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Google AuthorRank and why it’s huge for PR

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 1st October 2012

Last Tuesday, I chaired an event for the PRCA looking at the relationship between PR and SEO. If there is one key theme that came out of the conference, it was that Google’s recent updates (think Panda and Penguin) bring SEO very much into the domain of what you might term ‘traditional PR’ activities.

For the last week or so, the digital marketing community has been buzzing about a new ranking factor, called AuthorRank. Google is expected to roll AuthorRank out very soon and, for me, it once again shows how the boundaries between traditional PR, digital PR and SEO are blurring.

Last year, Google launched its authorship programme. You’ll have come across this in the Google searches you do on a daily basis – where pictures of the author of a particular article appear next to the listing. Ever since this launch, there has been speculation in the digital marketing community that soon, Google would start to use authorship as a determining factor for rankings.

Last week, writing on SEO community site SEOMoz, Mike Arnesen gave the strongest indication yet that this time is nearly upon us. The idea of an AuthorRank makes a lot of sense and, for Google, is part of a much larger, long-term strategy.

Put simply, AuthorRank is how Google will take the authority of an author into account when determining search engine rankings.

Why authors?

Traditionally, Google has looked at the web as a series of websites and webpages and there’s always going to be a place for that.

Google uses a ranking algorithm called PageRank to give different webpages an authority ranking. But what this fails to take into consideration is that, increasingly (in part due to the rise of social media), when you are looking for ‘authority’ around a particular subject area, it’s often the individual content creator that has the authority rather than or in addition to the website, publisher or brand.

A site like Techcrunch has authority in the tech start up space because of the individual writers it has. AuthorRank is an attempt by Google to recognise this and give specific authors their own ranking which will in turn influence the overall ranking of a website.

What is the best way to know if a piece of content is trustworthy? If it is written by someone that has authority in a certain area.

How does this work in practice?

If you want a clear idea of just how fundamental Google+ could be and how much importance Google is placing on it, then look no further than AuthorRank.

When you see someone’s mugshot appear next to a search engine ranking, that is because they have linked their Google+ account to the piece of content they have created – no matter where it is on the web. You can find out more on how to do this (it’s not as scary as it might sound) here.

This is an example of how the impact of Google+ exists far beyond just the platform itself. It extends throughout the internet, giving Google valuable information about an individual and their footprint across the web. Google can then start building up a picture of that person’s influence in specific areas.

Influence you say? Does this have anything to do with PR?

Yes it does! Ok, so there is a bit of technical know-how required (though Google is trying to make things easier and easier). But the idea of building influence for a specific person around a certain subject area is a concept PRs will be incredibly familiar with. It’s called thought leadership and we do it every single day.

Yet again, the types of behaviour that Google is now starting to reward with ranking boosts – content, authority, social sharing – are all things PRs do daily. With a little bit of technical knowledge, PR can have a massive impact on your search rankings.

How does Google define authority?

It’s unclear at the moment exactly the factors Google will use to create AuthorRank and – as with all things Google – we will never know the exact make-up of the algorithm. But, over at SEOMoz, Mike Arnesen has compiled a list of the most likely candidates:

  • 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

What are the next steps?

AuthorRank doesn’t seem to be influencing searches yet, but it could be just around the corner. So here are some steps you should take to benefit:

  1. Set up your author profile on Google+ 
  2. Link it to any content you have around the web (here’s our quick, handy guide)
  3. Create great content – it sounds obvious, but if you aren’t creating lots of content already, you need to start. It’s all about quantity AND quality. Gone are the days when you could whack anything up and Google would give you credit. Now it’s all about great content that people want to read and share (did I mention how PR was increasingly important for SEO?)
  4. Use Google+ – a quick look at the list of factors above shows how important Google+ is becoming. So post regularly, circle influential people in your industry, +1, comment, check-in, make sure your profile is complete and that you have a good photo

Danny Whatmough