Monday, 24 September 2012

How to Prepare for AuthorRank and Get the Jump on Google

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If you're like me and you have your finger on Google’s pulse on a daily basis, you’ve undoubtedly heard of AuthorRank. However, I honestly don’t think it’s received its due attention and if you were AFK for a few days or don’t have the option to be “jacked into the feed”, you may have missed it entirely.

Example of Google AuthorRankOver seven years ago (in August of 2005), Google filed a patent for “Agent Rank” which was later masterfully decoded by Bill Slawski. In the patent, Googler David Minogue references ranking “agents” and using the reception of the content they create and their interactions as a factor in determining their rank. The patent suggests that more well-received and popular “agents” could have their associated content rank higher than unsigned content or the content of other less-authoritative “agents”.

Nothing much happened with Agent Rank after that because the idea of ranking “agents” is dependent on being able to identify them in the first place. No great system for claiming an online identify really existed back then; I wouldn’t call W3C’s XML-signature syntax or other digital signature protocol an ideal solution.

Still, ranking agents remained a goal for Google. In 2011, Eric Schmidt expressed that Google still had a desire and need to identify agents in order to improve search quality, stating “it would be useful if we had strong identity so we could weed (spammers) out.”

Literally the following month (September 2011), Google filed a continuation patent referencing a “portable identity platform” which sounds a whole lot like Google+. Profiles on Google+ make an infinitely easier digital signature system than anything that’s come before and, with the rollout of Google Authorship (tying a Google+ profile to pieces of content), it really sounds like that’s what we’re looking at here.

So now Google can start attributing content to specific “agents” and doing just what they set out to do in 2005: rank them.

As early as February of this year, the term “AuthorRank” started to surface in the industry. AJ Kohn wrote a great post on AuthorRank and speculated that this development could change the search game as we know it. He also stated that it would be “bigger than Panda and Penguin combined”.

AuthorRank, of course, wouldn’t be a replacement for PageRank, but would be used to inform PageRank, therefore enabling Google to rank high-quality content more appropriately. I think AJ’s right on the money and that it’s not a matter of if Google rolls out AuthorRank, but when.

AuthorRank will filter PR-based rankings to provide better results

In Google’s never-ending mission to surface high quality, trustworthy content for their searchers, AuthorRank is really the next big step. After more than seven years, I believe they are just about ready to implement it.

I’m certain that Google is going to begin incorporating AuthorRank into their ranking algorithm in the not-too-distant future. I’d put good money on it. All the signs point to it: Google’s emphasis on social, Google Authorship, their ongoing efforts to measure site trust, and their progressive devaluation of raw links as a ranking factor. People want to read content written by credible and knowledgeable people and using AuthorRank as a major part of their search algorithm just makes sense.

Brace yourselves; AuthorRank is Coming

That’s what we, as SEOs, want to know, right? How long do we have before we need to start worrying about building our own AuthorRank or working on it for our clients?

Stop thinking like that.

It doesn’t matter when it’s coming because once it does, it’ll be too late. Now I’m not saying that the launch of AuthorRank is going to nuke site traffic like Panda, but the impact will be huge. While the rollout of AuthorRank obviously won’t be an algorithmic penalty, sites that have been prepping and carefully building AuthorRank for their site contributors are going to have a major advantage. It may as well be a penalty against the sites and brands that have done nothing to prepare.

The fact is, we have just as long as it takes Google to effectively measure AuthorRank and decide they can rely on it. That could happen tomorrow or it could happen in two years. We don’t know. So let’s all start working on building AuthorRank today.

