AuthorRank: Google Panda on Steroids?

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AuthorRank: Google Panda on Steroids?

On the heels of the Google Panda update, Google AuthorRank continues the assault on low-quality “thin-content” sites. It’s time to pay attention to AuthorRank and what it means for the future of SEO. While white-hat SEO’s have been proclaiming “quality content is king” for what seems like years now, it was painfully obvious that many black-hat/grey-hat SEO tactics still produced rankings until Google Panda and Penguin were rolled out.

With AuthorRank, the stakes have been raised for SEO’s everywhere, and the war of quality versus quantity is fully underway. If you have an aversion to thought leadership, reputation management, and long-term ROI in SEO, then it’s probably time to hang up your proverbial SEO hat. For those of you eager to put in the work required to build industry credibility and add value to your network, then welcome to AuthorRank!

AuthorRank Intro

For those who aren’t familiar with AuthorRank, the language of the Google patent is as follows:

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

Assuming that a given agent has a high reputational score, representing an established reputation for authoring valuable content, then additional content authored and signed by that agent will be promoted relative to unsigned content or content from less reputable agents in search results.

For those of you who aren’t’ familiar with what this looks like in the SERP’s, take a look at the example below.

Simply by tagging published content with rel=author tags and linking your Google+ profile page to the site where you publish the content, your work will appear with your author pic in the SERPs. Obviously, Google wants to make the SERPs as pretty and useful as possible, and what better way to do that than calculating the reputation of the author before ranking a particular piece. I won’t get into the technical details of setting up rel=author but If you’re not acquainted with the “how-to’s” of rel=author tags, there is a great post about it here.

Why AuthorRank is Important

AuthorRank is important because anyone can publish content as an authority. In this type of medium, you can expect that there is a tendency to quantity of information over quality. Google thrives based on the quality of the information it organizes for the world, and this is why AuthorRank is so important to Google and should be to you, too.

We know that great content comes from great authors, and we’re looking closely at ways this markup could help us highlight authors and rank search results.

– Othar Hansson (Software Engineer, Google Webmaster Central)

Let’s look at another example where we can see Google’s position on quality versus quantity. In the travel space, it is well-known that Trip Advisor is the leader in online reviews. As an early adopter of user-generated content, Trip Advisor has amassed some 60 million reviews for hotels worldwide.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love the idea that they are the leader in reviews, but at some point, generating more and more reviews loses some importance relative to the actual quality of the reviews. Would it serve users better to have 100 million reviews or to have two million reviews from verified customers?

Furthermore, I think there is a lot to be said about Google’s recent acquisition of Frommer’s Travel Guides. This seems to be an indication that Google thinks the quality of travel information provided by Frommer’s can compete with the user-generated content of Trip Advisor. In other words, Google believes users would rather have high-quality information that is verified and credible than rely on an unlimited supply of unverified user-generated content. The issue here is that the information that comes from Frommer’s is coming from a brand that has to mindful of their reputation and thought leadership, whereas the user-generated content that Trip Advisor provides becomes somewhat less important.

I’m not discounting the importance of online reviews. Rather, I’m saying that when the quantity of online reviews reaches a certain point, it becomes less valuable than content that can be verified by AuthorRank. In all honesty, doesn’t the value of a word-of-mouth recommendation have some correlation with the person making that recommendation?

When dealing with people we know personally, I think the value of the recommendation is very much related to the person giving it, but in an online setting, I think we are more open to opinions of those we don’t know.  The problem comes when people try to game the system and leave fake reviews just to boost their SEO or conversion rates.


I think we should each be mindful of what our AuthorRank might be in the future. As Google continues down the path of organizing the world’s information, we have to ask ourselves, “Do they really want ‘more’ information or do they really want ‘better’ information?”

I think it’s clear that authors who create unique takes and personal spins on topics are going to be better suited to develop influence and AuthorRank than those who simply repeat existing information. Get your G+ profile setup correctly and tag your posts, so you can start getting author attribution and building your AuthorRank. A long-term focus on consistently producing quality content about which you are qualified to write will assure you continue to build your influence and get your voice heard rather than drowning in the sea of information that exists today.

I would love to hear your feedback about AuthorRank, and if you have seen any impact on traffic coming from posts with author pics in the SERP’s. How are agencies preparing for AuthorRank and how are they handling the need to become credible on multiple different topics?  Comments are welcome.


James Scaggs
James Scaggs is the Director of Marketing for e-commerce apparel companies and When he’s not working, you may find him enjoying a fine glass of bourbon, while going on about how to improve conversion rates or make things more user friendly. Catch up with him on Twitter @jamesscaggs or on Google Plus.
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  • Anne Heap

    HI James,

    Great article. I’ve found authorank has worked well for our cake business. We use it throughout our site today and when I have the opportunity to do guest posts I always ask if they’ve enabled google plus authorship.

    What I’d like to see it evolve to is an authorank for objects beyond posts. For example, how great would it be if I could attribute cake photos back to myself or company? Or, even better, I look forward to the day of CompanyRank where we can attribute our company to different entities.

    Thanks for the great article!


    • James Scaggs


      Interesting point about co. rank. I read another article about employee author rank and how that should be attributed to the company maybe a month ago or so. Photo post attribution should be a no brainer for Google!

