As excited as I have been about the rise of Google Plus, I’ve been even more pumped about a Google feature intimately tied in to Google’s social network: Google Authorship. Authorship was rolled out about the same time as Google+ last year. It allows content creators to connect their blog posts, articles, videos, and other content to their Google+ profiles. In return Google may feature their content with a “rich snippet” result that displays their profile photo next to search results for their content (see the example for Windmill Networking head Neal Schaefer at right).
But the greatest promise of Google Authorship is probably yet to come: Author Rank (sometimes written as “AuthorRank” in homage to Google’s signature PageRank algorithm). From the very introduction of Authorship, Google staffers have said that “at some point” it will be used as a ranking signal in Google search. According to Google patents researched by the incomparable Bill Slawski, Google has wanted for some time to be able to connect verified authors with their content and then rank them topically for it. Google+ provided the one missing piece in that scheme, as now a large number of people have incentive to set up a profile with Google. Anyone who has a Google+ profile can now tell Google where they produce original content. Even though Googlers say that Author Rank is not yet in use, Google is collecting data on all connected authors that will some day be used as a ranking factor.
Like Google+ itself, Google Authorship got off to a slow start as far as adoption by users. In part that may have been because the original method for a verified connection was fairly complicated. But now Google has come up with a number of easier methods to connect Authorship, it seems to be gaining momentum. A search for “Google Authorship” on Google Trends shows that search volume for that term has taken off in the past few months.
So something like this must be a “no-brainer” for highly influential people in social media, right? Not necessarily…
Study of Forbes Top 50 Most Influential in Social Media
Earlier this year Forbes magazine published a much-referenced list of the Top 50 Social Media Influencers. The list is based on ratings from the PeekYou index, including only people who produce their own content and whose following appears to be at least 50% real people. I thought this list would serve as a good sampling for a study of the adoption rate of Google Authorship by those obviously adept at building networks on social media. In other words, how many of these social media influentials understand the potential value of Google Authorship to the extent that they have intentionally set up a Google+ profile and connected it to their content?
For this study, I sought out the main content site (if one existed) of each person named in the Forbes list. In a few cases the person did not appear to create any online content that I could find other than their social media posts. I then chose a recent post and ran it through Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool (formerly the Rich Snippets Testing Tool). Among other uses, this tool shows whether Google sees the content as having a verified Authorship link with a Google+ profile. If the tool did not show the person has verified authorship, I did some Google searches (in Chrome incognito mode to nullify personalized results as much as possible) for their content to see if they were getting the Authorship rich snippet result (author photo with search result) anyway. Since about September 2012 we’ve noticed that Google will give some popular authors a rich snippet result even if they have not connected intentionally to Authorship.
Results: Google Authorship Adoption Among Social Media Influentials
Adoption of Google Authorship among these highly-influential people on social media was surprisingly low. Only 15 of the 50 influentials (30%) have set up an Authorship connection. Another 17 (34%) not implementing Authorship get the rich snippet author result anyway.
In fact, the top six names on the list do not use Authorship, though all but one get the automatic rich snippet result in search. It’s also interesting to note that 10% of these folks appear to produce content only on social networks; they have no blog or articles online under their own names that I could find.
Here’s a Google Docs spreadsheet with the entire list and my results.
Why Low Adoption of Google Authorship?
While this is only one list of social media influentials, I would assume that it would be pretty typical of results for any such list. But why should there be such low adoption (less than a third) by supposedly influence- and network-savvy professionals? Actually, a survey by Barry Schwartz of well-known tech bloggers found an even more abysmal adoption rate: 9%. Why aren’t such people jumping on this opportunity?
I can only speculate, but here are a few reasons I’ve encountered when talking with “should-know-better” friends, the kind of people who are usually early adopters of such things, but who haven’t signed on to Authorship yet:
- Implementation is too hard
- They don’t want (or feel they don’t need) a Google+ profile.
- They are reluctant to give too much information to Google.
- They don’t see Authorship as being very important or influential.
- They simply don’t know about (or don’t know enough about) the Authorship program.
Any of those (or more I haven’t heard or thought of) may be in play, but let me add one more that I think may be the reason in all too many cases: most social media experts have little knowledge of or experience with SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
I have had the advantage (at least I consider it one!) of earning my wings in social media marketing in an SEO agency. Because of that, I understand the crucial importance of ranking well in search engines. While engaging on social media is great for spreading your influence, increasing brand awareness, monitoring brand sentiment, serving existing customers, and many other uses, search is where a business can connect with buyers at what Google calls “the Zero Moment of Truth,” that point in the chain of a purchase decision where the prospect is ready to buy. In addition, search is one of the best places to be discovered by people who never heard of your or your business before.
Armed with that knowledge, my passion has become pursuing the intersection of search and social media. In particular, I want to know how social media influences search. To my way of thinking, social media used properly allows one to obtain a double advantage: direct influence (in the social networks themselves) and expanded influence (in better search rankings).
