In "SEO Revelations for 2013", I wrote this about rel=author: "This will be the big new ranking signal for 2013". A mere 19 days later, a very interesting excerpt from "The New Digital Age", the upcoming book authored by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, made some headlines:
"Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance."
Irrelevance? Wow! That's a strong statement.
Here is the message: If you want your content to rank in Google, build your author authority ("Author Rank") now. Google hasn't taken this position solely to create a binary signal (got a profile, you're good; no profile, you aren't). How much authority you have as an author is going to be a big deal.
In fact, I think of rel=author as the markup/signal that Google created for the purpose of finding a meaningful way to extract useful ranking data out of social signals. I don't believe that +1s, shares, Likes, or tweets are treated like links.
I am not going to dig into that the entirety of that argument today, other than to note that in my recent interview with Bing's Stefan Weitz that Weitz pretty resoundingly shut down the notion that Bing uses Facebook Likes and shares as a web ranking signal, other than as a way to discover news content.
Bear in mind now, Bing has direct feed access to the entire Facebook database of connections, Likes, and shares. This is a far deeper dataset than Google is getting from Google+. In fact, Weitz had this to say about why they separated social results into their Social Sidebar:
They’re really, fundamentally, two different ranking models. One is ranking using a static rank, or page rank; the left-hand side of the results. On the right side is a whole new notion of social rank.
Imagine how much crawling of Facebook that Google would have to do to get the Facebook data in any reasonable type of timeframe. Even if Google could do it (not realistic to collect every Facebook update in real time!), I believe that Facebook would block this level of crawling.
Now let's talk about something really measurable, Author Rank. Let's talk a look at an example post:
The data I have circled is easily collected by Google. They don't need to accumulate it in real time forever for it to work. They can simply scrape the data whenever they load the article page for some period of time after the article first posts. This certainly gives a sense of the popularity, and perhaps the importance, of a given post.
Now, let's talk about some other data that Google can potentially obtain and use that supports the notion of Author Rank, using social signals:
- Average Article Velocity: The concept of velocity relates to the tweets, +1s, shares, Likes ("social events") per day, per hour, or even per minute. We already know that this is something that both Google and Bing measure for purposes of identifying news. However, consider the concept that search engines can track your average performance in this area over time.
- Average Social Event Volume: This is how many social events you generate per average article.
- Monthly Social Event Volume: This is how many social events you generate per average month.
- Authority of the Publishing Sites: You always thought it would be great to get published in The New York Times. Think about it again, this time with a fresh site of eyes on the benefit. Being endorsed as a writer in a major journal like that. Get published once? Great! Get a column? Killer stuff. Google can measure this based on traditional signals like link related metrics, but also the activity level in their social accounts (including Google+).
- Author to Author Comparisons: How do the social events related to your articles compare to others who write on the same site?
- Your Google+ Profile Following and Activity: This is easy for them. They can see how people engage and interact with your online profile. If you have a company profile, they can look at that too.
The above list is just a partial list of the types of signals that Google could use. Let me know in the comments below what variants you think they could use.
Bear in mind what I said about lean content marketing teams in October 2012:
You must have a key internal person who leads the effort.
This person needs to be a subject matter expert (SME) on whatever your topic matter is – passionate about it, and personable. Your content won’t sell without this.
When I wrote it, I was focused on emphasizing that people don't want to interact with nameless behemoths, or "anonymous." Seems that Google doesn't want to either.