What Eric Schmidt said:
"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 Schmidt1
What people read:
- Content written by Google+ profile writers is ranked higher
- All content written by Google+ profile writers will be ranked higher
- Any content written by any Google+ profile writer is or will be ranked higher
The reality is different. Let's step through this stuff and get a firm enough grip on it so we can understands what's happening now and what's going to happen.
What Verified Online Profiles Are
"[...] tied to verified online profiles" -- what is that? What are those?
An online profile is something like your Facebook page. Maybe your Twitter account.
It's notoriously difficult to figure out if an online profile is real or not. We all know the infamous example of chubby guys pretending to be smooth sport dudes.
Google has been struggling to get its hands on good identity data. They lucked out with Facebook which went with Microsoft's Bing instead. They lucked out with Twitter where a deal of some sort went bad. And until recently they bummed out completely at getting their own online profile source 2
Now, increasingly, with Google+ they have the verified online profiles they want. Anyone working with Google products, anyone signing in, anyone signing up, gets a Google+ profile.
Between that verified profile (they know you exist, they know if you're a real person using this account or a sockpuppet logging in every blue moon), your web travels, and your web mentions they can determine your place in the social graph. You either exist -- with all the digital fingerprints that leaves behind -- or you don't.
As we have seen, Google has also started to introduce publicly verified accounts 3 but internally verified profiles (think: validated) are just as efficient to them.
Now, when you write something on the Internet, if you "sign" it in such a way that you make an author connection between your profile and that piece of content, that is the current Google Authorship progam 4
What Ranking With Verified Online Profiles Is
Quick, whose opinion on how Google is going to rank things in the future do you trust and value more; Eric Schmidt's or Kim Kardashian's?
And on neurology; Dr. Phil or Oliver Sacks?
What about car repair advice: John Doe or Jane Doe?
Now imagine, says Google, that because we know who wrote what where, and how often, we have a pretty good idea who is an authority in what field. Then we could automatically rank what Eric writes about Google above what Kim writes, and what Kim writes about high heels above what Eric writes.
Makes sense, right? 5
But This Isn't Happening
Cool and intuitive as it all may sound, this stuff isn't happening at the moment at all.
"Authorship is not currently used as a ranking signal."
-- Sagar Kamdar, Google's Director of Product Management on Search 6
Everybody is trying to figure this stuff out. Not just recently but for the past 20 years. And it's not simple.
Because codifying "intuitive" isn't easy. It all makes sense on the surface but start asking questions and you see trouble on the horizon with the notion of handing ranking over to author+profile stats.
- Are 10 fluff pieces in Newsweek more or less authoritative than 5 solid long reads on an less-known but important industry blog? How do you codify that?
- How do you measure expertise and authority? It's unlikely that you are an expert in neurology and quantum physics while it's perfectly possible to be an expert in neurology and in gardening -- yet an expert gardener is unlikely to be a neurologist. How do you classify that?
- If Stephen Hawking, who doesn't have a verified online profile, publishes a piece on M-theory how would the system ensure it gets ranked above what the most prolific science reporter with a verified profile writes?
- If two authors claim the same piece -- how do you know which is which?
- If I litter the web with crap and link it to your author profile -- then what?
- If you rely fully on two-way linking, how do you handle the case of a journalists who wrote for the New York Times for 20 years, gets fired, author-link broken, and now writes at the Wall Street Journal?
These are some of the things that still need to be figured out. And we're not talking about ironing out the details here; all this stuff is in the embryonic stage.
Google's Authorship program is a pilot program. Even the simple feature of displaying author information in the search results was and is a pilot feature:
"Google is piloting the display of author information in search results to help users discover great content. This feature is being rolled out gradually and will be implemented algorithmically, so author information will not always display in search results"
-- Google 7
And the problems are real. Two examples:
- Google assigns content to the wrong people 8
- Google doesn't understand marriage and name changes, as SEO Rae Hoffmann-Dolan found out 9
The Current, Real Advantages Of Authorship
So what do we get right now that makes us recommend implementing Google Authorship?
SERP optimization. Simple.
If picked to be featured, your search results displays extra information, your (hopefully recognizable) name, and your profile photo. Especially the photo is believed to increase the click through rate (CTR). That's good news, right?
And when they click your result and click back to Google, Google dishes out bonus links 10
Also, aging. This stuff is going to go somewhere somehow. It's going to play a part in those 200 ranking factors Google loves to stress they have. When? Dunno. How? Not sure. But once it does, something tells me it's much better to have a profile with a history than create one the next day after you read that Eric gave the "go!" signal.
Not For Everyone
But don't forget: it's a pilot program. Your author image may show or not. You may be included in the pilot program or not.
Looking from the outside in nobody can even assure you that having your author image displayed means you're part of the authorship pilot program. Likewise not having it displayed doesn't mean you're not.
This is an ongoing test. One in which trying to participate will not harm you but may benefit you.
That's a no-brainer right there.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy How Google Plus Works For Ranking [SEO Theory]
- Wall Street Journal, Feb 1, 2013 ↩
- 7 out of their 10 mind-blowing product fails are for social products ↩
- Profile and page verification badges ↩
- Link your Google+ profile to the content you create ↩
- Agent Rank, or Google Plus as an Identity Service or Digital Signature ↩
- Interview with Sagar Kamdar, Google's Director of Product Management on Search [Full Version] ↩
- Google Authorship ↩
- Google Authorship, SEO and Some G+ Surprises ↩
- Google liked it, but they wouldn't put a ring on it ↩
- Google Confirms Hidden Benefit Of Authorship: Bonus Links After A Back-Button Click ↩