Google rewards for readable content, implications for “AuthorRank”

We already know that Google Authorship is a major deal and will continue to grow in importance. One indication of things to come is the use of the “More by author” links that are sometimes displayed in the search results:

More By results displayed via google authorship

AJ Kohn has written a thorough and useful article on the technical background to this and what kind of search behaviour triggers these displays but in a nutshell users that dwell on a page for a certain period of time and then hit ‘back’ to return to the SERPs are sometimes shown these “More by” links. Interestingly, the links can connect with content on various properties – not just the author’s own domain or the one you were visiting but also their social profiles and content on other domains that the author contributes to.

This gives us a number of insights into the direction that Google is taking with the Authorship project, and ways that we can take advantage:

Rewarding quality (again)

It’s an ongoing and well established theme that Google is continually driving for higher “quality” and rewards domains that have better quality signals. One such measure seems to be the page dwell time. The magic number is around 2 minutes, which is presumably their estimation of how long it takes to actually read a page. So the obvious takeaway here is that we need to be publishing content that people actually read.

There are a number of facets to that aside from the obvious: write good stuff. Things like headings, images, embedded video, page design & layout, etc are all important in retaining visitors on the page. There’s an entire strategic layer to determining what you’re writing about in the first place, and ensuring that your themes and subjects are appropriately targeted for your intended audience. But the basic observation is that Google wants to see visitors staying on your site and reading your content.

But the quality theme is nothing new. Where this all gets really interesting is with predictions for things to come…

Encouraging rel=author adoption

These links are only displayed for domains that have marked up their content using the rel=author tag and verified their ownership via Google+. (more on that here) Although Google’s primary aim is undoubtedly to improve the user experience and in doing so to improve the data and connections that drives the “knowledge graph” (see below), it’s still a nice bonus for us writers & publishers to win some additional exposure on the SERPs.  This is yet another reason (if one were needed) to adopt the rel=author markup immediately.

AuthorRank Optimisation

Although AuthorRank (AR) (roughly equivalent to PageRank as a measure of an individual’s authority) is still theoretical and is not a part of the ranking algorithm, this is a pretty clear indication of the kind of factors that could be used as an AR quality signal. It stands to reason: if people are spending longer reading your content then surely that’s a decent signal of your own personal quality/authority. Again: AR Optimisation does not exist yet, but if/when it does arrive then these kinds of metrics are going to become very important very quickly.

The knowledge graph beyond rel=author

The fact that Google is displaying content from various properties demonstrates that the rel=author markup is not their only signal of authorship. They can in fact identify our content and behaviour from around the web, structured markup or not. This is a major component of the emerging “knowledge graph”, the concept that entities (individuals, domains, content) are bound together by a web of connections and that these connections can be used to transform the search experience.  The “More by” links lay bare the principle of individuals as entities within the knowledge graph.

At one level it’s quite creepy to see how Google is beginning to incorporate us as individual people into their matrix. At another level it’s something that publishers and individual content creators should be aware of and start to factor into their content strategy.

Google “AuthorRank” promises major changes for travel search

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.

Originally published on Tnooz.

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.

matthew baker hit riddle google authorship

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.

Individual voices:

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.

Maximizing AuthorRank:

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.

Google AuthorRank Webmaster Tools

Influencer outreach:

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.

Are you getting serious about the new search marketing?

Search Engine Watch published a great article this week written by Jeff Slipko, SEO strategy manager at Expedia, specifically relating to the travel industry, with some stark warnings about the changing landscape of search marketing, many of which dovetail with what we’ve been saying at I&I Travel Media for some time.

The article takes a broad view of all the recent and ongoing developments in SEO, including:

  • Google’s recent Penguin algorithm update which targeted link spam,
  • The previous Panda update which targeted on-site content quality,
  • The ever stronger competition posed by the major brands (Kayak, Expedia, Google flight & hotel search, etc),
  • The ever decreasing margins available from relying on PPC advertising.

Based on all of these long-term processes, Jeff argues that:

Looking at online marketing as just PPC and SEO isn’t enough anymore. In a post-Panda and Penguin landscape, sites need to be better than that.

Successful travel sites will look at online marketing as a holistic effort that includes as many pieces of inbound marketing as possible – SEO, content, social media, conversion, user experience, on-site merchandising, just to name a few.

And, because a picture always speaks a thousand words, SEW also gave us this handy graphic which encapsulates the idea of a broader approach to online marketing:

Image credit: http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/what-to-charge-for-seo-and-inbound-marketing-services-14703

At I&I Travel Media we always like to see someone else banging the same drum as us, especially when what we’re saying has so much overlap. Here’s a passage from our recent ebook “A New Paradigm For Search Marketing In The Travel Industry

But times are changing. The most recent changes made in search engine and social media technology has signalled that the future of online marketing lies very much with the development and creative deployment of smart and innovative content. More than ever, it is content that will underpin success in search engine rankings, social media visibility and reach and brand development. The days of cheap content written for search engines are over, and online travel businesses of all shapes and sizes will need to consider investment in professional, quality content as important as their other online marketing channels.

