The ability of author reputation to influence page rank has been an ongoing dispute for many years. Google Authorship was a feature that appeared in Google search results for around three years, from June 2011 until August 2014. The feature allowed and encouraged content creators to identify themselves when posting a piece of content – be it a blog post, article or other type of web-based copy – by displaying a profile image and linking to their Google Plus account. Theoretically, this aimed to help authors stand out in the SERP and bolster their click-through-rate. The Google Authorship markup fell under Google’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) umbrella, whereby the verification of authors on the internet would improve users’ overall search experience.
Unfortunately, the Google Authorship initiative retired in August 2014 when Google removed all author photos in their mission to better marry the user experience with mobile and desktop search – which involved decluttering the search page. Google had also established that participation in the authorship markup was extremely low (almost non-existent in many verticals), with searchers receiving little to no value from the addition. It was reported that when the markup was removed, there was little difference in ‘click behaviour’ on the search results page than when the authorship feature was in play.
However, conversations around author authority in the SEO space have since crept back into the headlines. In July there was an interesting discussion on Twitter surrounding the weight of author authority in the health industry. Google’s John Mueller referenced YMYL sites as an example of why authorship is a necessary factor to consider when publishing or reading sensitive content, such as online medical advice. He mentioned that if you are writing about a topic on health and you’re not an expert in that field, then you’re already starting off on a “shaky foundation.” He added that it makes sense for writers to find experts to write or review the content so that it is “correct and trustworthy.” Despite this, there is still little evidence to suggest that content authorship is a ranking factor in Google search. However this doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t an important element. In fact, many people believe that author authority has a number of benefits. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the evidence for and against the importance of author authority in Google search.
Considerations for content authorship
There was renewed interest in the impact of author authority on Google search following Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines (SQRG) update back in July 2018. Under these guidelines, web pages could appear higher in the search results if they rank highly in Google’s three attributes of content quality – Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. An addition to the July 2018 update was the inclusion of content creators as part of the measure of content quality. On assumption, this could imply that the reputation and expertise of the author is still an important component of the overall E-A-T rating.
What’s more (while this has not been confirmed), should Google want to identify and evaluate authors on the web according to the E-A-T specification, using something like Machine-Readable Entity IDs (MREIDs) would be essential. Google is constantly looking for ways to enhance the user experience, so it makes sense that at some point Google will begin to look for signs of authoritative and reputable authorship on content pages. For that reason, it’s advisable that publishers only accept content from creators with good reputations who have experience in the specified field. Publishers should also give preference to content creators who have a clear, positive presence online i.e. creators with active social media accounts.
The authorship veto
Back in August 2014 Google removed the ability for publishers to display the author’s name, photograph and the number of Google Plus circles the author had been added to. Once the Google Authorship feature was removed, many marketers and publishers no longer resonated with the importance of content authorship. What’s more, as mentioned above, Google has publically declared that content authorship is not a ranking factor. According to information on searchenginejournal.com – “Google’s John Mueller has clarified that the search engine’s algorithms do not look at author reputation when ranking websites.” For that reason, many businesses don’t consider it an important factor in their marketing efforts.
There is little evidence to support both sides of the authority debate. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not an important factor to consider in your marketing efforts – there is certainly no harm in providing a quality, transparent and accountable author reputation to your content. It’s also important to keep in mind that Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines could update at any point in the near future and perhaps include author authority as a ranking factor.