Google Authorship and Author Rank aren't the same thing. Here's why Google Authorship can die yet Author Rank lives on.
Google ended its three-year experiment with Google Authorship yesterday, but the use of Author Rank to improve search results will continue. Wait — you can have Author Rank without Google Authorship? And just what is Google Authorship versus Author Rank? Come along, because they are different things — and Author Rank lives on.
What Google Authorship Was
Google Authorship was primarily Google’s way to allow the authors of content to identify themselves for display purposes. You asserted it by making use of “markup,” code hidden from human view but within web pages. Google extended from this original idea to link it tightly with Google+, as a step to create a Google-controlled system of identifying authors and managing identities.
Those making use of Google Authorship were largely rewarded by having author names and images appear next to stories. That was the big draw, especially when Google suggested that stories with authorship display might draw more clicks. Here’s an example of how it looked:
Above, you can see how the listing has both an image of the author plus a byline with the name.
Google ended Google Authorship yesterday. The image support was dropped in June; now the bylines and everything else related to the program are gone. It’s dead.
The markup people have included in their pages won’t hurt anything, Google tells us. It just will be ignored, not used for anything. But before you run to remove it all, keep in mind that such markup might be used by other companies and services. Things like rel=author and rel=me are microformats that may be used by other services (note: originally I wrote these were part of Schema.org, but they’re not — thanks to Aaron Bradley in the comments below)
We’re planning to explore that issue more in a future article, about whether people who invested time now largely wasted adding authorship support should invest more time removing it. Stay tuned.
What Author Rank Is
Separately from Google Authorship is the idea of Author Rank, where if Google knows who authored a story, it might somehow alter the rankings of that story, perhaps give it a boost if authored by someone deemed trustworthy.
Author Rank isn’t actually Google’s term. It’s a term that the SEO community has assigned to the concept in general. It especially got renewed attention after Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt talked about the idea of ranking verified authors higher in search results, in his 2013 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.
For further background on Author Rank, as well as the context of Schmidt’s quote, see my article from last year: Author Rank, Authorship, Search Rankings & That Eric Schmidt Book Quote.
Author Rank Is Real — And Continues!
Schmidt was just speculating in his book, not describing anything that was actually happening at Google. From Google itself, there was talk several times last year of making use of Author Rank as a way to identify subject experts and somehow boost them in the search results.
That was still all talk. The first real action came in March of this year. After Amit Singhal, the head of Google Search, said that Author Rank still wasn’t being used, the head of Google’s web spam team gave a caveat of where Author Rank was used: for the “In-depth articles” section, when it sometimes appears, of Google’s search results.
Author Rank Without Authorship
Now that Google Authorship is dead, how can Google keep using Author Rank in the limited form it has confirmed? Or is that now dead, too? And does this mean other ways Author Rank might get used are also dead?
Google told us that dropping Google Authorship shouldn’t have an impact on how the In-depth articles section works. Google also said that the dropping of Google Authorship won’t impact its other efforts to explore how authors might get rewarded.
How can all this be, when Google has also said that it’s ignoring authorship markup?
The answer is that Google has other ways to determine who it believes to be the author of a story, if it wants. In particular, Google is likely to look for visible bylines that often appear on news stories. These existed before Google Authorship, and they aren’t going away.
This also means that if you’re really concerned that more Author Rank use is likely to come, think bylines. That’s looking to be the chief alternative way to signal who is the author of a story, now that Google has abandoned its formal system.
I’d also say don’t worry too much about Author Rank. It’s only confirmed for a very limited part of Google Search. Maybe it will grow beyond that. If it does, it’ll be only one of many SEO ranking factors that go into producing Google’s listings. Byline stories as appropriate, but more important, make sure the quality of the stories you author make you proud to be identified as the author of them.