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 [email protected]), 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!

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