Why you need to care about Google Authorship

The world of SEO is becoming increasingly aggressive as advertisers and brands vie for prime real estate on the shrinking edge of the organic search engine results page. But there are still ways to beat out the competition. As of late, Google's Authorship markup has become a powerful tool for online content producers to claim more real estate on the SERP and to draw attention to their original content. If a site regularly produces authored content, authorship can provide significant SEO benefits, including increased visibility and higher click-through rates (CTR).

What is Authorship?

Google first announced Authorship markup in 2011 as a way for authors to attribute their names and photos to the content they write online. When Authorship markup is in place, the author's photograph and name are prominently displayed next to the title of the article in the SERP.

Authorship markup is a type of rich snippet that uses the HTML attributes rel="author" and rel="me" to link an author's written content to his or her Google+ page. It requires fairly little effort to implement but produces significant SEO benefits for sites that feature authored content.

Why use Authorship?

When implemented correctly, Authorship offers a number of valuable benefits. Most importantly, it allows authored content to stand out in the search results. As a type of rich snippet, Authorship markup provides an added level of detail to any given search result. One study demonstrated that the use of rich snippets could lead to a 150 percent increase in click-through rate. Like other rich snippets (small samples of site's content), authorship attracts more attention and establishes credibility, which can increase CTR and drive more traffic to the site.

In particular, author photos give search results with Authorship an advantage on the SERP over other results that lack images. Authorship establishes the authority of authors by lending a face and name to their work and enabling readers to recognize their faces and assign credibility to their voices within a particular industry. Headshots are particularly powerful because faces are often easier to remember than names.

Another study used eye tracking to determine how much attention was given to search results with social annotations. Social annotation results, similar to Authorship results, feature photos of the users who share a particular article or site. Through heat maps, the study revealed that results with social annotation captured a significant amount of attention on the SERP.

Authorship also enables authors to claim the content they have written as their own, preventing others from asserting ownership over their writing. They get the credit for the content they've written, and others will have a harder time plagiarizing or duplicating their work. With the implementation of Authorship, authors also gain access to analytics, which Google calls "author stats." This data, found in Webmaster Tools, shows impressions and clicks for Authorship results so that authors can track their success and make further improvements if necessary.

Best practices

Authorship is an extremely powerful tool to improve search visibility and click-through rate, but it's not without risk if applied incorrectly. Here are some easy-to-follow strategies to ensure your authorship implementation yields positive results:

  • Only implement Authorship for pages with content that reflects the perspective or opinion of one particular author. 
  • If the site features multiple authors, provide each author with a unique author page on the domain.
  • Do not implement Authorship across the entire domain, even if one author writes it.
  • Each page for which Authorship is applied must include a byline with the author's name that exactly matches the name on the author's Google+ profile.
  • Only implement Authorship for real people.
  • Improve your Google+ profile page to strengthen your authorial authority.
  • Remember: rel="author" differs from rel="publisher."

When implemented properly, according to Google's guidelines, Authorship can provide significant SEO benefits to sites that feature authored content. Authorship markup can noticeably increase a site's click-through rates by attracting attention on the SERP and by establishing an author's authority within a given field.

However, Authorship is not without pitfalls, and improper implementation can result in significant declines in keyword rankings and organic search impressions. Following basic best practices will help improve your site's visibility and bring qualified traffic to your site's content. As Authorship gains wider acceptance, it is quickly becoming the de facto standard for online content producers to establish authority as part of a holistic SEO strategy.

Erik Freeman is the director of search marketing at The Search Agency.

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