Google Authorship Markup Explained: How It Impacts Your SEO
Feel like your blog posts aren’t working as hard as they should for your SEO?
Your first instinct is probably to look at your content, deep-dive into your keyword research, or even review your site design.
But the answer might be something far more simple.
You might be overlooking Google Authorship Markup.
Google Authorship Markup isn’t just a way to stake your claim on the content you’ve created. It’s a tool that can improve your online credibility, increase click-through rates from organic search engine results pages (SERPs), and build up your brand. However, Authorship Markup has gone through some changes since it was first introduced more than a decade ago — leaving marketers confused over whether it still makes a difference in 2021.
That’s what we’ll answer here. In this blog, we’ll go through:
- What Google Authorship Markup is
- The Authorship process
- Benefits of Google Authorship Markup
- How the process has changed over the years
And, most importantly, we’ll answer the big question: is Google Authorship worth it for your SEO?
Ready? Let’s go.
What is Google Authorship Markup?
Google announced Authorship Markup for the first time in 2011. According to Matt Cutts, this initiative was designed to attribute content to the original author’s Google+ profile, and connect different pieces of content written by the same author in SERPs (even if they’re other articles on different sites).
Essentially, if you’re a reputable author that’s created a ton of valuable content online, Google will see you as more trustworthy and authoritative — and rank your published articles higher in SERP.
Here’s how Google puts it:
Understanding the authorship process
Google only accepts authorship markups from verified online profiles. This means you need to:
- Set up a verified digital identity that’s owned by Google, like a Google Profile
- Add yourself as an author on your published content and link it back to your verified digital identity
However, before we get into adding authorship information to an article, we need to first take a look at the two different authorship tags that are used to mark up content.
Google Authorship Markup Tags
Authorship tags were created by Google as a way to attribute content to an author via a website’s HTML. These structured data tags are a way to claim authorship through reciprocal links to and from a Google profile.
There are two tags that are used in authorship or publisher markup:
- rel=”author”: This tag points all content pages to an author’s Google profile.
- rel=”me”. This tag is used to consolidate an author’s identity when they have more than one profile page (like if they’re a contributor to multiple publications). With the rel=”me” tag, all pages will point to one another and confirm that all of the URLs represent the same person.
Linking your content to your verified digital identity
Once you’ve got your verified digital identity set up, you’ll need to link your content to your identity. There are three ways to go about this: the 3-Link Method, 2-Link Method, and Email Verification.
This method works if your site includes both an author biography and content on the same domain. For example, if you’re running an online publication, you might have ‘About the Author” pages on your website for every writer on your team.
In this instance, when you publish content, this will need to link to the author’s biography page on your site. You can then include a link to your author’s Google profile on their biography page, and link the Google profile back to the author’s bio page on your site like so:
Image source: Search Engine Land
If you don’t have an author bio page on your website, you can still link your content to a verified digital identity using the 2-link method. In this case, it’s best to include a mini ‘About the Author’ section at the bottom of each blog post, along with anchor text that links back to your Google profile page.
In turn, your Google profile page should link to the main homepage of your website, like so:
Image source: Search Engine Land
The email verification method is designed for authors who don’t have edit profile abilities on a website. With this method, you’ll need to include an author byline on the article with an email address from the same domain as the content page, then register and verify that email address in your Google Profile.
Image source: Search Engine Land
3 benefits of Google Authorship Markup
At the most fundamental level, attributing your post to an author helps boost your Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness, or E-A-T. This matters because these three pillars are part of a broader set of evaluation criteria Google uses to evaluate web content and protect searchers from low-quality information.
Consider this: There are millions of blog posts published every single day, from journalists and industry experts to hobbyists. But for every genuine piece of content, there’s another article that’s designed to exploit search engine algorithms, promote misinformation, or that’s purely spam. Authorship or publisher markup is Google’s way of privileging content from verified authors to deliver better search results for searchers.
Here’s how Google Chairman Eric Schmidt summed it up in his book “The New Digital Age”:
“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.”
So where does authorship fit in?
1. Google Authorship helps build credibility and trustworthiness
When it was first launched, verifying your authorship meant that your author photo might be displayed alongside your listing in Google SERPs, similar to this:
The purpose of this addition was to help improve the credibility of articles and help audiences put a face to the content they were reading. However, Google phased this out in 2014 as these images were taking up too much real estate in search engine results — particularly as the focus shifted to mobile-friendly websites.
