It seems to be a month full of explorations of Google Authorship and Author Rank here at Vertical Measures. We had a great post by Kaila Strong last week interviewing top industry professionals on author rank’s impact in 2013, and Part 2 is still to come with more thoughts and predictions. Also, David Gould’s upcoming webinar “Beyond Optimization: Elevating your Content with Google Authorship” aims to educate all levels on how to set up Authorship and truly benefit from it.

We are seeing the ever growing importance of Google Author Rank and feel that this will be very important in 2013 and beyond. I’m coming at it today from a different angle and presenting a Google Hangout conversation with two special guests, A.J. Kohn and Jim Banks.

Please note we had a technical difficulty with the Google Hangout, as the large screen did not automatically switch presenters as it should have when they spoke. You can still see all people involved in the conversation at the bottom of the screen. We apologize for the inconvenience!

Arnie Kuenn: Hello, I am Arnie Kuenn with Vertical Measures. Today we are going to talk about author rank as a part of our ongoing Hangout series. Today our guests are AJ Kohn and Jim Banks. Say hello guys.

AJ Kohn: How you doing?

Jim Banks: Hi, how you doing?

Arnie: Great, thank you. Thanks for joining me. I really appreciate it.

Just before we went on air, AJ was talking about a couple of recent things that he’s heard, read, discovered about author rank.

Before I jump into that, I do want say that we are going to be talking about implementing author rank and skip the whole “is going to be important” or “how is this going to affect us” in a basic sense. We’ll assume anybody watching this believes it already at least has some influence.

With that, I’ll lead to AJ, maybe he can talk a little bit about those two issues that you’d brought up prior.

AJ: I was discussing that the presentation of authorship and search results is pretty brittle. Bugs will crop up numerous times when they are not there because algorithm changes affect it or they doing some kind of testing.

You’ll see it wink in and out. Suddenly, you’ll see your authorship image and then you won’t, then you will and then you won’t.

If you are implementing this and expecting it to work 9×9, whatever you want to say, 24/7, I would say that’s not a good expectation. I wouldn’t have that expectation for a very long time.

That doesn’t mean it’s not important but, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time chasing every single time you see that authorship image disappear. Give it a week, it would probably come back.

The other think that I’ve been hearing whispers and some rumors is that potentially, brand pages are becoming more and more prominent. Google is investing in them and getting people to use them more.

I am hearing that potentially, when you mention an author in a post, on a brand page that’s a connection and a signal that, that author is important and obviously is somewhat connected with that brand. That’s an interesting whisper that I am starting to hear.

Whether or not it’s just simply a best practice or it’s actually going to denote some sort of authority, I am not sure. It makes a lot of sense if we are thinking of it in terms of authorship, publisher, and the relationship between the two.

That relationship can be both ways, authors can influence the publisher and a strong publisher could also influence an author.

Arnie: I hate to follow up a rumor with a question. When you are talking about mentioning an author on a brand page, are you literally talking about in text or a link to that author? Do you have any feel for that at all?

AJ: I am hearing it’s the adding. It’s actually creating that “@” or “+” whatever you want to use to do that. The change recently was that you can now “@” people on pages without them following you.

Part of the whisper I was starting to hear is that the change was done in part so that people could mention people who might not be actively following the page but you want to create that sort of relationship.

Jim: That’s definitely one of the things that I think was hampering a lot of brands that may have wanted to get some exposure. They had to attract an audience before they could interact with audience. I think it definitely hurt the brand relationships that Google was trying to foster.

AJ: Absolutely, it was a constraint. I think Google was nervous obviously, that a brand would go out and start being annoying and adding people and doing some sort of negative types of…

Jim: The good thing is Google have always gotten the benefit of understanding and seeing what Facebook did wrong [then do it] right. I know when a lot of brands started off doing Facebook fan pages, they were going out and paying a penny a “Like” or something like that.

You had like a 100,000 people “liking” your page but, they were all from India, Egypt, and more of these obscure places that had no relevance in value at all.

Whereas I think [inaudible 04:38] Google resisted doing that from the get go. I think they probably have enough maturity now within the platform to be able to understand how it might work. It definitely will help move it in the right direction.

AJ: Agreed. Absolutely.

