SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is one of the most confusing things that businesses wrestle with as they grow their online marketing program. Google has made a steady march away from keyword-based results and has developed a complex ranking of sites and pages based on authority around topics and content. For websites and businesses to rank highly in Google, it’s as much about creating awesome and interesting content as it is about keyword placement, STRONG tags, and inbound link campaigns.

Enter Author Rank . . . or at least the idea of it. As of right now, it’s still very questionable whether or not Author Rank is being factored into organic search results at all. However, ever since the introduction of the “rel=author” initiative, there has been little question that it will be, and that it’s going to be a big change for all of us who care about our content showing up online in search results.

Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman, recently 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.”

That being said, there are still very real, and very immediate benefits to setting up Google Authorship right now. In addition to being ready for Author Rank when it happens, Authorship still does have immediate SEO benefits. Authorship identifies you as the author of content, and displays your profile photo next to your content in search, making it stand out, and more likely to get clicked.

Imagine you’re searching for content on how to find the best neighborhoods in a new city you’re moving to. A realtor may be in position 3 or 5, but you’re probably still more likely to click their link if they have a photo than you would be if there was a generic looking result in first place.

But what most people don’t know is that Google Authorship is really all about Google+.  You’ll need a Google+ account to get it setup.

If you’re a WordPress (or Typepad) user, Google’s new partnership has made it incredibly easy to setup Google+ Authorship. For self-hosted blogs, check out the new Google+ feature in Jetpack (or use the Sharing settings section of your account). Visit the Settings>Sharing area in your administration area, and connect up your Google+ Account.

Once that is complete, you’re setup and ready to go for Google Authorship. The plugin automatically adds all the info you need to each post.

For everyone else, here’s the longer way to set it up.

1. Make sure your Google+ profile meets the requirements. On the Google Authorship sign-up page, they have a few requirements you need to meet.

  • First, your profile picture must be a “recognizable headshot.” That means you shouldn’t use a company logo, a cartoon, or a tiny full body shot, all of which could hurt your chances of being accepted.
  • Secondly, verify your email address on your Google+ profile. Use an email address from the domain you’re setting up, if possible – it will go a lot faster.

2.  Sign up for Authorship. Once you’ve set up your Google+ profile and made sure you have a byline on all pages you want Authorship to show up for, enter your email address on the Authorship signup page.

3. Link to your Google+ Profile. It’s important to link to your Google+ profile from your content for many reasons, so you should do this regardless. But to officially associate your content with your Google+ profile, you have to give Google the right signal – simply add a link to your Google+ profile with “?rel=author” added to the end. For example, if you have a bio at the end of your blog post, you can add something like “Connect with me on Google+,” with a link that goes to your own profile URL. NOTE: A good Google+ Plugin will handle all this automatically.

4. Link to your content from your Google+ profile. Now that you’ve linked to your Google+ profile from your content, it’s time to link to your content from your profile to complete the circle. Go to the ‘About’ page of your profile, and click the ‘Edit’ link at the bottom of the ‘Links’ section of your profile. Find the ‘Contributor to’ subsection, and click ‘Add custom link.’ From here you can enter the URL, the title of the blog, and whether you contributed content to it in the past or are currently doing so.

If you’re not using one of Google’s new easy partnership plugins, it can take a little work to get Authorship setup, but once you do, you should notice a pretty immediate increase in search-referral traffic. In addition to the nifty photos, and the upcoming Author Rank scheme, there’s also a really valuable social component. As people +1 your site and content, those social ranking signals show up higher in Google Search Results for their friends… much higher. So once you’ve got it setup, don’t forget to encourage your customers, readers, and audience to +1 your content!