So, the question is: are you getting serious about these real and rapid changes? Do you have a strategy in place? Are you ready to take advantage of the opportunities, or are you more likely to be caught off guard and get caught up in the risks?

 

Yet more algo updates, yet more emphasis on “quality”

The SEO community is abuzz with Google’s latest updates, released in a barrage of announcements over the past few weeks. The updates target different aspects of overall search quality and include targeting “over optimization”, i.e. link spam.

Since named the “Penguin Update”, the change has drawn most attention for its focus on unnatural link practices, and for casting a very wide net around link building practices that until very recently were considered fair game. For a quick refresher: links have long been seen as SEO fuel: generally speaking, the more links a website had, the better it would rank in the search engines. SEOs have built an entire industry out of generating links for paying customers, many of which used methods which are now extremely dubious and risky:

  • Subscribing to expensive but (formerly) effective “Private Blog Networks” which have since been nuked by Google.
  • Paying cheap outsourced labourers in developing countries to manually build links in blog comments, forums, discussion boards, etc. Often on websites that were unrelated to the target website.
  • Using article marketing sites to “spin” multiple versions of thin content in order to auto-publish multiple links across various sites.

Since Penguin was implemented, a large number of site owners have received warnings in Google Webmaster Tools about “unnatural links”, and will have seen their rankings & search traffic plummet.

Meanwhile, SEO experts worldwide have been busy churning out their responses and action plans. Of all the articles I’ve read (and there have been plenty), this piece from Search Engine Watch seems to be the most useful, if only because it is focused on ideas for SMBs to move away from constant “algorithm chasing” and put their business on a long term and sustainable footing. Take a look at the advice – does it sound familiar?

3 questions to determine the “link risk” to your travel business

If you’re fortunate enough to not have to spend a large chunk of every week sifting the latest coming and goings in the SEO news you probably missed this story – that is, unless your business was relying on private blog networks (PBNs) for inbound links and therefore your search rankings. If that’s the case, you’re probably trying to work out where the hell all your search traffic has gone.

Either way, all online travel businesses need to be aware of Google’s latest move against low quality links, in its ongoing war to clean up the web.

For the uninitiated, private blog networks are large collections of blogs and sites all owned and operated by a single entity for the sole purpose of publishing low grade “content” accompanied by large numbers of links to member websites. Members pay a handsome fee to join the network and in return they enjoy automated link building to their website, which contributes to improvements in rankings and therefore search traffic.

Last week Google completely de-indexed the entire network operated by one of the largest PBN’s, BuildMyRank, causing the value of all its backlinks to vanish, which in turn undid any ranking benefits that they had passed on to its members’ sites. For any sites that had been using BuildMyRank as their sole source of links, the results would have been disastrous.

Rumour and conjecture on the SEO blogosphere abounds, and current chatter suggests that this marks the start of a concerted new effort against blog networks and other “black/grey hat” link manipulation schemes. With that in mind, now might be a good time to review your link development strategy and make sure you’re not exposed to any unnecessary risk. The following questions may help for online travel businesses:

#1) Are you relying on automated link schemes? Automation is the operative word here. Anything that automatically publishes links to your site from other sites should be viewed with a healthy amount of caution. Google (and the other search engines) place emphasis on the value of quality links published by human-controlled editorial processes, i.e. someone creates a link to your site because they specifically think your site fits the editorial nature of their site. Any links that are created by automated processes are by definition low value, and may become the target of algorithm changes in the future.

#2) Are you relying on low quality content? Low grade, thin “space filler” articles, or articles that are “spun” beyond recognition using automated re-writing tools and then mass submitted to hundreds of article directories do not count as a legitimate linking tactic in the eyes of the search engines, and are likely to be targeted or at least devalued in the future.

#3) Do you have an editorial linking strategy? “Editorial” links are the opposite of the above. They are links that have been deliberately placed on a website by an editor because they are deemed to be useful and valuable for site visitors. These links are massively important for travel businesses as they offer huge opportunities to connect with the travel blogs and publications that match your destinations, services and audiences. These are the links that Google, Bing etc are searching for and these are the links that will help secure long term rankings in the search results.

A healthy link development strategy would avoid #1 & 2 like the plague and would place priority on #3, to build up a strong and diverse link profile that is future-proofed against any more algorithm changes targeting low value, low quality links.