Today, if you link your content to your Google Profile, users will only see your name in the search snippet:
Regardless of the change, qualifying authors still receive a byline in search results. This adds extra credibility to an article, especially if your web competitors don’t have an author attributed to the post.
2. It can lead to an increased click-through rate
Alongside boosting the credibility of your content and you as an author, publisher markup has been shown to increase clickthrough rates from organic search results. In one instance, a blogger saw a 38% increase in clickthrough rate simply by adding the rel=author tag to their content.
Why does this matter? On top of bringing more traffic to your website, CTR is an important factor in organic search results. According to data released by Moz, there was a strong link between a website’s “expected CTR” and its position in SERPs. What’s more, pages that have a higher-than-average CTR also got a boost in rankings.
Image source: Backlinko
The conclusion? Having a higher organic CTR on your article can send a signal to Google that your content is more relevant to searchers. In turn, this positively affects your SEO and helps you climb higher up in Google SERPs.
3. It can help improve brand recognition
Google’s authorship markup doesn’t just help drive traffic to the posts you write. By marking up your content, searchers can also be directed to other pieces of content that you’ve written — bringing even more traffic to your website.
Increasing visibility for your other content comes with additional benefits as well. If users like your articles, they’ll be able to search for you online and follow you (or your brand) on social media.
Changes to Google’s authorship markup
Despite the benefits behind marking up authors in search results, Google’s Authorship project has seen a few bumps in the road since it first launched in 2011.
First, Google itself has made dramatic changes to authorship over the years, from removing author photos in search to putting an end to Google+, which was originally meant to be integral to Google’s Authorship markup strategy.
On top of this, publisher markup has seen low adoption rates by authors and webmasters: only 30% of Forbes’ 50 Most Influential Social Media Marketers were using Authorship markups on their blogs. There were also issues with misattribution (like when Truman Capote was incorrectly auto-attributed to a New York Times article after his death).
Last, Authorship didn’t seem to be bringing enough value to searchers. Google was seeing little difference in click behaviour between search results with search value and pages without — especially given how many resources it took to process the data.
All of these changes have SEOs and marketers wondering:
Is there still value in Google Authorship in 2021?
In short, absolutely. Despite the fact that author photos were long removed from Google rich snippets AND the fact that Google+ no longer exists, it’s still worth adding “rel=author” to your content for three reasons.
It contributes to your E-A-T
Authorship is still the clearest way to let Google see what you create and how people respond to it. Even though your picture won’t appear next to your post, you can bet that Google is still tracking authors and using this data as part of a way to establish a piece of content’s E-A-T.
One clear example of this is the fact that Google still keeps bylines on certain articles. By giving up this valuable real estate in SERPs, Google is indicating that author rank makes a difference when it comes to search.
Author authority still matters to Google
Google understands that audiences are hardwired to trust people over brands. Even with all the changes to its Authorship project, Google has maintained that authors play an important role in a website’s SERP position alongside other factors like domain authority.
In its very own Search Quality Rater Guidelines, it talks about the reputation of a website’s content creators:
Working with low-quality contributors is a surefire way to get your website flagged for poor content and, even worse, penalised by Google. This is particularly important for Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) topics like healthcare or finance.
Author rank may help with semantic search in the future
Semantic search is becoming more important in SEO, as Google looks to better interpret the searcher’s intent and the content behind their query to deliver more relevant and reliable results. A big part of semantic search is Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is a massive knowledge base of entities and the relationships between them.
Here’s a rundown from Ahrefs that shows how it works:
While these “entities” can be businesses or topics, they can also be people — such as authors. For example, a search for Matt Cutts will return his Twitter profile, author bios, and author’s content, as well as rich snippets and a Knowledge Panel:
As Google continues to evolve its semantic web search, authorship markup will be important in helping identify an author’s presence across the web, establish a knowledge graph around them, and direct searchers to content developed by that author.
So, is implementing Google Authorship Markup worth it?
The authorship tag still matters for SEO. If you want to build up your brand’s reputation and increase content visibility in search results, you need to be connecting the dots between author and article. But your author rank is only one piece of the puzzle. You need to have a sharpshooting SEO strategy if you want to appear higher in SERPs and turn organic clicks into content conversions.
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