  • hoang vu

    Thank James for the interesting post. I also noticed that my friends, who add author rel in their website didn’t get any trouble in the recent update of Google.
    I have a question: Do you know about the rel=”publisher”. Is it as important as Author rel. Should I add this rel for the Google + page url in my blog?

  • Kunal Pawaskar

    Hi James,

    I started my website a couple of months back and enabled AuthorRank in the first 2 weeks. I am seeing benefits to doing it though I don’t have “before vs. after” results because I started it early on.

    Benefits why? Because for basic reasons like a photo + text search result is more clickable than a plain text search result. I guess its a human tendency. I asked around and friends said they are drawn to photos+text.

    I have a few questions:
    1. I understand google is trying to attribute content to individuals. What happens to SEO if one author wants to write on multiple subject areas which he or she may be good at? What are the dynamics? Right now I understand Google wants your site / content to be focused in one area so that its actually useful to human readers. Is the expectation of focus also for the author?

    2. Companies have begun to let employees be author ranked on google plus and these authors are writing articles for their companies under the author rank system. What happens when a star employee who was writing great content for you leaves? Because a combined identity (author + company) is relevant for google even when there is another combined entity (author + next company)?

    3. What implications does it have on the author who changes jobs?

    I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on these questions. Thanks!


    P.S. Google results will look way different when there are 10 photos on the 10 results on the first page!

    • James Scaggs


      Good questions.

      1. I don’t think Google expects authors to solely write about one topic but I think if you are actually influential within an industry or niche then you will be socially connected to other thought leaders and those “connections” will be used in determining author rank by subject.

      2. I’ve heard both sides of this argument and frankly both have merit. My personal approach in business is to create value in your authors. If you are a place that creates influential people you won’t have to worry about finding other influencers to join you.

      3. In today’s market people change jobs a lot because there is a grass is always greener mentality. Authors who change jobs in a natural upward progression within a specific niche or industry would benefit from the change while switching between industries that you don’t have influence in is going to be worse I would suspect.

      • Kunal Pawaskar

        Replies 2 and 3 do make sense to me. Your reply on 1 also is logical though I think I should read up more on 1 myself. It is something that I want to do in the future and I don’t want it hurting my earlier author “reputation”. If I find something on that I will share it here.
        Thanks again!

    • Chris Smith

      Kumal, My first thoughts are that I totally agree with the idea that human nature is more drawn to visual images, so in any SERp with 9 text-only results, and opne with an image, your eye is drawn there. That’s why Youtube videos also seem to do really well, not only in their rank, but that people are drawn there.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think AuthorRank is a great way to ensure that your personal brand is as strong as it can be. Let Google and the searchers know who you are, what kind of content you create and make it easy for them to connect with you/find your content. It doesn’t take hardly any time to implement, so why not?

  • Pam Sissons

    Great post, James! So many changes happening to improve results…all good. The only “fly in the ointment” is how Google will effectively use valuable author rank. Hopefully it’s a high-priority project for them…lots at stake. Thanks again!

  • John Dean Deacon

    AuthorRank is a valuable indicator of the credibility and reputation of a person writing/commenting on his/her niche market. I think over time your personal brand building efforts are tied to the quality/quantity of content you generate. I believe this to be the next phase in the web where authority and personal brand will surpass those of individual sites, merely from a perspective of real people building a real audience. The key is not to be neutral but to make a stand in your market and establish your opinion/views boldly and be very selective who you reference or are associated with. Produce with the future in mind.

  • Jacob King

    My advice for people is to grow their authroship profile depending on the niche. SEO for example, you would want your authorship profile to be aging from day one to stay ahead of the curve.

  • Tommy Landry

    Thanks for the insightful post. I’ve been working on a presentation that takes AuthorRank and all of the most recent Google changes and builds my vision of the future. This aligns nicely with that vision. SEO is changing, and AuthorRank is a key variable in the new ranking approach. Cheers.

  • Dana Lorton

    Excellent post James!

    I never really saw the benefit of Author Rank until very recently. Boy, did I feel like an idiot once I did.

    Google has made it quite clear that quality content was, is and always will be king and Author Rank going forward will have huge implications. If you’re putting the quality content out there they expect then you can expect to get some Google love as a result in the form of search, personal branding, and more.

    I was concerned about #1 as well. Say a person is well versed in more that one vertical or niche and as a result is able to contribute great content. I’m wondering ould it be wise to go “out of niche” and place non-relevant links to content in the “contributor to” .

    Also, right above there is a “other profiles” so I’m wondering if that may help with Author Rank in different verticals. I’ll look into and let you know what I find.

    I’ve also heard they hand out AR as well. I just went live with a new site, last night that I linked to G+ and I was verified today. It is a WP site and it’s a breeze to set up authorship, G+ button etc. However, I have not written for this niche for quite some time, just tied all my G stuff together. I have written in the niche for clients but obviously not under my name.

    So this makes me also wonder I was just given the AR because I have not been contributing to this certain niche. Hum…

    Thanks for the info James!

  • Stephanie Kapera

    Great post!

    Do you think sites that depend on user-generated content will take a hit?

    I wonder if Amazon/Trip Advisor plan to integrate AR into their search results…