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Now that Google Authorship is Gone: Do You Still Believe in "Author Rank"?


Danny Sullivan, the most important pundit in search, is still advocating the so-called Google “Author Rank,” a hypothetical ranking boost based on your cross-site popularity as an author.

I’m not sure what Danny Sullivan’s motives are in trying to convince us to use an obsolete feature, but I asked myself: do you still believe in Author Rank? Here are the pros and cons.

There is no official Author Rank.

Why do I ask whether you believe in Author Rank? Unlike PageRank, the underlying ranking algorithm of Google named after Larry Page, there is no official Author Rank. It’s a hypothetical concept based on several of Google’s patents and features.

Internet marketers, not Google itself, have coined the term Author Rank.

Google never fully confirmed the existence of such a ranking algorithm. Now that Google has removed all visible authorship features, the question arises as to why there is some almost religious fervor left when it comes to the Author Rank concept.

Google+ is undead, and voluntary identification with it.

When Google launched Google+, it was not just to compete with Facebook for the social networking market. Facebook dominated already, so Google’s chances weren’t the best. For Google, the whole “+” endeavor was more about uniquely identifying real people and assigning social relations to them. Then, in the best case, Google could use the input from people as an additional way to separate the wheat from the chaff of search results.

Spammers rarely identify themselves as real people. They try to stay elusive.

The Google+ adoption was disappointing, and thus, the search giant decided to push their social site wherever they could to make all their other users from Gmail, YouTube, and the likes join the “+” identity service and thus create a unique Google profile. That was a huge gamble, and Google lost soon after; they gave up and finally allowed anonymous users to sign up with Google+.

Google can identify people automatically now.

For Google, the problem with voluntary identification and Google+ was that people rarely tell the truth, or rather, they hide their true selves when acting in public. They will only +1 things that do not make themselves look bad. Many Gay people won’t publicly admit to approving of LGBT sites because they may be afraid to lose their jobs, for example.

By now, Google has the means to determine who you really are and what you really like.

While Google+ never really took off, other Google projects overtook their respective markets by storm. One of them is the Chrome browser, and the other one is the Android mobile OS. Both a smartphone and a browser can be traced back to a person without too much effort. The NSA does it all the time, and Google is right at the source of that data.

Every mobile phone has a unique ID built in, and Android browsers are required to register at Google. Every browser has a unique “finger print” as well, but Google doesn’t even need to tap into that as Chrome is so well connected with Google services that you get identified anyway.

Thus, there is no need anymore to ask you for your name and what sites you like. Google knows everything just by tracking your online habits using their hardware. Unlike the NSA, they may “anonymize” that data for their purposes, but any information that is extensive enough can be associated with a person with ease in many cases.

Does Google still need human input for ranking sites?

So technically, it’s possible to track a large portion of the online population simply by accessing the data from Android phones, Chrome browsers, and other Google services without obtaining consent from authors adding some meta tags to their sites. The question is whether Google still needs human input to ensure the quality of search results.

Spokespeople of the search giant were pretty clear in recent statements that social media activity does NOT count as a direct ranking signal yet.

In recent years, they seem to have changed their minds about the necessity to include those signals in the overall algorithm. In recent months, they have rather stressed that they are unreliable. Why did Google try to use social movements at all in the first place? Well, the competition from both Bing and Blekko did. Blekko gained notoriety by providing curated search results and banning content farms Google was full of. Google reacted by launching Google+ and the Panda updates to combat content farms.

Now that Bing didn’t succeed with Facebook-enriched results and Blekko returned to complete obscurity after several internal management mistakes, there is no more need to catch up.

Authority vs Branding

Instead, Google has focused on other types of inputs to verify the credibility of content published on the Web.

The most obvious aspect that has gained influence over recent years is branding. Large international brands tend to dominate search results these days, whereas small sites, by ordinary people, have a harder time competing with corporations.

The so-called brand bias is so obvious few pundits still doubt that it exists.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is known for his quote that the only way to clean up the cesspool is the Internet. It would be best if you had brands.

The focus thus shifts from what you claim to have authored and trying to gain authority by what other people ascribe to you as a brand, be it a personal brand or part of a larger brand identity.

Many people still believe in some “entity” similar to Author Rank.

Personally, I’ve always been wary of the authorship and Author Rank enthusiasm. I preferred the curated model by Blekko. Just recently, I finally gave in and connected my Google+ account to the blogs I write for. It took literally just a few weeks before Google turned the features off. At least I didn’t advocate Author Rank like some others did and haven’t been trying to convince readers or clients to use it.

I understand that Danny Sullivan can’t just say that he erred in supporting Author Rank without actual proof.

Other people invested a lot of effort in building up their perceived authority on Google+ and beyond, so they are still evangelizing the obsolete feature in order to exert some pressure on Google, I guess, not kill it off completely.

I’m not a true expert on this topic; others have delved in much further, but even some of them backtrack now.

The general public seems rather to be just angry. Internet marketers, by and large, are hard to assess, but those who answered me are not yet completely disenchanted with the Author Rank phenomenon. Here are some comments from my social media followers on whether they still believe in Author Rank now that Google authorship is gone:

Natzir Turrado of Analistaseo.es explains that it’s not over yet,. Still, the focus has shifted from authors to entities and expects that website authority will get combined with author authority to determine content quality.

Bernd Rubel argues along similar lines with a focus on overall authority, explaining how he defines entities:

“The difference is that authority is not necessarily allocated to “one person,” but to an entity and its relationships, whether it’s

  • a person
  • a group of people
  • a company
  • a website
  • a page
  • a picture
  • an event
  • a product.

So author rank can/will be a part of the authority concept in general, but neither a stand-alone nor an overpowering ranking factor.”

Randy Milanovic of Kayak Online Marketing is convinced that Google is still tracking his contributions all over the Web.

What will you do with your authorship markup?

Will you remove the Google authorship code altogether and rely on Google tracking you by other means, or rather let the code in place to be prepared for future ranking algorithm updates based on “Author Rank”? I probably won’t remove anything out of sheer laziness, but I won’t add any most likely useless code to new projects in the future either.

I’m still active on Google+ out of habit, but I’m already on the lookout for alternatives. For example, I use Prismatic for curated content by my peers and industry leaders. There is far less noise and much more signal than on Google+. How did you adapt your strategy?