AuthorRank: Google Panda on Steroids?

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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.

Conclusion

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.

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James Scaggs
James Scaggs is the Director of Marketing for e-commerce apparel companies Ties.com and Scarves.com. When he’s not working, you may find him enjoying a fine... Read Full Bio
James Scaggs

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