Maybe Authorship Is A Defensive Play
I definitely expected more from Authorship by now. For me it’s kind of a let down. So far, it’s akin to the flying cars we were expecting. We were under the impression Authorship would bring AuthorRank, and it would do all these wonderful things. But like the flying car, this was never specifically promised (that I know of).
I’m a little tired of telling clients, “put this and this on your pages, force yourself to use Google+, and get your whole content team to adopt it,” without a better reason.
“Because one day this might really matter!” doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. I’ve become skeptical since this.
Where Is AuthorRank?
While the common expectation of Authorship was that it will become a ranking factor is exciting, Google has shown us that our expectations don’t always come true, despite even obtaining patents.
Case in point: social signals. I was told by someone at Google over 4 years ago that +1 buttons were going to improve rankings. Rarely do they come out and tell you that. He was a rarely loose-lipped project manager probably in violation. By now there should be some majority proof that these buttons work, if they truly did.
Still, while exciting, it’s also scary. If I wrote the definitive post on a particular SEO strategy, and Danny Sullivan wrote a half-assed or inaccurate similar piece (not likely!), would Authorship favor him?
There’s no doubt Google is into taking Authorship further. They created triggered emails to give particular “authors” more context when needed. They added it to their rich snippet testing tool. They’ve even tried to make it happen when it wasn’t properly implemented (suggesting the developers are hard at work). It’s got to mean more than just a photo in the SERPs. Don’t get me wrong, I know the value of the rich snippets in click-throughs (I worked very closely with a usability lab in a past life), and can’t imagine a face shot would turn anyone away from an informational search. Even someone really ugly. I don’t sweat over the studies.
On their Authorship page, Google says, “Make your content feel personal.” I think that’s just a quick and safe banner. They’ve told us they may use the data they collect as a ranking factor. What are they waiting for? It’s safe to assume they’ve been collecting since well before August of 2011, when this rel=author standard was highlighted in a video. Rel=author is not a Google invention.
Maybe It’s In Play – Just Not As Expected
I was talking to my business partner Keith, and we were having the usual water cooler conversation about Authorship. Then he says, “maybe it’s more of a defensive play?”
I hadn’t heard anyone really suggest that before. We’ve been expecting it as a ranking signal. But what if rel=author went the way of the +1 as a ranking factor, and is now more of a validator of editorial, non-spammy links? After all, when’s the last time you saw spam or unnatural backlinks come from an author-verified page?
I could see Google ultimately determining that’s as far as it should go for now, with their current infrastructure. Since they’re probably wrestling with how game-able Authorship really is, I could see them defaulting on it being a signal of trust which doesn’t push rankings, instead defends the link graph. Until (or unless) spammers were to figure it out and start adopting it of course. Maybe Google is thinking most spammers are too lazy, and using this now as a pluggable cog.
I don’t have the answer, but it’s an interesting thought. Would love your thoughts. Are we looking into Authorship incorrectly?