So when Google puts something right in front of me and says, “Here’s a free, legitimate way for you to do better in search,” you can bet I pay attention. But I think a lot of social media marketers who have no background in SEO have little or no idea of how important is, nor do they seem very aware of ways their social activity could give them a boost in that arena. So when something like Google Authorship comes along, they yawn and go back to their Twitter feed.
Why Should Social Media Marketers Be Google Authors?
Anyone paying attention in the online marketing world these days should be aware that we are in the age of content. Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates have made gaming the system with worthless spammy sites and link buying schemes much less effective. Now more than ever the major search engines are hungry to reward and promote great content that leaves users glad they used the search engine.
With Authorship, Google has made the next major step forward in surfacing worthwhile content. Authorship recognizes that good content is produced by real people, and that a person who has created content that people like in the past is likely to keep doing so in the future. Even before Author Rank is fully enabled, Authorship is already helping people get connected with more content from authors they like. For example, the rich snippet search result includes: 1) a byline (personal branding!) that links to your Google+ profile, 2) the number of people who have circled you on Google+ (trust mark), and 3) a link to pages of search results of your related content.
In addition, now if you click on an Authorship search result, spend at least a minute viewing the linked content, and then click your browser’s back button to return to search, the original result expands to show links to more of your content related to the search query:
Rich snippet results like these are proven to increase click-through rates on your search results up to 30%.
Earlier in the post I said that we are in the age of content, but I think that trend is already being overshadowed by the power of the personal brand. People naturally trust other people, especially people they view as “authoritative,” over faceless brands. Because searchers tend to do repeated searches within their narrow fields of interest, if you are an authoritative content creator in that field and are using Google Authorship, those searchers will actually get to know your face and be drawn to it. I have personal proof of this. Recently I was at a major conference moving between sessions through the lobby when a stranger stopped me and stared at me curiously for a moment. Then he suddenly exclaimed, “I’ve got it! I knew I knew you. I’ve seen you in my search results!”
And of course, as I mentioned earlier, Google has stated repeatedly that they intend at some point to begin to use data collected about connected authors as a factor in search rankings (Author Rank). Even if that isn’t a factor yet (and personally, I think they are at least testing it), they are collecting the data that will build that ranking power right now, which is why you need to be using Authorship today!
So anyone creating content has an incentive to connect their content to their Google+ profile. But I believe social media marketers are in a unique position to take advantage of Google Authorship and Author Rank better than many others.
Why? Because if we go by the many Google patents that appear to be the basis of Author Rank, social signals will be the major determinant of Author Rank. Google says they will watch how much and what kind of engagement your content about specific topics gets. While some of that will be onsite engagement (such as blog comments), much of it will take place in the social sphere. Google is observing how people share, comment on, +1, retweet, and link to your content as it is shared across social media.
More important than how many engage with your content on social media, though, is who engages with it. Google will count engagement by someone else who is considered authoritative in your posts’ topic (or a closely related topic) as a stronger vote for it than such from an average reader. That means that the social networks you’re building, and particularly the real relationships you’re establishing with influential people in your market, are even more important than you thought.
And all this also means that there is no more important social network on which you can be building that network now than Google+. Since Google+ is a part of Google, Google can see everything that happens there much more easily than they can from other social networks. Google+ public posts get quickly indexed by Google search, and I’ve seen many of my posts there become and stay high ranking for important keywords for months. Moreover, Google can see my entire network on Google+. They know who has circled me (and what circle names they’ve put me in). They know how much engagement I get from other authoritative users. So I’m convinced that nothing else I do has more effect on my Author Rank than my use of Google+.
How to Take Advantage of Google Authorship as a Social Media Marketer
I’ll conclude with some practical tips on how you can put Google Authorship to use, and put yourself in good position for the full implementation of Author Rank.
- Set up a well-optimized Google+ profile (as complete as possible, with a clear face shot for your profile photo and your main keywords in the Introduction section).
- Intentionally connect every place on the web where you post original content to your Google+ profile. I have complete instructions here for all the different methods.
- Link to all your other social media profiles from your Google+ profile.
- Connect your personal YouTube channel to your Google+ profile. You do this by accepting the invitation to “change your YouTube name to your Google+ name” when you log in to YouTube.
- Begin building a network of active, relevant Google+ users related to your main fields. My posts here on Windmill Networking will help you do that.
- Become a valuable contributor to that network, as well as your networks on other social sites. Balance sharing your own content with re-sharing and engaging with that of others.
- Learn how to do effective keyword research and traffic analysis for your own content sites, and use that as the basis for creating more authoritative content on the things your audience seems to appreciate most.
While it’s sad that only a minority of very influential people on social media have taken advantage of Google Authorship so far, that also means you and I have a great opportunity here to get a jump up. Early adoption is a significant factor in rising high in any new social venture. One reason a “nobody” like me now has over 26,000 Google+ followers is that I was invited in on the network’s third day. Of course, I’ve also worked very hard at it. The point is that Google seems serious about Authorship, and those who are building an authoritative author profile today will be ahead of their competition as it is brought more into play in search results in the near (we hope!) future.