We can make a highly-educated guess as to what will determine AuthorRank

Google considers over 200 ranking factors when determining where our sites rank in organic search, so it’s safe to say that they’ll be using plenty of signals to calculate AuthorRank. Here’s my shortlist of factors that Google is likely to use in their calculation:

The average PageRank of an author’s content.The average number of +1s and Google+ shares the author’s content receives.The number of Google+ circles an author is in.Reciprocal connections to other high AuthorRank authors.The number and authority of sites an author’s content has been published to.The engagement level of an author’s native Google+ content (i.e., posts to Google+).The level of on-site engagement for an author’s content (i.e., comments and author’s responses to comments)Outside authority indicators (e.g., the presence of a Wikipedia page).YouTube subscribers and/or engagement on authored videos (speculation: multiple-attribution author markup for YouTube videos coming soon).Any number of importance/authority metrics on social networks that Google deems trustworthy enough (Twitter, Quora, LinkedIn, SlideShare, etc.).Real world authority indicators like published works on Google Books or Google Scholar.

Building your AuthorRank (or consulting with clients to build it) is easy. It’s like Wil Reynolds’s concept of doing #RCS, just for people. Seems logical enough to call it #RPS: Real People $h!t.

Sweet acronyms aside, what do we actually have to do? Here’s how we start building AuthorRank…

First of all, you’ll need to set up Google Authorship. Aside from getting that sweet author rich snippet in search results, setting this up will give Google exactly what they need to assign you an initial AuthorRank: a tie between your online identity and the content you’re creating.

Once you set up Google Authorship, go and track down all the (quality) content you’ve created on the web and make sure your rich snippet markup is correct by using the Rich Snippet Testing Tool. You don’t want to run the risk of knockout content you’ve created not being factored into your AuthorRank.

If you’re working on building your own AuthorRank, this one is easy. Career SEOs have a vested interest putting out killer content. At least, I hope we all have a desire to:

Create content that demonstrates our expertise.Help improve the reputation, and demonstrate the value, of our field.Help other SEOs by sharing knowledge.

If you’re consulting to help another organization with AuthorRank, it’s a bit trickier. Still, no matter what the industry, there’s always an opportunity for a brand to provide content that is relevant and valuable.

If you’re a consultant working with a medium or large brand and you’re hoping to get a head start on AuthorRank, you may have a tough road ahead. It can be difficult to get a CEO or head of marketing to highlight their people when they’re concerned about what that will do to the brand. I’ve had clients who’ve been adamantly opposed to letting their employees create content and be a visible part of the company and I’ve had clients who were absolutely stoked to have that opportunity. It really depends on company culture and there will be some companies who may never accept the very cornerstone of AuthorRank. You may want to hire Wil to fly out and explain #RCS to them.

We’ve covered all the prerequisites at this point, so yes, we can. Here are some strategic ways you can work on building AuthorRank right now. I’ll use the “you’re the one doing it” point of view, but you can apply the concepts to any setting.

It’s just like what we’re doing now. If you’ve been following what’s going down in the inbound industry (particularly, SEOmoz), you know that the definition of link building is slowly, but steadily, changing to “content marketing”. It’s all about creating content your audience cares about. It’s all about creating resources that will help them. It’s all about creating things that they’d actually want to share on their own.

Those concepts are tantamount to content marketing and they’re even more important for AuthorRank. If you’re tying your author identity to content you’ve created just for the sake of creating content or solely for “earning” links, you’re going to be in trouble. Here are a few things that are certain to destroy your AuthorRank as badly as Penguin destroyed sites with questionable backlink profiles:

Publishing content on blog networks.Guest posting through guest blogging communities (of course, there are exceptions).Writing content that’s keyword-stuffed or full of grammatical errors.Submitting content to article directories.Spinning articles.

Instead, create content that people will want to share on their own because they are actually interested in it. Only post content to the best outlets available to you (see “Get Out There” below).

AuthorRank will be much more variable than PageRank in that you can earn a different AuthorRank in different topic areas. Determine what you’re good at/passionate about and create great content in that area. Sure, you can go crazy with different topics but your AuthorRank will probably end up being fairly weak in a lot of different topics instead of strong in one.