Arnie: Not to date this video but, you did that right in the face of the big Facebook announcement today. I don’t know if you’ve see the whole search thing yet?

Jim: Facebook Search. The big announcement for me was that last month 600,000 people gave up their accounts on Facebook in the UK.

Arnie: Real users?

Jim: Yes, 600,000.

Arnie: Wow.

AJ: Yes. I am underwhelmed by the Facebook search announcement. I still don’t get it. Facebook can do a lot more. They could be a really interesting competitor. They just don’t seem interested in doing that. Why? I still don’t get, but, I’m not Mark.

Arnie: We tried to get him for this but…

AJ: He declined.

Arnie: This isn’t supposed to be about Facebook so, I’ll get us back on topic. The question that I’ll like to ask each of you, I’ll start with Jim. We both serve clients or all three of us are trying to implement this in an intelligent, fairly well thought out way. It can get complicated.

One as an agency, two, even just [inaudible 06:09] a brand of any size. I wonder if you might have any tips, tricks, or best practices on how you are looking at rolling out and taking advantage of authoring?

Jim: As you rightly say, it’s a complex and complicated issue. It used to be that you had one person that would come through with information from the marketing department. If you look at a lot of sites now, they have multiple authors, people come and go.

If somebody left they took all of their value with them. You want to try to get to the point that the value is kept within the brand itself, which is a complex process to do.

From my perspective, when I am going out and talking to clients, it’s definitely something that is becoming more relevant, it’s becoming more important. If you look at the whole content production process, it used to be you had the client site, the content went on that, and everything pointed into that.

Whereas, I think now, the whole creation of content and the ownership of that content is completely diversified now.

I am seeing clients that are doing things on Facebook, they are doing things on Twitter, and they are doing things on LinkedIn. This gives you the ability to join all the dots together. It is a very complex process certainly from my perspective.

I’ve struggled to try to understand how to convey it and how to charge for it. It is definitely something that is quite time consuming to do and it’s definitely something you keep having to go back and do more work on.

One of the things I’ve noticed is a lot of people, when they post socially, their snippets are all over the place, right? They have a horrible title, a horrible description, and a horrible picture.

A lot of that is if they’ve got their development team work on how to implement the [schema] information. It’s fairly simple to actually put in, then every single process created, whether it’s on WordPress or [inaudible 08:22], it can be created with the right title, the right description, and a good quality image so that when it gets shared the right information is passed out. What you want it to say rather than what Google wants it to say.

A lot of the work I am doing is more: I am under the hood and I am poking around. It’s not necessarily stuff you see on the front-end but, I hope it’s something that will benefit clients in the long term on the back-end.

Arnie: AJ, how about you? How are you looking at implementing it and handling it for large and small clients?

AJ: For smaller clients, it’s twofold. One is convincing them that authorship is something that they should embrace, that they need to stand behind as a person. A lot of smaller sites get nervous about that, “Do I really want a person to be blogging and writing this stuff? Should anybody care?”

Once you get passed that hurdle, there’s the technical aspect which is sometimes difficult to explain and get them to do.

To Jim‘s point, social snippet authorization is the extension which is once you get authorship and you are doing content, making sure that content is presented in a pleasing format that allows it to be distributed more widely certainly is going to help your ability to accrue an author authority over time.

For large enterprise clients, multi-author news sites and blogs, the biggest trick there is looking that their own internal pages. They usually have author pages set up already. Work with them to say: “Look, I need a new field on this page which has a Google + link.”

Then, you need to go in and write a document which is, “Here’s how you are going to implement authorship.” Then you go in and you do the training to say, “If you are a writer here, this is what you need to put on your Google + profile, etc.”

Jim: It’s not dissimilar to a few years back when you were going in to try and teach people that did editorial handwritten content how to write from an SEO perspective with titles, description, and that sort of stuff. It’s a similar type of process that you go through now.

AJ: It is. You need to walk them through and answer questions. The big questions from the specific writers are generally about privacy, “What happens? Why should I do it? Why can’t I use this image of a dog as my photo?”

From the publisher side, they are far more worried about, “What happens when this person leaves?” All those types of issues. For larger enterprises, the bulk of the work I work on, I find it fun.

