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Authorship Is Dead; Long Live Authorship

Authorship Is Dead; Long Live Authorship

On August 28, 2014, Google ended support for authorship markup (aka rel=author) and announced that they were no longer going to look at that data. Mark Traphagen and I helped break the news right here on Search Engine Land. This marked the end of a three-year experiment that Google announced in June 2011.

Does this mean that author authority no longer matters? Not at all! In today’s post, I will explain why you should still be actively cultivating that authority and discuss the benefits you can get from it.

Why Did Google Kill Support For Rel=Author?

At Stone Temple Consulting, we did a detailed study showing the lack of adoption of authorship tagging by both authors and publishers. The short story is that the adoption rate was abysmally low:


If Google was hoping for mass scale implementation of rel=author tags all over the web, it did not come even close to happening. Not only did the great majority of authors and sites not participate, but even among those who tried to implement the tags, a significant percentage did so incorrectly.

As a consequence, the scope of the impact of the authorship tags ended up being quite limited. This is important, as Google had to implement special algorithms to support scanning for these tags and implementing special search features, such as author photos. The benefit they were getting from the program was not enough to cover the expense of supporting it.

But is that all there was to it? Or did Google use the three years of authorship tagging data to help tune its own algorithms for recognizing and tracking authors? Then, once those algos were tuned, they simply shut the feature off?

To explain that in more detail, Google could have used authorship tagging as a way to train algorithms for identifying authors. This could work by running two algos in parallel: one that read the rel=author tagging, and a second that tried to identify the authors without use of the tagging. Then they could compare the results of the two algorithms and use the rel=author based one to tune the other.

My guess is that this is not what happened, for the following reason: If Google really wanted to train such an algorithm, it would not be a difficult project for them to go through and manually identify thousands of authors and then use that data to test and train their algo to better recognize authors automatically. This would save them from having to launch a public program around Authorship, and it would provide more accurate info than relying on third parties to implement rel=author correctly.

Bottom line for me on this “debate” is that I think that Google wanted author tagging to work, and thought it would benefit users, but it did not succeed on either score.

So Why Build Your Author Authority?

There are many reasons for doing so, they just may not be Google related. Here are my top eight:

1. It’s an awesome way to build reputation and visibility: As my colleague Mark Traphagen likes to say, “A Personal Brand is Very Powerful.” Indeed it is. People like to connect with other people, and a personal brand opens the door to many unique opportunities.

2. Your Content Will Attract More Links: Yes, when people see someone with a personal brand publishes something, some of the links are automatic. In addition, other higher profile people are more likely to take the time to read what you have written.

3. Your Content Will Attract More Social Shares: This helps get the content in front of more eyeballs and helps you further accelerate the growth of your brand.

4. It Will Help Accelerate Your Content Marketing Program: High-end content marketing programs are all about getting exposure in the right places, much like traditional marketing and PR campaigns.

5. It’s Easy to Pitch Known Authors: Media and bloggers will be faster to accept pitches from known authors. It’s an instant credibility builder when you can point someone to articles on other prominent sites, or that have high volumes of legit social shares.

6. Fan Base Growth Accelerates as Your Following Gets Larger: This is easy to see in the social media world. People with larger social followings tend to add more new followers per day (provided they are active). Why? See points 2 and 3 above. People are more likely to share their stuff and get them exposure to new people.

7. New Opportunities Present Themselves More Often: People will be more likely to ask you to speak at conferences, or accept your speaking pitches. Media/bloggers may contact you and ask to interview you. They may ask you for quotes on news, and so forth.

8. Personalization Via Social Media Connections: Currently, this only works via Google+, but if someone is connected with you there, content you write about is more likely to show up higher in the Google SERPs than otherwise. Will the new Google-Twitter deal extend personalization to Twitter as well? Nothing has been said about this by either party, but in my view, it’s a possibility.



That’s eight rock solid reasons right there, but…

What About Author Authority As A Ranking Factor?

Well, I don’t know, and I can only speculate. I am not convinced that Google would ever support the concept of Author Authority as a generic ranking factor except in the following scenarios:

  1. The top two or three authors in a given market space may get a generic ranking boost for their content. In the search marketing space, examples would be Danny Sullivan and Rand Fishkin.
  2. They could implement an extended form of personalization. For example, if I regularly visit articles by Bill Slawski and AJ Kohn, perhaps they will start to show other articles from those authors higher in the results for me.

The reason for my thinking here is that it’s very hard to classify authority based solely on identifying authors. For example. in the political arena, one person might think that Stephen Colbert is an authority, and someone else may think it’s Rush Limbaugh. Those are pretty different people, and the way each would get accepted by someone as an authority is quite subjective.


There are tons of reasons to think about building Author Authority. Google and Bing do not have to be on the list. The direct impact on your business is already quite powerful. In addition, the indirect impact on your SEO strategy is awesome too. Here is an example of what happened to our site traffic last fall:


Traffic has stayed up ever since, and much of that traffic is going to pages unrelated to the content that we published that caused those two spikes on the chart.

Much of the SEO game is now about building content and a user experience that’s so good that people will get upset if Google no longer shows it in the SERPs. At the same time, you should build your online presence to a point where Google is not your sole significant source of traffic. Ironically, if you do these two things, it will probably do wonders for your SEO at the same time.