Authorship tagging

Author­ship is one of the most power­ful (and still under­u­til­ised) SEO and general blog­ging tactics in terms of build­ing long-term value, having a future-proof strategy, and reap­ing the rewards of increased expos­ure, engage­ment and read­er­ship.

Author­ship is fairly easy to set up from a tech­nical perspect­ive, but given that this Word­Press theme didn’t come with support built-in, I’m going to need to do some template hack­ing if I want a slice of the pie. There are, of course, lots of plugins out there that’ll help set you up – however, this is an area where I’d like some really gran­u­lar control, and the tech­nical side explores some really key concepts that are worth bring­ing to the fore­front.

Before I jump in, however, let’s explore the concept of author­ship in a little more depth, and consider the vari­ous options for imple­ment­a­tion.

What is Author­ship?

One of the things that differ­en­ti­ates a blog post (or an entire blog) from a piece of general content (say, a Wiki­pe­dia page), a press release, an announce­ment or other­wise ‘generic’ piece of web content is that a blog post must be expli­citly authored. In the case of authored content, a real person with a name, a face, and an iden­tity (and presum­ably subject expert­ise, exper­i­ence and/​or opin­ion) wrote and is there­fore expli­citly asso­ci­ated with the post, and in a sense is as import­ant a compon­ent of the post as the title, date, taxonom­ies and the content itself.

This rela­tion­ship is the essence of the content of author­ship – and whilst this is gener­ally fairly easily inferred as a human reader (e.g., a post need simply say ‘writ­ten by’, or sign off with an author’s signa­ture), if we want to gain the SEO, social and integ­ra­tion advant­ages avail­able from having Google and other networks be able to under­stand author­ship, then we need to do a bit of work under the hood.

Author­ship & Google

I won’t dig too deep into the SEO implic­a­tions of author­ship, as there are some fant­astic resources which explore exactly how much of a game changer author­ship is (spoiler: it’s huge) as well as the scale of the oppor­tun­ity at hand. However, it’s worth explain­ing why this is new, and summar­ising the key concepts.

The Authored Link Graph

Search engines have always attemp­ted to extra­pol­ate concepts like ‘value’, ‘author­ity’ and ‘trust­wor­thi­ness’ from the closest approx­im­a­tion they have/​had avail­able, such as those surround­ing the qual­ity and quant­ity of links and/​or cita­tions (i.e., the link graph).

The relat­ively recent intro­duc­tion (along­side Schema, Google+, and a raft of other changes) of a stand­ard­ised and suppor­ted approach to the markup and tagging of author­ship status on indi­vidual web pages or entire sites/​blogs allows Google etc. to get their hands on data that argu­ably has a much higher rate of correl­a­tion to ‘value’ than, say, the number of a links a web page has (and this data much harder to cheat/​fake).

The ‘links’ that are created by real people who have real subject expert­ise, real social connec­tions and real author­ity in the form of authored content (poten­tially across a network of pages, sites and social hubs), in the form of signals around those rela­tion­ships, and in the very rela­tion­ships them­selves are strong signals of trust­wor­thi­ness. Fusing that kind of analysis with Google’s exist­ing and wider data sets allows for the creation and use of an authored link graph, where they should be able to easily identify when a piece of content is the real deal, and worth promot­ing to the top of Google. Websites, blogs and pages which are writ­ten by some­body who demon­strably knows what they’re talk­ing about, where the author (or authors) has a wide follow­ing, and where the author’s opin­ion can be trus­ted should gain a huge advant­age (and conversely, content without an author, writ­ten by an author with little demon­strable know­ledge or ‘dodgy’ connec­tions is liable to perform less well).