You have to convince a whole bunch of people to get on board. Then track that and say, “did you get this?” You have the spreadsheet and you go through it and say, “You’re validated, you’re validated, you’re validated.” You go through until everybody is doing it.

The best tip I can give is it’s really powerful when someone sees it in a search result or if you can say, “You are number two for this term and it’s your piece of content. You don’t have authorship. Here’s the traffic, now you have authorship, here’s where your traffic is now. Don’t you like this authorship?”

Once you get that face, if no one else has one on that search result, you get a lot more clicks. That’s the simplest way to convince someone. When a person gets it and sees that bump, then everybody wants it.

The flip side recently, if you haven’t already done it is you could walk in and say, “You used to be getting “X” number of clicks on this term but, someone else in your vertical implemented authorship and they did it right about now. You know how I can tell? You’re getting less traffic.”

That’s another great way to get people to say, “Whoa! OK. I need to do this.” Suddenly, there’s a lot more momentum from the writers to say: “Yes, I want to participate.”

Arnie: When talking to our clients we found that they get the concept but, the devil is always in the details. You brought up about what happens if the employee leaves the company and so on.

We have literally spent months with some clients trying to figure out who it is they are going to bless as an author, I guess. Then, getting authors that are willing to do that because of the issues you described, privacy and so on.

How are both of you addressing “What if the employee leaves me?” That seems to be one of the core concerns that we seem to be facing or having to answer with our clients.

Jim: AJ, you want to take that.

AJ: Sure. I don’t have a great answer. It differs for each publisher. Each publisher has different levels of concern.

The sense that I get is, number one, authorship should survive any move. Meaning once it’s established you can keep it there.

If I were [inaudible 14:09], now, I blog at Marketing Land. If I were not to blog at Marketing Land anymore I would keep my authorship on all my old Marketing Land content. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t. Why would I not want to take credit for something that I’ve done and why would Marketing Land not want to continue to use my authorship for that stuff?

There’s self interest on both sides which I think usually makes this a non-issue. Meaning people move and your authorship stays there but it’s also portable, you are leaving your footprint where you go.

Where it becomes difficult, is if people leave on less than amicable terms.

Arnie: Goes to a competitor or whatever.

AJ: In those instances, there are a couple of things that can happen. The publisher could decide, “I’m going to change authorship on this piece of content.” Not a good idea in my opinion. I’ve told all publishers that’s dirty pool. You don’t do that. You are not being a good citizen.

But, the author could decide to sever that tie, the authorship connection. Basically, retaliate and say, “I am not going to let you have that image on this result. I don’t like what you did.” It’s kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s your stuff, it’s your content.

I haven’t seen this actually happen yet. I haven’t had anybody come to me and say, “This happened, how do I deal with it?” It’s always, what ifs? In those what if scenarios, I think you either have to swallow it and say, “No, this isn’t going to have authorship anymore” or you have to rewrite the content.

You have that content, you know it ranks, you want to keep it. Then, you have to assign another editor to go through and do enough of a rewrite to reassign authorship. That’s one of the ways that I’ve talked about it.

I’ve discussed with some folks at Google the issue of remembering authorship. Meaning, a piece of content that is attached to a URL. How many times can I change authorship on that and it be valid. Right now, you can. Dan Petrovic actually changed the authorship on a piece of content, I think, four times.

Jim: I know that Dan has been doing a lot of experimentation. It’s like anything, he’s trying to break it to see what needs to happen in terms of fixing it moving forward.

AJ: I tend to believe the future is Google will remember these connections. These are all entities. An author is a person who is connected to an entity of a domain to a piece of content. They clearly timestamp and all that sort of stuff.

I think at some point when things become more refined, I think it’s going to take at least another year, year and-a-half, Google will start to remember that this piece of content was authored by this individual. If you try to change it they may decide, “Nope, that’s not…”

Arnie: “…that’s not who wrote it.”

AJ: “…that’s not who wrote it.” You know who wrote it. That’s likely a potential direction. Lots of really sticky thorns in there. Does Google really want to get into content ownership issues?

Clearly, at some point, they are going to have to address it as more and more people adopt authorship and the black hat folks come out and try to do what they do.

Arnie: Do either of you have any experience with the rel publisher? I was thinking maybe that might help address some of this.

