Let's face it: despite their best attempts to improve their algorithm, Google has been gamed. If you hang out at any of the big SEO forums (particularly the ones frequented by the white hats), you hear more and more moaning about Google's inability to "get it right" in one way or another. I can testify to the fact that, despite the claims to the contrary, getting links is still the primary way to rank in Google.
Google has made some progress in using machine learning to identify poor quality -- but not much. The search results abound with examples of hideous, poorly written content that a human being would immediately label "SPAM" but Google has given high rankings.
Don't get me wrong here, I rarely search for something in Google and don't find what I'm looking for. But I recognize that the results I'm seeing are usually put there through the efforts of people who understand link building and search engine optimization. Google would like you to believe that the search results are in the order they're in because of authority or popularity, but what do they use to determine authority and popularity? Links. And links can be bought, sold and gamed.
Enter Google authorship. Google now lets you link the content you create to your Google+ profile so that its algorithm knows that you are the author. From your Google+ profile you add the sites that you are a contributor to, thus verifying the authenticity of the content claiming it was written by you. This makes for stand-out search results like the number one result for chlorine based life. That's cool, but based on some patents Google has filed, some theorize that this authorship will be worked into Google's ranking algorithm in the future.
How might that work? Well, if all of the content you create can be reliably linked to your profile, then (the theory goes) Google could use social signals to determine how much authority you have as an Author. Does your work get shared, retweeted and passed around a lot? How quickly does that happen? What's the bounce rate like for the content you create (that is, if something you wrote appears in the search results, do users click through and "disappear" from Google -- meaning they stayed on your site -- or do they immediately return to the search results to check the next result)?
The thinking is that you could build up a reputation for quality and authority that Google could incorporate into their ranking algorithm. Sounds like a great idea, right? Prevent SPAM through reputation that isn't only link-based. Could this be the next PageRank?
While I certainly don't have an issue with the idea of working to improve the search results through this kind of Authorship profiling, there are a number of major hurdles that would have to be overcome before AuthorRank could make its way into the algorithm.
1. Authorship Relies on Google+
Right now Google requires you to link to your Google+ profile in order to establish authorship. While that makes sense, and is a great way for Google to promote Google+, they have a long way to go before its ubiquitous enough to be useful for more than a handful of searches. After all, Google+ only has about 90 million total users right now. Compare that to Facebook's 895 million active users (who knows how many Google+ users are actively using it) and you can see that Google has a lot of ground to gain.
Maybe if you could link to your Facebook page to establish authorship... Yeah, right!
2. Social Signals Can Be Gamed
The second a site's ranking in Google is influenced by the social signals that surround a verified author's content, a massive number of social signal manufacturing and automation services will appear. There are already sites and services setup to game Google+, Twitter and Facebook social signals.
In fact, social signals are much easier to game than link building. It's very inexpensive to click on +1 buttons, Like buttons or to setup free Twitter accounts for the purpose of fake-tweeting about your latest article or product, especially when compared to the cost of getting links on sites that themselves have a lot of links, age and authority. Proxy services make it easy for you to sit at your computer and appear to be a hundred different people (or even a thousand if you're willing to pay for it--and when search traffic is involved, people will pay for it).
Google has already demonstrated that it is not good at figuring out the difference between a "natural" and a "paid" link. It's not good at figuring out the difference between an article created by a PhD and a ten dollar article written by a freelancer. Will it be any better at determining "real" versus "fake" social signals? Frankly, I doubt it.
3. Your Mechanic's Authorship
Then there's the problem of authorship as it relates to things like local search results. Will your mechanic have to have a Google+ profile in order to rank well for "Somewhere, TX car repair"? Or what about ecommerce search results for iPhone cases or food processors? Is it really necessary to have a strong author reputation to get a page ranked that's trying to sell a toilet plunger?
It seems to me that the range of queries that authorship could legitimately influence is fairly limited, even if Google could get the algorithm right and somehow prevent the social signals it would need from being gamed. Based on their track record so far, that's highly unlikely.
All the same, I think it's a good idea to make sure Google knows you're the author of your content. I have this blog linked to my Google+ profile. It's easy to do. If nothing else, perhaps search results that include my blog posts will stand out from the rest because a picture of yours truly will be alongside them. That would certainly improve click-through rates, if nothing else.
So what do you think? Have I missed something here? Is Google Authorship the next PageRank? Please leave your thoughts and questions in a comment below.
(Shameless Commercial Plug: While I've got your attention, don't forget that I've just launched my awesome new Private Label Rights membership at ThriftyContent.com. It's certainly worth a look! )
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