influence the display of Authorship snippets?

Is Bing beating Google to the Author Rank punch?Comments

Author Rank coming, YodaIs Google in danger of losing out to Bing in the race to implement a robust relevance engine for content authors?

For over a year, talk of Google Author Rank (based on the search giant's Agent Rank patent) has been fueling speculation of how it might operate and affect search rankings for content authors.

As quoted by AJ Kohn in the seminal article "Author Rank", the patent sets out that:

"The identity of individual agents responsible for content can be used to influence search ratings."

Identifying authors and then associating them with their content (Authorship) is just half the story, however, but many continue to think that Author Rank and Authorship are interchangeable, assuming that setting up Authorship will improve their ranking in search results.

Expertise

The key concept behind Author Rank is that people will be associated with, and ranked on, given topics based on their knowledge or expertise. Ranking involves building reputation and trust using, amongst other things, a combination of peer review, links and citations. Again, from the patent we have:

"an agent should have a higher reputational score ... if the content signed by the agent is frequently referenced by other agents or content"

Not all links are equal as the patent goes on to say that links from those with a higher reputational score will carry greater significance - it is, therefore in the interests of authors to gain the attention of recognised experts in any given field whilst those experts will, obviously, get a high ranking themselves.

Rather than relying on Page Rank content will be linked to the author, anywhere on the web, using a "digital passport" - using an online identity such as a Google+ profile is such a passport: a way of reliably connecting people to their material.

But do we need Authorship?

Bing news authorsGoogle and Bing have different strategies when it comes to providing social data within search results; the former feels that consumers benefit from having their results tailored using social signals whereas the latter presents social data separately from the normal blue links results enabling users to more easily distinguish (and ignore) those social signals.

By creating this distinction between search and social is Bing able to bypass the Authorship stage and dive straight in to Author Rank?

As social results are not included within the main search results there is less of a need to establish an explicit authorship structure to identify authors in a sea of links. Instead, relevant news authors are listed as "People Who Know" in the social sidebar (in a manner not too dissimilar to Google's Knowledge Graph information) implying that these authors - and, consequently, the links listed - are knowledgeable, relevant and topical.

Indeed, on Bing Blogs the addition of news authors was introduced in a post with the following:

"Behind every article is a journalist, writer or author who has worked hard to research and report on a story. These professionals are experts in their fields, sharing the latest news, developing events and information out with the greater world."

This sounds very similar to Google's plans with Bing's sources stated as including "friends you know and experts and enthusiasts you may or may not be familiar with" who frequently write articles related to the search query.

Bing is utilising its partnerships with Facebook and Twitter in conjunction with standard ranking signals to provide extra information from authors who already appear to be ranked based on relevance. The roll-out of Facebook's Graph Search, including the addition of Open Graph data, coupled with an effort from Twitter to make content more discoverable may serve to give Bing even stronger signals on which to base any ranking.

Identity not a factor

While Google is seeking to instil trust in authors by linking them back to a standard identity service (Google+) Bing is relying on a combination of authors producing consistent output and social signals to determine what we might like to see without restricting itself to any single identity scheme.

One doesn't want to accuse Google of fiddling while Rome burns but the latest Agent Rank patent was filed almost two years ago (expanding on an original application from 2005) and is one of the most eagerly anticipated developments in search for content authors.

By taking a different approach Bing is stealing a march and potentially beating Google to the Author Rank punch?

Is Bing beating Google to the Author Rank punch?

Authorship, identity and the wider web.Comments

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance” - Eric Schmidt.

idWhen Google's Search Plus Your World (SPYW) first launched the company was taken to task over unduly prioritising Google hosted content - probably rightly so - and had to back down a degree or two.

With Authorship tied to Google+ it seems that we are heading back in that direction so the company have to be careful or might find themselves back in the firing line of the regulators.

Putting a face to the name

As has been said before, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web with Authorship. While it is currently seen as having a quasi-SEO benefit - an author's image next to an item in a sea of blue links makes it pop out - a lot of this advantage will be lost once more "authors" sign up.

By attempting to use Authorship as a "quality" measure, we are outsourcing an element of trust: recognising that content is linked to a verified account provides an impression as to its quality.

qualityThe act of just connecting an account to content, however, is not strictly a demonstration of quality but it is a demonstration of the author's willingness to be publicly and visibly linked to that content as if to say "I'm proud of this" or "I'm right, this is the result you want."

Whether, on the whole, we can infer any degree of quality from this scheme remains to be seen but the implied threat within Schmidt's statement above means that we see a fundamental shift in the way SEO operates: those that don't sign up to Authorship being penalised rather than those that do seeing a benefit.

Branding

Trust, reputation, identity - content creators will be (and already are) relying on Authorship to help establish personal branding, but by limiting the "verified" accounts for Authorship to Google+ is too restrictive on different levels.

While we have the ability to search with or without social signals and, currently search on Plus is separate from traditional blue links, introducing greater emphasis on Google based signals could get them in more trouble with the regulators.

Monopoly

Google has a monopoly on AuthorshipEnabling content creators to visibly connect their work to an online identity via Authorship is a fantastic idea and someone does indeed need to tackle the faceless nature of the web but maybe Google should think about opening Authorship to avoid the inevitable cries of "monopoly!"

As mentioned above, Authorship (and the concept of Author Rank) could be seen as having an implied SEO threat if you do not have a Google+ profile: no profile = poor search engine visibility, but is that really the case?

A post by Ruud Hein at Search Engine People tries to flesh out this statement by saying that a "verified online profile" doesn't just have to mean a Google+ profile. While nothing in Schmidt's statement precludes the use of other identity providers, the current reality is that Google+ is the only option available.

What if...

What ifWhat if Authorship, and consequently its associated Google Juice, wasn't solely reliant on a G+ profile and that other, trusted identification systems were permitted?

Should Google allow us to establish Authorship with a Twitter profile, for example? Perhaps Twitter could extend the verification process (maybe even for a small fee) to become more trusted - who we are, what we do, what is our field, etc. and this could then be relied upon by Google to establish a meaningful identity that we can hang Authorship upon.

What if academics, professors, researchers, etc. could use their EDU credentials as the basis of a trusted identity for the purposes of Authorship? How about business professionals using their LinkedIn profile?

Any web-wide system needs to be as inclusive as possible to both work and be seen as reliable or trustworthy.

tl;dr

Google should be applauded for trying to standardise, or make sense, of identity on the web so that we have a system we can trust - Authorship is such a system. However, being both a "search provider" and a "service provider" can lead to potential conflicts of interest which need to be resolved.

Images by Daniel*1977, aithom2, urbanwide, libraryman (cropped)

Authorship, identity and the wider web.