Jim: In terms of protecting the…

Arnie: …the publisher. At least, no matter what, it’s always the publisher’s content. I am not even sure how to implement it or make use of it but, at least, it would take some of the publishers’ fears out of an author leaving.

Jim: There are always two distinct camps. People who work for a company get paid for the privilege of working for that company. If they leave to go on and pursue another job, then as far as I am concerned the content stays with the company because they’ve incurred the cost of having that person on their books.

The situation where I might get commissioned to write a piece of work for somebody and my payment may be financially, maybe the traffic, the notoriety, and everything else. I would be very uncomfortable if they remove that link on a whim.

That’s one of the dangers. It’s quite easy to reapportion content. Certainly, if you look at WordPress you can say, “Okay, well, anything that came from this person, give it to that person.”

I’ve certainly seen a lot of [rel canonical] don’t change when you actually do that. It could be, yes, you give the credit to somebody else but the canonical doesn’t actually change it sticks with the originating source.

Arnie: Yes. Great. That’s about all the time we do have. Does either one of you want to make a closing final comment relate it to author rank? Actually, maybe whether or not you feel it gives an unfair advantage, I suppose, to better educated companies?

I’m kind of prejudicing this because one of the things I do worry about is the average person out there that’s never even heard of this terminology could get beat up.

Where, they might be absolutely the person who deserves to rank, deserves to appear, so on and so forth, and writing great content forever.

You know how it is. We in our industry, we know all of the good stuff. Maybe the guy running this great hotel or destination property barely has heard of author rank doesn’t know how to implement it.

Anyway, I’ll let you guys have some closing comments.

AJ: You want to go first Jim?

Jim: Yes. Certainly for me, if you are company sitting there, the author rank is important. You said, zero to 10, we’re probably in the lower twos and threes in terms of where it’s going to get to. It’s definitely important to have a strategy place to have something in place for it.

As AJ said, you need to get some training on how to do it, how to implement it, how to maintain it, etc.

The most important thing is to continue to produce good content that you want to claim the authorship for.

Arnie: Excellent, thanks. AJ, I’ll give you the closing here.

AJ: I think it’s definitely a concern. I think Google shares that concern. They were the last to the party on rich snippets. In part, they didn’t want to unbalance the playing field for people who are technology savvy versus not.

Their new data highlighter tool within webmaster tools is their ongoing way to say, “We want to try to make it easier for the regular person to implement technical things.”

Authorship is the same way. It’s the reason why people in the industry go a little bit bonkers.

You’ll see Google trying to assign authorship automatically, where it will say, “We know who you are, we know you put your domain here. We can follow your Twitter account. We see your Twitter on your blog post, so we can figure that out.”

I’m with Jim. Creating content is the best strategy and making that quality content. Simply standing up for, this is who I am, this is what I stand for. I’m an authority in this area.

If you do that you’ll wind up doing good thing anyways. Authorship obviously, if Google can’t figure it out, you will be at a little of a disadvantage. Hopefully it is visual enough.

Meaning, when that person looks at a search result and says, “What are these faces doing in my search result?” Hopefully, there’s something they can find and figure out exactly what’s going on.

Jim: That’s usually the catalyst for clients to take action. Is there competitors are kicking there ass and they want to do likewise.

Arnie: Perfect. We’re going to end with that. Jim, AJ thanks very much for your time. I really do appreciate it. I hope everybody who is watching this has found it enlightening and learned something about author rank how they might implement it for themselves.

Stay tuned for another Hangout from Vertical Measures. I’m Arnie Kuenn. Thanks a lot for watching.

Google Hangout Contributors

AJ Kohn

AJ is an experienced marketing executive with a successful track record spanning nearly 20 years. He is the founder of the founder of Blind Five Year Old, an online marketing firm specializing in search. AJ is based in the Bay Area and you can follow him on Twitter at @ajkohn.

Jim Banks

Jim Banks is CEO of performance marketing strategists Spades Media, who work with premium advertisers delivering traffic, leads and sales across multiple internal distribution channels and through their network of quality publishers. Jim has managed over $100 million of performance marketing budgets and is a regular speaker and moderator at industry events in North America and Europe. Follow Jim over at @jimbanks.