Google+

One of the changes to the Inter­net that made the intro­duc­tion of this level of integ­ra­tion author­ship possible was the birth of Google+. The concept of author­ship is by no means a new one, however, in order to be able to defin­itely identify a single author (so as to, e.g., be able to avoid people claim­ing to be some­body they’re not), the system requires a cent­ral, defin­it­ive repres­ent­a­tion of a single author which is ‘owned’ (or at least claimed) by that author with a veri­fic­a­tion process. Google+ provides that facil­ity, allow­ing authors to secure their iden­tity, docu­ment where they contrib­ute, or have their contri­bu­tions auto­mat­ic­ally asso­ci­ated back to them through the use of some clever tagging on/​around their blog posts and content accross the Inter­net. All Google+ really provides, though is a defin­it­ive ‘home’ for the identify of indi­vidual authors as part of a veri­fic­a­tion process – this is by no means a ‘Google thing’, nor neces­sar­ily tied to them as a provider for verification/​identity.

In fact, there’s noth­ing special about Google+ in this context at all, other than that they have a uniquely wide reach and other prop­er­ties which natur­ally align and integ­rate author­ship. However, the same could easily be said for Face­book, and it’s not incon­ceiv­able that might have imple­men­ted a similar system (and still might) had Google not got there first.

Imple­ment­a­tion

Google offers two method for veri­fic­a­tion of author­ship (both in general, and against a specific piece of content). The most sens­ible approach will vary by scen­ario, with the most signi­fic­ant decid­ing factor being whether the blog is (and likely always will be) a single-author envir­on­ment, or a site where multiple authors might contrib­ute. Regard­less, both approaches are viable, and the only differ­ence really consid­er­a­tion for the over­head of manu­ally veri­fy­ing indi­vidual authors (or for them to verify them­selves).

The mech­an­ics of veri­fic­a­tion require a two-way rela­tion­ship with the piece of content (or the site where it resides), and the Google+ profile of the author. Having a Google+ profile, there­fore, one of the very few ‘extra’ require­ments of author­ship; feel free to insert conjec­ture here about whether this is Google’s beach­head against Facebook’s continual shark-like circ­ling of the search space, or simply a conveni­ent ploy for the adop­tion of their plat­form by content produ­cers.

Beyond simply having a profile, author­ship requires that you either:

  1. Asso­ci­ate an author with a domain by valid­at­ing an email address at that domain (e.g., if John Smith is an/​the author of www​.example​.com, demon­strate that John Smith owns/​uses john.​[email protected]​example.​com), ensure that articles by the author clearly state as much, and valid­ate the email address with Google.
  2. Tag content asso­ci­ated with you by includ­ing markup on the page(s) in ques­tion, gener­ally through ‘rel author’ markup, though this can be imple­men­ted in a multi­tude of flavours.

Once you’ve got one of those approaches in place, you need to add (or have Google add) the websites/​pages/​domains where you have authored content to your Google+ profile (as well as having the profile set to public). Both approaches also require (though there’s some argu­ment about just how strictly neces­sary this is) that the authored page contain a photo, or a marked-up link to an author bio page which contains a photo.

On-Page

This bit’s really straight­for­ward – because this is a single author blog, I can just add a link tag to my header. Specific­ally, this line of code, which refer­ences my Google+ profile:

<link rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/100522257535214924466/posts" />

I’ve also specified in my Google+ account that I’m a contrib­utor to www.jonoalderson.com, and valid­ated that I have an email address on this domain. Because I don’t have a link to my Google+ profile as part of the template (yet), I’m miss­ing a poten­tial stage/​approach to mark that link up with some author­ship syntax (so the Rich Snip­pet Test­ing Tool initially informed me that my blog posts/​pages didn’t have author­ship markup embed­ded) – this is some­thing that I can add in the future to be doubly-sure I’m all tagged up and veri­fied. An extra layer of faff and veri­fic­a­tion via the tool expli­citly asso­ci­ated my G+ profile with my domain, and now it’s all play­ing very nicely.

For a multi-author blog, each post should be tagged as the indi­vidual author, and you might consider using a ‘publisher’ tag to asso­ci­ate your site/​brand iden­tity back to a G+ page on posts and URLs which aren’t expli­citly authored by an indi­vidual.

Finally, it’s import­ant to ensure that you have a recog­nis­able avatar (which matches up to your photo on Google), ideally clearly display­ing your face.

Google’s Rich Snip­pet Tester valid­at­ing my author­ship status

Test­ing with the rich snip­pet tools shows that I am now a valid­ated author. Easy!