If any of you don’t like Google+, too bad. Google is going to use your “in circles” count to determine your AuthorRank. That means you need to make sure people have a reason to follow you. A few quick tips:

Post updates multiple times a day. Shoot for 5-7 (there’s no data-backed reason for that number, it just sounds like a great amount to me).Check in on your feed and on the global feed and +1 and comment on stories you find interesting. +1ing content makes people stoked and commenting (in a genuine and authentic way) adds something to the conversation. This will only benefit you, and your AuthorRank, in the long run.Fill out your “About” section and title. People use this information to decide if they want to put you in their circles (especially when they’re on mobile).

There are some great posts out there on how to build engagement and a following on Google+ that are far better than what I can cover here. Check some out.

Find other authors who would logically have a higher AuthorRank than you (see factors above and consider checking out Tom Anthony’s Author Crawler) and work on getting them to encircle you. Aside from having them in your following, you can also put your content in front of them every time you create something awesome.

Find them on Google+ and start to slowly and naturally build a relationship with them. You can use Twitter, Facebook, or any other means of communicating (in person is probably the best way, hands down) but you’ll want to be sure they have a Google+ profile. It also makes a whole lot of sense to make sure they have authorship set up themselves, but don’t discount them if they don’t: I’m betting that Google is going to make sure the process of verifying authorship much simpler and ubiquitous before they make any move to start using AuthorRank.

Your Google+ profile is the very hub of your authorship; it’s what Google uses to tie all your content together. Building links to it and optimizing it makes a ton of sense. If your Google+ profile has a high PageRank (yes, it gets its own PageRank) when AuthorRank launches, it’s safe to bet that your AuthorRank will be pretty hot.

Attend local industry meet-ups, offer to speak for free at local blogging groups, and apply to speak at conferences. Be genuine and helpful. In your deck, link to a a blog post you published earlier that same day that they can reference for detailed information beyond what you covered in your presentation. Watch as that thing gets social mentions and links like crazy. That's a major AuthorRank win.

Also, consider dropping a few cards with your Google+ profile URL on them.

Building links to your content from within your own site doesn’t carry much value compared to a backlink from another site. You control that site so of course you’re going to link to your own content (you’d be ill-advised not to). Having other sites link to you is much more meaningful because it shows you’re offering value (right?).

It’s the same with AuthorRank. If you only publish blog posts on a site you control, you’re playing with internal links (or at best, sites on the same host). Get out there and guest blog for (Dr.) Pete’s sake (sorry, AJ, even you). Remember to treat this process just like you treat it for link building; focus on site quality. Only pick high quality sites that have carefully curated content, because when that ties back to you as an author, it’s going to be just like a backlink to your site (hopefully you get one of those, too). You don’t want hundreds of guest posts on low-quality blogs with no editorial standards muddying up your AuthorRank. Instead, shoot for a few high quality guest posts.

Building AuthorRank, just like SEO, needs to be an organic and gradual process; you can’t do it in a day, a week, or a month. However, here are a few things you can incorporate into your daily workflow that are sure to help build your AuthorRank over time.

Check your Google+ feed five times and interact.Chip away at your weekly blog post (you blog weekly already, right?).Read a post on a site you’ve targeted for guest blogging and leave a quality comment. Start building visibility (and/or a relationship) with the authors and editors.Look for two or three interesting people on Google+, circle them, and interact with something they’ve posted.

Years ago, Google realized that providing their users with better results would hinge on identifying and ranking the very people who produced those results. Until the launch of Google+, they had a great idea but no viable way to actually get it off the ground. Now they have everything they need: the idea (Agent Rank), the identity platform (Google+), and the verification method (Google Authorship). Now all that’s left is to fine-tune the ranking and roll it into the algorithm.

The impact of AuthorRank will be so significant that we may as well think of it as a penalty designed to punish anonymity and/or a reputation for distributing low-quality content. Regarding the delay between the initial US Panda rollout and the international one, Fabio Ricotta of Mestre SEO in Brazil, said “you have no idea how good it is to have a six month lead on Matt Cutts”. Well, we’ve seen the signs and we know what to do. Let’s make sure this lead doesn’t go to waste. The time to start building AuthorRank (for ourselves and our clients) is today.

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