UPDATE – AUG 2014
Google recently announced it has depreciated the Authorship markup, and that the Google+ connections between content and author that are described below will no longer have any bearing on the display (or ranking) of search results. Despite this, the core concept behind “AgentRank” remains the same: Google is doubtless as interested as ever in evaluating individual author authority metrics, but the search engine is now developing more sophisticated ways of gauging said metrics than relying on individual users to implement clunky markup code.
Since its outset, search engine optimization (SEO) has always been concerned with the things that we can do to websites to improve their authority and relevance as search results.
The practice of SEO involved improving things like a site’s in-bound links, its architecture and coding, and its content.
These are all signals to the search engines of your website’s authority and suitability to rank for certain keywords. Finding the right balance of these signals has been usually sufficient to ensure you rank prominently for your target keywords.
Although various algorithm updates have tweaked the balance to combat spam and manipulation techniques, the fundamentals have largely remained the same: SEO has always been about optimizing a website’s authority and relevance, loosely conceived as either PageRank (PR) or Domain Authority.
But now the SEO community is abuzz with changes being gradually introduced by Google, adding a factor to the equation.
The “ranking power” of individuals, not just websites
For the first time, Google may “rank” individual content creators by their own personal authority, and use those authority metrics to determine how highly their work should feature in other people’s search results.
The concept of “Agent Rank” is actually quite old and dates back to a patent first registered by Google in 2005.
However as Mike Arneson explains in an excellent background piece, it is only recently that Google has introduced the vital element that connects individuals to their content through a single digital identify: Google+ profiles.
Using their Google+ social media profile and some simple HTML tags, content creators can now claim ownership to all their work published on sites across the web.
This mechanism is called Google Authorship, and among other things it is how Google is now able to display author information alongside search results.
The full ramifications of this change are still sinking in and it remains unclear exactly how Google will rank individual authors, and what the impact will be on the search rankings of websites that publish their content.
But the general consensus is that it’s only a matter of time before the concept of individual author authority, nicknamed AuthorRank (AR), is introduced to the algorithm as a ranking factor.
When this happens it has the potential to be a true game changer for SEO, at least as significant as the Panda and Penguin updates of the last two years.
We already know that those author snippets can improve click through rates.
When they start to influence the actual rankings too, the long-term impact on SEO strategy could be seismic.
Part of Google’s battle against spam and “low-quality” content
Google’s logic appears to be that individual AuthorRank (AR) will be harder to game than traditional PageRank: individuals will need to publish consistently well-received content in order to maximize their AR.
- As Mike explains, Google will likely assess an individual’s AR by looking at:
- The average PageRank of the sites they’re published on.
- The number of +1’s, comments and shares their content generates on Google+.
- The number of Google+ circles they are in.
- The volume of on-site comments & interactions their content generates.
- Their authority metrics from other reliable sources (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, if they have a Wikipedia page etc.)
- And many, many other metrics…
Unlike the old SEO techniques, this stuff is hard (/impossible) to spam – you can’t trick your way to having popular, authoritative and well-received content: you just have to knuckle down and get on with it (or invest in an outside source.)
So, what does Google AuthorRank mean for the online travel industry?
We already know that content has become a major driver of success in search marketing and the impetus for investment in high performance content increases every day.
But the emergence of AuthorRank brings some extra considerations into the mix.
Unlike some of Google’s other recent updates, I believe this presents more opportunity than disruption, especially for marketers that are quick to adopt and make the most of the new system.
Aside from the technical aspects of setting up Google Authorship with your content (which is relatively straightforward and full documentation is provided), there are other content strategy issues that will need to be addressed.
At the moment Google Authorship emphasizes individual authors and the whole idea is about highlighting people who are authoritative in their field (although you can connect your brand’s Google+ page with your content, too.)
This means you’ll need to start thinking about the individuals you have contributing to your site and decide on an approach to managing that.
Will they all connect their own Google+ profiles with your content? What safeguards will you have to make sure their personal activity doesn’t impact your brand? But this doesn’t have to be a headache, and can actually present a great opportunity for many online travel brands.
Online travel purchases hinge on the consumer trusting and having faith in the brand to deliver. Putting a human face onto your content and emphasizing individual expertise in certain areas can only contribute to that.
Where a travel blog may have previously published everything under “admin”, now you have the opportunity to highlight the expertise of each member of your team. Identifying and capitalizing on those individual voices will improve your brand and your search performance.
In a previous article I wrote about the convergence between search and social marketing and this is yet another example of that process.
When AR is introduced to the ranking algorithm, it will be imperative that your contributors maximize their AR through the content that they are publishing and the social media interactions it generates: more +1’s, more Google+ engagement, more comments, more shares on other social networks, etc.
This also means your contributors will have to pay more attention to their Google+ activity, engaging with other users, +1ing more content and aiming to be added to more peoples’ circles – especially other relevant authorities.
You will have to build this into your social media strategy just as you maintain your own brand’s Facebook page.
Through its Webmaster Tools service Google already offers some data on the search impact of verified author results. Keep an eye on this data and aim to improve it over time.
Even with the above efforts, you will probably find that your in-house content creation efforts won’t build huge AR when compared to professional or semi professional journalists and travel bloggers.
For that reason more brands will start to consider influencer outreach and publishing partnerships with authoritative content creators.
Fortunately for us in the travel industry we already have a hugely active travel blogging community that has the potential to inject enormous value to search marketing campaigns.
Blogger outreach was already an exciting strategy since bloggers’ large and engaged social media audiences can make significant contributions to your site’s search engine visibility.
With AuthorRank, “borrowing” an individual’s authority by commissioning their content for your own site becomes an even more attractive prospect.
These are just a few immediate considerations thrown up by the prospect of AuthorRank as a ranking signal.
Over time, “AR Optimization” will emerge as a practice in its own right, but in the meantime site owners should be aware that it is coming and start to prepare for the huge opportunities it could offer.