Late August, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller announced Google had dumped Google Authorship, which provided a way for writers to identify themselves as the authors of their articles so that Google could display authorship information (such as a thumbnail photo of the author and a byline) in search results. Mueller wrote that Google “observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.”
This comes at the heels of Google’s move to drop author photos from search results in June. At that time, Mueller remarked in a Google+ post that author photos required too much screen space and bandwidth for mobile. He also said that results with author photos saw no significant difference in clicks.
However, Google is still tracking who is writing what, as outlined by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt 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.”
Search industry professionals call this system AuthorRank, and Google’s head of spam, Matt Cutts, said in a May 2013 YouTube video that “We are doing a doing a better job of detecting when someone is sort of an authority in a specific space. It could be medical, it could be travel, whatever. And trying to make sure that those rank a little more highly.” Cutts elaborated on this in December on the This Week in Google podcast, where he said “Okay, if Jeff Jarvis (prof. of journalism) links to me, he is an expert in journalism and so therefore I might be a little bit more relevant in the journalistic field. We’re trying to measure those kinds of topics. Because you know you really want to listen to the experts in each area if you can.”
In August Google rolled out its new in-depth articles feature, which are special search result listings for articles which display longer-form content, the name of the publication, and the name of the author. Articles chosen to be displayed “in-depth” come from higher quality sources, like globally recognized publications such as the New York Times. Onstage at Search Engine World 2014, Cutts verified Google was using a form of AuthorRank with the in-depth articles algorithm.
What does this mean for writers? The take-home is that Google is paying attention to what you write and what authors link to you, in order to bump your work up in the search rankings when searches for appropriate keywords are run.
What does this mean for content marketers? The upshot is that Google is increasing the rankings of certain stories based on which articles link to them. A good tactic to increase your (or your clients’) exposure is to have high authority writers write articles that link to articles about them. After all, getting a mention in an article can take a lot less work than having an article written from scratch, which means you can sometimes pitch indirectly, not making your subject the main focus, yet still reaping the AuthorRank benefits of the link.